In among all the jiggery-pokery about Vauxhall’s new owners (Russian? Chinese? Italian? Belgian?) the company is still busy churning out new cars. Foreman has driven a prototype of this autumn’s Astra, and it’s a seriously good rival for the Focus or Golf.
Compare the design with the Insignia, and you can see the new-Vauxhall tune has been given a nifty remix. Like the side scallops, which are reversed. It’s a tidy job, with quality touches all over.
Inside, again there are strong Insignia influences, and again that’s absolutely no bad thing. This is a car many people will be given as a work tool, and they’ll be practically taking up residence in this cabin. So they’ll be glad there are tons of storage spaces, especially with the optional electric handbrake, which frees up console space. And thanks to ‘light pipes’ you get chintzy mood lighting around the console and door armrests. Just the thing to balm the soul at the end of a hard day’s commercial travelling.
The smooth, calm attitude extends to its on-the-road engineering too. The ride is far better than the old one, more pliant over big bumps, quieter and more stable on motorways.
And the handling? The current Astra is a laugh to drive, with enthusiastic engines and a sharp attitude to corners. The new one is even better in most departments: it grips harder and understeers less. And the better springing means it’s hardly upset by mid-corner bumps. The only slight downer is that the new steering has less feel than before.
I was in a 1.6 turbo. Its 180bhp shoves the new car along nicely. It has a six-speed box, but unlike Ford and VW, Vauxhall doesn’t have a twin-clutch option. The range will have loads of other choices too, including new 140bhp 1.4 turbo and (wee-hee) a 240bhp VXR.
All very good then. But will the company survive? As I write, the bid from Magna, propped up by Russian capital, is still the officially agreed one. But Belgian venture capitalists RHJ are said to be about to submit a revised bid. Beijing Auto has apparently submitted an offer too. And Fiat is still scratching around. So it’s fair to say someone will build this new Astra: we just don’t quite know who yet.