Does the job, but not exactly a driver's car
Nothing while it was mine.
I rented one of these for a week while my other half needed to borrow my everyday drive, a Merc CL500. I covered over 350 miles in a mixture of motorway, suburban and urban driving, which is what I am basing these comments on. I also owned a 1992 Vauxhall Cavalier in my youth, so it was interesting to see how Vauxhalls have come along in twenty years.
Well, they've certainly spruced up the interior. Recessed red lights illuminate the control panels, making the whole thing look somewhat like a vodka bar. The rev counter and speedo are especially stylish; more like something you would get from Alfa Romeo, and on the whole the controls felt finely milled, bespoke, and an age away from the rubber and plastic Lucas-parts-bin feel of my old Cavalier.
The Astra looks pretty good from the outside: tight and technical, with a minimum of panel gaps, and a surprising amount of continuity has been retained when transforming the regular hatchback model to an estate - indeed, I think the car looks better in its estate guise. Inside the cabin, the cloth seats and plastic veneers had held up impressively well given that this particular rental had 20,000 miles on the odo. The centre information console looked a little dated, with a bare-bones LCD feel. If you're expecting something full colour like what you'd see from Audi, you'll be disappointed.
Mine was a manual, and I get the feeling that this will be about the last generation of manuals on the road. It has so many electronic nannying systems to monitor your shifting habits that it might as well have just gone that extra step and changed gears itself.
You are prompted exactly when to shift up by the central control console, lest you put even one micron more wear on the engine than you absolutely need to. You need to depress the clutch all the way down before it will let you start the car, a safety feature to prevent you lurching forward if you've left it in gear (does nobody have it drilled into them to check the box is in neutral anymore?) The engine turns itself off when at a standstill, as most new cars do. I would say the £5 or so you will save on fuel per year is offset by putting 20x the wear on the starter motor, which now has to start the car 20 times per journey.
The most irritating feature was the electronic handbrake. Gone is the physical lever; replaced by a button. Sounds good on paper, but the button is tiny and very difficult to find with your fingers. Also, the car will not let you release the handbrake unless your foot is on the brake pedal. Thus, a hill start is now physically impossible without rolling backwards a good few inches while your foot desperately switches from brake to accelerator. My point is - get the automatic; Vauxhall clearly don't want to make manuals any longer, and they are currently poisoning the waters for the problematic diehards who insist on three pedals.
Another fault is that they have tried to put far too many controls on the indicator stalks. In particular, when toggling the main beams on and off, my thumb kept hitting the Setup screen, which would take away the useful digital speedometer and replace it with some useless submenu. Merely indicating left or right ran the risk of turning the rear wiper on.
The engine was a surprising plus point, a 2.0 CDTi that was definitely the smoothest diesel I have driven to date, plus it had a decent amount of surge in the higher revs and was able to hold its own against the various Mini Ds and BMW 118Ds that litter our roads. Never did I feel that it needed more power, or was struggling to shift the car's weight around. The addition of a sixth gear was very welcome, and helped me get the running costs down to £40 for 350 miles, or about 11p per mile.
The front passenger seat was large enough to have a 6'1" passenger aboard and not have them intrude into my personal space. The boot seemed large enough for a family road trip. I didn't test the back seats, but the legroom looked OK.
Visibility out of the back was good when parking; certainly much better than my old Volvo S40.
In summary, this is about the most unremarkable car I have ever driven. It does exactly what you would expect it to, right to the point where I started to wonder if the driver had become an unnecessary, messy part of the equation, and we are finally at the point where driverless cars will find an audience. I admire any man who buys this, because his life is already so exciting and unpredictable that he needs something boring for balance.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 21st November, 2013