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Vauxhall Astra (2004 - 2009)

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Introductionword count: 103

Vauxhall's Astra has long been a car that suffers a slight inferiority complex compared to its Ford equivalents, the Escort and, latterly, the Focus. No longer. The fifth generation Astra is the car that competes on its own terms. Offering a level of fit and finish that eludes Ford's finest, the Astra feels properly premium, with even the lower specification models feeling extremely solid indeed. With a strong engine line up and sharper driving manners than ever before, this Astra is no poor relation. One of the best looking cars in the family hatch sector, it also possesses that crucial spark of desirability.

Modelsword count: 23

Models Covered: (3/5 hatchback, 5dr estate 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0 turbo, 1.7, 1.9 diesel [SXi, Design, SRi, VXR, Expression, Life , Club, Elite])

Historyword count: 317

Summer 2004 saw the launch of the five-door Astra hatch with an estate version following hot on its heels. As new product launches went, this was a biggie, Vauxhall's financial well being resting firmly on the Astra's neatly bevelled shoulders. It was a car that benefited from prior product decisions. With the Meriva and Zafira taking care of the 'utility' roles, the Astra was given free rein to be a little sassier than many rivals. Vauxhall kept buyer interest on the boil by releasing pictures of the even swoopier three-door Sporthatch model. Two key criteria were identified early on in the Astra design process. Firstly, the car had to pass what General Motors executives refer to as the shop window test. That is, owners had to be so enamoured with the Astra's lines that they couldn't help but sneak a look at its reflection in a plate glass window. As good as its predecessor was, only the coupe and convertible models would ever have scored a pass there. The other examination the Astra was tasked with was the '100 yard' test. A large percentage of the buying decision comes about in the first 100 yards of any given test drive and the Astra had to make the driver feel instantly at home and comfortable with the controls, impressing through sheer ease of use. When the Sporthatch finally landed in dealerships in March 2005 it proved an instant hit. Vauxhall again played a smart card, keeping putative purchasers interested with the carrot of a powerful VXR sports variant. That didn't arrive until Autumn 2005, but it's quite a tool. Early in 2007, the Astra range was slightly revised, with some minor cosmetic changes. The main differences however came under the bonnet. The 1.6 TWINPORT petrol engine was up-rated from 105 to 115PS, while the 170PS 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol unit was replaced by a new 180PS 1.6-litre turbocharged powerplant.

What You Getword count: 322

Clever packaging and a long wheelbase have helped to maximise the Astra's interior space, aided in no small part by the fact that the exterior tale of the tape shows the Astra is one of the biggest cars in it's class. That sloping roofline looks as if it'll pinch rear headroom but look a little closer and you'll notice the sloping line that catches the eye is but a chamfer and the actual roofline arcs higher. Rear headroom is, in fact, better than the MK4 car and both leg and shoulder room are in another league. A Vauxhall spokesman claimed that the interior of the new Astra fitted like a glove, but as few people we know are shaped like hands, this would seem to present certain problems. Not so. Big doors and surprisingly upright side windows give an airy feel to the interior, although anybody familiar with the look and feel of the latest Vectra's cabin won't find much to excite them with the Astra's fascia. Vauxhall completed an about face with the Astra. Its predecessors were often cars that weren't sufficiently special to appeal to private buyers, instead depending on corporate bean counters to swell the sales figures. The fifth generation model changed all of that, offering a design that most private buyers would be glad to see sitting on their driveways. Naturally Vauxhall hoped that business buyers wouldn't deterred by its good looks and sporting credentials but for the first time in years, here was an Astra hatch that wouldn't result in wiseacres telling you what you could have bought. The Sport Hatch is offered with the 'Panoramic Windscreen' option, one of the most talked about recent automotive innovations, which for around £850 extra when new, gave buyers a huge section of glass stretching from the top of the bonnet over the passengers' heads. Vauxhall reckon that it brings a whole new dimension to driving, especially on scenic roads.

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Scoring (subset of scores)

Category: Compact Family Cars

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