The recent all-too-brief stint of warmer weather has given our Astra a bit of a break, as it’s been sharing work and family duties with my 32-year-old VW Polo. There’s something quite grounding about reconnecting with mainstream motoring as it was not so long ago because, regardless of whether classics are a preference, a well thought out modern car makes most things that little bit easier. A good daily driver should be utterly unintrusive when you need it to be, and Vauxhall has nailed it.
Interacting with the Astra is near hurdle-free from the moment you approach it. The car lights up and unlocks its doors if it detects the key is nearby, a bit like a family dog excitedly anticipating a walk, and the kids have got used to not waiting for me to do this manually. It’s a useful streamlining feature if you’ve got hands full of shopping or school bags, but there is a slight drawback of that over-eager response as it briefly interrupts the charging session. That’s fine if you’re setting off, but irritating if you’re carrying the key while taking the bins out.
These systems are surprisingly easy to get wrong, but Vauxhall has only omitted this relatively slick entry process on the entry-level Design. Keyless entry and a keyed ignition works, but the base Astra gets the opposite and it’s a pet hate. Manual entry means getting your keys out to open the doors, then there’s no ignition barrel to store them in. Who wants a cupholder full of rattly keys? Thankfully the Hybrid line-up starts at the GS trim level, which has keyless entry and start.
Everything inside is similarly unobtrusive. In Ultimate specification, the driver’s seat slides rearward when the car powers down, which makes it easier to get in and out of, and both front seats are certified by Germany’s AGR (the Campaign for Healthier Backs). Rightly so, they’re a segment benchmark. I’d argue that the GS’s eight-way adjustable seats are more than adequate, as I could still set them to my usual low-slung driving position, but the Ultimate’s memory function removes the need to reset it every time my wife uses the car.
Friends have been divided about the Astra’s cabin, split evenly between those who find it drab, and those who (like me) enjoy its ruthless lack of fussiness. Vauxhall deserves credit for the well-considered mix of physical buttons (for features like the climate control and volume) and the two screens with their tablet-style widgets. It only took a few minutes to set up useful home screens, putting the information and menus I wanted within easy reach, and the combination of wireless Apple CarPlay and charging pad in the centre console saves me trailing wires everywhere. I jump in, drop my phone on the charging pad, and drive off.
Modern classics can shine a spotlight on the technology for technology’s sake approach that’s become common with newer cars, but that isn’t the case here. The Astra displays an attention to intuitive controls that was once a staple of VW group products, and it’s a delight to use. Unintrusive when you need it to be, but also well-appointed when you want more. Bravo, Vauxhall.
Arrived 29th March 2023
(Registered 26th September 2022)
Price when new £40,400
Price as tested £41,600
Economy 256.8mpg (combined) 76.2mpg (on test)
Faults The ambient lighting keeps dropping out of its slot in the passenger footwell.