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Vauxhall Astra: Smarter than the average
Michael Booth knows that the Astra has long been a car for 'ordinary Joes'. So why is he prepared to do anything to test drive the latest model?
23 May 2004

With the current Ford Focus on its last legs, the three- and five-door Astra could well find itself Britain's number one, so I set about thinking of cunning ways to get behind the wheel before the launch. I could claim to be from the government NCAP crash testing office, and bring along a mannequin with a few yellow stickers on it as my crash-test dummy. Or I could pretend to be the fleet manager for a national chain of pizza restaurants looking to upscale from mopeds. Instead, I hit upon the unlikely ruse of ringing a dealer and asking for a test drive.

A car journalist, schlepping down to a dealer for a test drive! Whatever next? I can hear the National Guild of Motoring Writers tearing at their complimentary Land Rover fleeces in fury. How on earth does this Booth character think he is going to get anything like a proper feel for a car on a dealership test drive?

Well, that is exactly what genuine buyers do isn't it? And it would give me a chance to judge the shopping process as a "normal" person.

Unfortunately, the first couple of dealers said that, as the car wouldn't be launched until later in the week, there was no way they could let me out in public. "And we can't put a paper bag over the car, can we?" chortled one salesman. Eventually, a mixture of threats and annoying whining persuaded a dealership on the South Coast to break the embargo.

Out on our test drive, in a 1.6 -litre model (likely to be the bestseller), I was struck by its hushed refinement and strikingly good quality. Everything from the gearshift to the steering to the switches worked with a consistent, weighty solidity worthy of VW (the Astra is also made in Germany). The suspension is not as supple as the Golf's, but the pay-off is controlled cornering and a slightly more engaging drive. But while they have tried hard to give the interior some style, its monolithic black plastic dash with pseudo alloy vertical strip are a little too masculine for a small hatch. Outside, the paint had a nice mirror finish and the car looked confident, with a low, hunched stance and sharp creases but, again, a bit blokey.

The drive was only 20 minutes - the normal length for a test drive. Is that enough to form a serious judgement of a car? I think so, and this is mine: great quality, looks much better, a bit butch, but excellent value. VW should worry.

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2,032 Posts
Originally posted by powervette@May 23 2004, 11:52 AM
OK,VW should worry but the Astra costs too much
I couldn't agree with you more. Here in Finland Opel used to command the
number one spot in sales, but now almost everyone in there respective class
has undercut them in costs. Now you don't see too many new one's on the
road. Opel needs to get competitive on the price front.
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