Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall Astra

Inspired by the Monza concept, the seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra made its global debut at the 2015 IAA. As one of the UK's best-sellers, Astra is a household name for British car buyers with almost three million sold in the country over the last 38 years. Built at the carmaker's Ellesmere Port factory, the mid-size hatchback is based on a lightweight vehicle architecture with a new design, punchy powertrains and novel technologies. Continuing just-auto's review of interior design and technology trends, we borrowed one to take a closer look. 

Lightweight seating

Depending on the model and trim level, the latest Astra is up to 200kg lighter than its predecessor. The body shell weight alone was reduced by 20 per cent from 357kg to 280kg. More specifically, the seats are smaller and 10kg lighter thanks to some clever packaging methods, lighter polyurethane foams and ultra-high strength steel frame. The 18-way adjustable front seats are offered with additional comfort features such as side bolster adjustment, massage and memory function along with ventilation.

Development of the seating environment in the Astra began nearly five years before launch, involving a team of 100 engineers and technicians. "Especially integration of the relatively bulky seats must be considered from the very beginning. This means the seats have to fit into the car accurately to the last millimetre - in every direction," said Andrew Leuchtmann, senior manager GME Interiors. "Compared to the predecessor, not one single part is identical," said the seating expert. In order to offer rear seat passengers 35 millimetres more legroom, the seat back of the new comfort front seat was made more compact. "So the new seats are around 10 kilos lighter than those in the previous model," added Leuchtmann. The rear seats are also lighter and more compact, their contouring was optimised and thigh support was enhanced with a steeper seat tilt.

Connectivity pack includes OnStar

A recent study by McKinsey and Co, Connected Car: Automotive Value Chain Unbound, found that 28 percent of new car buyers prioritise car connectivity over other features, such as fuel efficiency and 13 percent would not buy a car that's not connected to the internet. Another survey carried out for telecom firm Telefónica, found that 80 percent of consumers expect the connected car of the future to provide the same connected experience they are used to at home, at work and on the move via their mobile phone.

Given such an appetite from motorists for connectivity, its availability is no longer a preserve of the luxury classes. The C-segment Astra comes fitted with OnStar, GM's personal connectivity and service assistant, making a 4G LTE mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Up to seven devices, from smartphones to tablets, can be connected simultaneously. When seated, OnStar's only visible feature is a module comprising three buttons located close to the interior rearview mirror. The blue service button gives the driver access to services such as vehicle diagnostics. For example, OnStar subscribers looking for a certain destination such as a restaurant or the nearest petrol station can press it to talk with an advisor who will send the desired destination directly to their navigation system. Although OnStar has a privacy button, allowing you to mask the position of your car, the system will overrule this command if it detects that an airbag is deployed. Another neat trick is if you forget to lock your call then you can do so remotely from your phone.

Astra is also one of the first vehicles from a mainstream automaker to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, available through a new version of the IntelliLink infotainment system. This touch screen positioned centre-stage is quick to respond, simple to use and helps eliminate a few buttons otherwise found dotted across the dash. The heating and air-con, however, is still controlled by two dials positioned either side of a row of other HVAC buttons, also intuitively easy to use. A manual rather than electric handbrake was also welcome.

ADAS pack includes park assist

Astra comes with an array of advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies, including traffic sign assist, following distance indication, headway alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, forward collision alert with collision mitigation braking functions, integrated brake assist and autonomous emergency braking, park assist and rear view camera.

Astra's 'new and improved' front camera has higher image processing power, an increased detection rate and is capable of processing an additional amount of information from different sources. When combined with the car's IntelliLink, it draws on data from the navigation system and that detected by the camera. Also in conjunction with the IntelliLink, the traffic sign assist continuously checks the front camera and navigation data for relevance. Speed limits are on permanent display

Another comfort feature that makes driving the Astra easier to live with is park assist. This technology is always active below 7mph and automatically notifies the driver when it detects objects within the range of its front and rear sensors. Although the version we tested did not feature it, the advanced park assist will identify suitable parking spaces and automatically park the car without the driver touching the steering wheel. The sensor-based system measures parallel of perpendicular parking spots, calculates the vehicle's trajectory and automatically steers the Astra into a space. The driver just controls acceleration, deceleration and gear shifting. To further assist, a camera mounted about the rear licence plate displays the area behind the car on the infotainment screen.

Cabin trim and aroma

The Astra's boot/trunk is set deep offering 370-litres of space with the back seats in the upright position and liberating 1,210-litres with the seats down. The boot trim itself and dash insulation components are produced by International Automotive Components (IAC) at its factory in Prestice, Czech Republic. Injection moulded dash inner insulation complements IAC's offer of lightweight acoustical insulation products, which also includes the claimed industry first sprayed polyurethane (PUR) inner dash technology.

Opel points out that an innovation on the new Astra model helps to make the cabin "a warm and welcoming personal wellness oasis". An equipment option is Opel's 'AirWellness' aroma system. "Our unique aroma system is a perfect fit to our quantum-leap Astra. It fills the car with a wonderful scent. For instance, Balancing Green Tea is very relaxing and together with options like the massage seats, creates a completely new driving feeling," says Opel's chief marketing officer Tina Müller. "And for those who prefer a more masculine scent, we also offer Energising Dark Wood." Opel marketing experts, engineers and the French perfume company Azur Fragrances worked on the system.

On the road

Our 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol ecoFLEX Astra rattled from start-up although soon settled down. For all the development work on the seating and clever packaging, the driving position was good with enough leg space in the back for tall teens particularly when compared to other family hatchbacks such as the Toyota Auris. The cabin is a pleasure to sit in with a wrap-around, uncluttered cockpit speckled with chrome-effect trim.

While the fuss-free stop-start system, novel lightweighting solutions, active grille shutter and aerodynamic styling tweaks all help to reduce fuel consumption, our road test covering some 430 miles didn't quite match Vauxhall's headline-grabbing mpg expectations. A firm ride on 17-inch wheels and low-rolling-resistance tyres that covered town, country and motorways returned an average of just over 40 mpg compared to the official combined test cycle of 64.2 mpg. 

See also:

Global light vehicle instrumentation and cockpits market - forecasts to 2031

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The Changing World of Car Interiors