At the end of the last report, we were still in Devon enjoying a well-needed holiday, and I’m happy to say the Astra performed admirably. We stayed in the countryside near Totnes, and the navigation app Waze delighted in taking us along single-track B-roads at every opportunity, which was a great test of the Astra’s brakes. Unlike most Volkswagen Group cars, which tend to want to catapult you through the windscreen when you so much as hover over the middle pedal, the Astra’s stoppers need a decent shove. There’s plenty of power when you do, and the upside is a more natural, less jerky feel, but it took me a little while to get used to. They were obviously putting in some effort, because by the end of the holiday the front alloy wheels looked reminiscent of a used disposable BBQ, nudging me to buy a bottle of Miracle Wheels in the local Morrisons in sympathy.
With narrow passing places and locals in Toyota Hilux pickups who like to maintain momentum, Devon’s back roads were also proof the Astra has really well-judged steering. It might not be quite on a par with the excellent Ford Focus, but the Vauxhall’s helm has a pleasant weight, a nicely consistent feel as you thread it through your hands and reassuring accuracy as you dive towards a widening in the hedgerow. Like most aspects of the Astra, it’s also uncomplicated. By that, I mean there’s no way of changing the steering to ‘comfort’ or ‘banzai’ mode, and the engine doesn’t even have a sport button – or even an eco button for that matter. While this is likely to upset the games console generation – and is likely to change with the arrival of the next Astra – I quite like jumping in the car, twisting the key in the ignition and driving off without considering what driving mood I’m in. It just works.
There is one button I routinely press on firing up the Astra though, and that’s the one to disable stop/start. I’ve nothing against the technology, and I’m all for saving fuel and cutting tailpipe emissions, but I’m afraid to say I just don’t like its implementation in this Astra. I’ve already mentioned that the three-cylinder engine tends to ‘thump’ into life, sending a bit of a judder through the car, and that’s just not a pleasant feeling when the traffic lights go green at a busy junction, or when approaching a major roundabout with fast-flowing traffic.
On a couple of occasions, the engine has also had a lumpy idle after restarting, to the point where the car feels like it’s about to stall, but then revs to keep itself going over and over again. On one local journey I was able to pull in and switch off the car and restart it, which cured the issue, but the next time it happened I was joining a busy dual carriageway. Luckily no warning lights appeared, and as the engine felt fine once up to speed, I was able to wait until I was back on slower roads to pull in and restart the engine.
During an otherwise relaxed and fuel-sipping journey home up the M5 and M6 motorways, the Astra also alerted us that the front nearside tyre was at 20 PSI again, and this time my passenger managed to grab a picture. I knocked off the cruise control like before and slowed down just in case the tyre was deflating, but as with the first time, it hopped back up to 34 PSI after a couple of minutes, suggesting it is indeed an electronics glitch that seems to occur on longer motorway journeys.
Date arrived 23rd March 2021
Economy (On test) 59.5mpg