Bold and Pure

The lesser-spotted 2022 Astra

Image: Autocar

The evergreen Astra: around these environs, you might be hard pressed to believe that seasons five, six and, to a lesser degree, seven have ceased production at all. Examples of each of these generations still ply their trade, from the local builder’s grubby estate car or faithful family holdall, to the noisome kerbside cruisers beloved of maxed-up youth. These and other variants remain daily sightings, their longevity a credit to the brand.

But wherefore the latest incarnation? Astra achter was revealed to this fair land during the Summer of 2021, becoming available to download[1] (sorry), purchase from November, yet your North Western correspondent has yet to observe one emanating from a side junction, slip past one on the motorway or sight one in a supermarket car park. What gives?

The Griffin badge does attract a quantum of ambivalence, even within this parish. Having myself once been a proud Mk3 Astra-naut (owner to you), I’ve never felt any reason to return to the fold. The Focus that supplanted it proving better rounded, the Citroën C4 coupé more characterful. Vauxhall’s unprepossessing nature lingers, but the time for disparagement may well be over.

Image: Autocar

Bold and Pure” was the programme mission statement at the car’s Spring 2018 inception, with both character and desirability being next-gen Astra watchwords. The Opel design team, under the supervision of Mark Adams, deemed this a “diamond opportunity” for the aesthetics to reflect the purposeful engineering beneath. Mariella Vogler, a seasoned Opel campaigner and Chief Engineer of Astra 8, gathered a twenty-five strong team[2], twelve of whom were women, all “pushing without rivalry, achieving openness and appreciation.” From the first prototype, it seems everyone was in agreement.

But wait, there are still matters of emotion to consider – or perhaps eradicate. Fix those peepers frontwards towards The Vizor®. There is no line of scrimmage here, only a forceful leitmotif of axes. With the Blitz or Griffin remaining centre stage, one can envisage a cyborg, in this case without the intended malice. As signature headlights go[3], these will do nicely. The front apron[4] contains fins and wings a 1950s Cadillac might be proud of, were they flat and airflow inducing. The bonnet crease is continued towards the licence plate, acting almost like a spotlight for the badge. Neither aggressive nor austere, Rüsselsheim is being unashamedly bold.

This theme continues down the flanks, where (metaphorically) pin sharp strakes add sufficient tension to make this dynamic looking hatchback stand out from the crowd. Nor is there any hasty genuflection to the call of the electrified tune. In Electric Yellow at least – other hues certainly do not detract from the overall effect – nothing glares or jars the optics. “Adding juiciness,” is how Ilka Höberman, colour and trim designer, puts it. Astra is a daily car that looks good: A+.

The C-pillar reflects earlier Kadett / Astra incarnations and, when combined with a black roof, really does emphasise the shark fin. One fly in the ointment, however, is the black triangular sail panel that makes the rear quarter-light appear not quite oblong in shape, a feature which seems almost as laboured as this sentence[5]. The flanks, therefore, receive an A-minus. The Astra’s rump too, receives a solid A for being uncluttered and in keeping with its rectangularly lit, Vizor front-aping taillights. A push on the badge opens the boot, a feature which flustered a few of the design matrix team,  as did the neat and functional small, vertical high-mounted brake light.

Image: Autocar

Internal relations flit between that of the expected coal mine, minus canary, blended with some Pure sense and functionality. The materials and comfort of the seats may go beyond even the perceived premium baseline, but goodness, it looks drab in there. Spec up to GS or Ultimate trims to receive a slash of red and silver on the seat facings, along with a glass roof to allow in some much-needed light. The dashboard and door cards offer up a plethora of shapes and designs that may, if one studies them, reveal a distinct aura of inconsistency. Fortunately, the Astra’s USP is the driver-centric Pure display panel, available on all trim levels. 

No grafted-on tablet here, sprouting incongruously from some obtuse slab, this man-machine interface is pitched as the car’s soul and, according to Vauxhall, a “visual detox”. The Pure display contains all the sub-menus a swiping finger can handle, with the added bonus of a handful of physical buttons. Mercy, one can actually raise or lower the temperature without the need to aimlessly stab at a screen. How refreshing. One hopes these buttons exude the correct weighting. The steering wheel, flat-bottomed with a silver spoke placed in the six o’clock position, houses the typical features one expects from the modern motor. Choosing an automatic cleans up the console area, given that stick-shift options look somewhat out of place in so modern an environment.

This Astra is the first to be powered by electricity[6], but will be preceded by plug-in hybrid versions, not to mention the inevitable combustion offerings. Attractively priced and with the handsome Sports Tourer catering for load-shifting duties, Astra 8 contains all the weaponry needed to be a sales leader. But is that badge still a sticking point? Lord knows it shouldn’t be, yet why the transparency in this vicinity?

Opel Astra Sports Tourer. Image: Autofrance

The premium three dole out high-selling but bland design dross, while competition from time-honoured adversaries, Ford and VW, border upon the old-fashioned[7]. This newest Astra is a design containing as much confidence as Korea’s offerings, whilst metaphorically blowing raspberries at Japanese efforts. One feels tempted to seek out the local Griffin seller for a real-world drive, but do they have an Astra in the showroom, or in the country, even?

Paddling in shark-infested waters is really not where Vauxhall / Opel’s feet wish to be. Shouldn’t they be actively hunting the other sharks? Stellantis will no doubt insist on larger volumes than these eyes have yet witnessed, to finally cast off the prejudice this brand has endured, once and for all.

Data sources: opelpost.com/ media.stellantis.com

[1] Vauxhall sell on-line (with a £500 discount), at the dealership or over the phone. They even offer a fourteen day love it or return it policy, allowing you up to 400 miles to make up your mind.

[2] Opel prototypes begin life in the Laubfrosch, a brick-built building dating back to 1924.

[3] The headlamp units are dubbed Intelli-Lux LED in Opel-speak. Catchy.

[4] The base Design trim sports a plainer front with but two diagonal indents, a mirror image of those at the rear.

[5] Perhaps confabulation might be a better description?

[6] The full-electric Astra is set to become available from 2023.

[7] Other views on this matter are available. [ED]

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

20 thoughts on “Bold and Pure”

  1. Good morning Andrew.

    For me, there’s a whiff of the past about these cars. The Focus with its Escort Mk1 Coke bottle hip bulge. This new Astra with its sharp edges, droop-snoot “vizor” and Astra 80-esque dashboard cliff face.

    Both cars with their 1970s widely-spaced m o d e l b a d g i n g.

    I haven’t seen one of these new Astras yet either. I prefer the design to the Corsa, but that’s not saying much. I just visited Vauxhall’s website for the first time ever and the car they’re promoting over this is the new Grandland plug-in Hybrid-e. What a time to be alive!

  2. Good morning Andrew. I can’t say I’m particularly excited by the new Astra, but I suppose it’s a lot less important an arrival than a C-segment hatchback used to be, given the switch to crossovers. The Astra looks very Golf-ish from the rear. That triangular plastic sail panel on the C-pillar is a real design ‘fail’ for me, but we’ve seen some similar from Opel/Vauxhall before, on the Rekord E / Carlton Mk1:

    The Rekord’s arrangement had the advantage of at least being functional, containing the air extraction grille.

    The ‘Visor’ grille and headlamps look fine, but the lower valance just looks awkward.

  3. I had no idea this car had been actually a available in the showrooms (as it were) to buy for so long. I haven’t seen one on the road either, although I did notice one on Saturday just passed on a plinth outside a Vauxhall showroom. Could it be that order books were opened way back with deliveries only just starting?

    I think it looks OK, but there’s something a bit stilted about it to my eyes. It doesn’t come together as a whole. The estate looks very upright and a bit blocky to me. Like the Corsa, it’s very clear that it shares it’s underpinnings with the 308 and DS4 (there another car I have not seen yet in the metal) – the effect is like having a sense that you know there is someone else hiding beneath the disguise.

    Sales of compact hatches are dwindling quite fast. I still don’t see many Golf 8s around, nor new Focii. It’s all T-Rocs, 3008s, Mokkas and Alteas. Maybe this will be the last generation of the Astra and it’s like?

  4. Vauxhall/Opel are ‘dead’ to me now, since they are just alternative Peugeots and I wouldn’t spend my cash on either of those brands. I have seen a few cars with this ‘visor’ front end , but they may have been Mokkas.

  5. I have yet to see one either and didn’t realise they were on sale. Says a lot for Vauxhall marketing perhaps. Looks ok from the front but the rest is just another “mix and match” of other manufacturers current designs to my eyes.

  6. I’ve yet to see one too “up north” in the UK. I quite like it though. I’ve had 2 Vauxhalls over the years. First was a ‘96 Corsa 1.5 diesel which I did 130,000 miles in 3 years and the second was a ‘06 Signum 3 litre diesel. This wasn’t as good as the engine had to be replaced at 10,000 miles as the aluminium block was porous and it took 8 weeks to obtain a replacement.

  7. I like the front of it, but I agree with Mike the rest of the car is a blend of contemporary vehicles. It’s not a bad effort as far as I’m concerned, but this is not a strong seller. They shifted just 467 Astra’s in the Netherlands in the first 4 months of this year, with only 45 last month.

    In 2021 Opel sold 945 Astras from January till April, with 93 sales registered in April . The old car sold twice as well as the new model. No wonder I haven’t seen the new Astra in the metal.

    Back in 1999 Opel sold over 40,000 Astras. Things have changed a lot for sure.

  8. Isn´t it interesting and peculiar that a new model has now become a chance for customers to give up? You´d think that this Astra was pretty much as Astra-y as the last one and ticked all the boxes in regards to price, size, economy etc so why the sudden change in market response? I haven´t seen one either. It could very well be a simple fact: most customers know it´s a PSA car now and not a real Opel. Counterpoint: the Corsa does much better than its sister models. Maybe the Astra name should have moved to the new dead centre of the car market, the platform-shoed crossover equivalent.
    Styling-wise, it has a great front and the rest is busy and indistinct. A close look at the Mazda3 today (again) tells me this is the mid-sized hatch for the discerning buyer. The interior is superbly realised and despite a couple of tiny grinties on the outside, it´s a space-ship design that is as fresh as a chilled cucumber resting on a bowl of Perrier ice-shavings inside a freezing glacier on a bone-cold day. I would hate to be the team asked to design the next Mazda3. They don´t stand a big chance of bettering it.

    1. Prior to this piece, I too had no idea that the Astra was available. Like everyone else, I have yet to see one on the road, on a transporter or in a showroom. But what this suggests to me is less a sales collapse, but more a necessary shift in priorities. Given current supply-chain and geo-political events, my assessment is that production priority has been shifted towards those models with the highest return, namely crossovers. I would suggest that this accounts for the relative lack of new C-segment vehicles on our roads, since this is an issue that affects the entire industry.

      C. Tavares is one of the more astute operators in the European arena, so I rather doubt that he would have got his sums wrong on this model. However, this supply-chain shortage comes with a risk. If C-segment hatchbacks remain in short supply, more customers are likely to shift to what is available, making the C-sector ultimately even less financially viable, suggesting that what we are witnessing in the next segment up will come to pass here as well. Some will exit entirely, some will persevere, others will try something which combines the appeal of both.

      Under normal circumstances, I imagine the Astra would sell in viable numbers, and since it has been costed to within an inch of its life (Tavares would have insisted on this) would have made a profit while doing so. As things are, who the hell knows – probably not even Carlos.

      The Astra itself? In pictures at least, it seems better resolved than a Golf 8 (the worst looking Golf ever…?), but like Richard, make mine a Mazda. The nicest C-sector offering by a country mile.

    2. I heard similar stories as your assessment, Eóin, and my money is on that narrative as well. It sure is going to be busy with Mazda 3’s on the DTW parking lot. It’s my favorite too 🙂

    3. +1 on the Mazda 3 front – just not sure if I would go saloon (again) or hatch. Nothing else gets close.

      Delays in production/ delivery are getting ridiculous. My step-father was looking to order a new XC40 and was quoted 18 months! He responded, ‘I am 78 – I could be dead before then’. He has now gone for a Karoq with a few bells and whistles and saved himself quite a stash and is expecting delivery in 10 weeks.

  9. I’ve seen one!!! One day last week in Cheshire – I pulled up alongside it at a set of traffic lights at Monk’s Heath and the only reason I noticed it at all was the colour (that ‘Electric Yellow’) which made it stand out from the all-pervading dull monochrome of everything else. And the only reason I know what it was, it had those letters strung out across the back. IMHO it looks more like a car ought to than any SUV I’ve yet to see, but if that’s what the customers want then let them get on with it.

    As for Vauxhalls in general and Astras in particular, the many Mk2 Astra estates and vans of which I had operational experience were excellent machines which racked up very high mileages with equally high standards of reliability – far better than contemporary Fords.

    1. PS: Just had a look on-line at the Mazda 3 and can’t see the appeal. Sitting in the back must be absolute hell for anyone with claustrophobia….

    2. Agreed JTC. For the outside it looks
      like two different cats welded together, totally uncohesive, while Mazdas in general are very funereal inside.
      I can’t share the general commentariat appeal I’m afraid.

    3. I think it helps the cognitive dissonance to think of the 3 as a “coupe equivalent”, bearing in mind that there isn’t even a 3 door Golf anymore. There is still a Mazda 3 saloon which should allay these kinds of concerns.

    4. I´d be the first to agree with you that the rear seats are in a dark place. Overall, it´s such a striking-looking machine and the interior (the IP and centre console) makes a unified whole unlike a lot of other interiors that are way too fragmentary. The grille and lamp graphics are superb too. It´s not a saloon for a family – I think that job has gone to crossovers and MPVs. I consider the Mazda3 as more like a coupé with the rear seats never much used. Mostly the rear footwell will hold shopping bags.

  10. My speculation is that crossover fashion will last for the next few years, having a duration of 20 to 30 years since 2000. After this, cars like it used to be will be the norm again.

  11. Another vote for not having seen one in the metal. I like it, but the interior’s a bit of a let-down in terms of choice of colours.

    The Golf outsells it at a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1 and the Astra wasn’t even in the top 25 best selling cars in Europe, last year. Mind you, the only Ford in the top 25 is the Puma – that would have been unthinkable, a few years ago.

    Golf aside, many of the best selling vehicles are B-segment cars. Perhaps they’re all most people need – they’re certainly big and well-equipped enough, these days. Also, the prices of C-segment cars range from the early twenty thousands of Euro / Pounds to forty plus. I wonder how many people increasingly think it’s not worth it.

    https://www.best-selling-cars.com/europe/2021-full-year-europe-top-25-best-selling-car-models/

    Having said all of the above, given the parts shortages, it’s quite hard to tell what’s genuinely selling well, versus who can actually just get the parts. One of the advantages of being a large organization would be that you could divert resources to models that need them, I guess.

  12. The article mentions being able to change temperature the ‘traditional’ way. It seems that the same applies to transmission: the Vauxhall remains available with a manual gearbox, whereas the 308 is automatic-only. Is this intended to mark Peugeot’s move upmarket in the UK*, perhaps? Yet, like-for-like, it appears to be the cheapest:

    DS4 – £27455
    Astra – £26415
    C4 – £25410
    308 – £25270

    This is the lowest list price I could see on each configurator, using the same 1.2t (130) engine and automatic transmission as the cheapest common option. Equipment levels may differ. The C4 is a surprise, as it is based on the EMP1 platform for smaller vehicles.

    Since it’s a DTW sort of thing to include: the no-cost colour of the C4 and Astra is white; DS4 is gold; 308 is green.

    *other markets seem to offer a manual, possibly including ROI, so it isn’t forced by the RHD conversion

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