Back at the turn of the Millennium, a good friend of mine had a Mk2 Astra as his first car. I remember it for two things; the 1.6-litre engine’s respectable turn of speed, and the lengths he went to modernising its audio setup. Our lunchtime drive-thru soundtrack came courtesy of tinny 1980s speakers that struggled with his taste in UK garage music, and a dashboard-mounted CD Walkman with wires trailing to an adaptor in the factory cassette deck and cigarette lighter. Taking digital music on the road wasn’t so easy. Its modern counterpart requires no such cobbling together, even with our now-expansive digital lives.
The Astra has yet to put in a long journey, but I have had a few weeks to get to grips with Vauxhall’s Pure Panel dashboard – a pair of high-resolution ten-inch screens angled towards the driver – and I’m really impressed with what it can do. So much so, that it’s almost a shame to default (as many drivers will do) to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which are delivered wirelessly across the entire Astra line-up. Behind it, saved into user profiles with avatars depicting classic Vauxhall cars (naturally, I’ve selected the Nova) is a wealth of customisable options that extend to favourite paired devices and drivers’ cabin lighting preferences. It’s a lot easier than wriggling a Walkman onto dash-top Velcro pads every time you get in.
Familiarisation has felt a little like settling into using a new smartphone. Both displays are divided into a grid pattern, with multiple screens selected by swiping left or right, or tapping the left-hand steering column stalk, and there’s a range of different tiles that can be dragged and dropped onto them. The main screen has a 5×2 grid, and the largest apps – navigation and media – can stretch over as much as 3×2 of that space or be condensed down to a single tile. Tiles in front of the driver either take up half or all of the screen.
Vauxhall seems to have mastered the dark art of balancing rich features and ease of use. I have the driver display set up to show a trip computer alongside either navigation or media functions, then the home screen button on the centre console brings up the map with a single click. Importantly, everything loads quickly and doesn’t lag, and neither of those points are a given.
There’s no need for screen clutter, because Vauxhall has retained a bank of proper buttons below and some of the tiles are doubling up. Picking holes, the heated steering wheel button is on the wrong side of the centre console in a right-hand drive car, and the voice assistant is too easily triggered. It hears “Hey Vauxhall” in all sorts of random sentences and most functions are easy to activate with the briefest glance once you know where the buttons are.
It’s a digital world that’s miles away from those teenage drive-thru runs in its predecessor and, although there’s still no way for audiophiles like me to play our CDs, streamed music is unquestionably a much better format and my enjoyment isn’t being hampered by tinny speakers. A bit like UK garage, the fiddly knot of wires is something I’m really glad to have left back at the turn of the Millennium.
Arrived 9th January 2023 (Registered 17th July 2022)
Price when new £29,710
Price as tested £29,710
Economy 62.8mpg (combined) 40.8mpg (on test)
Costs None Faults None