Astra dash

Astra dash

Seventh in our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) reporting series*, we take a look at Vauxhall's Intellilink system. Taking you through the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, we look to benchmark the connectivity functionality based on various test criteria. Available in Europe since October 2015, the Astra features GM's Intellilink system and award-winning Onstar telematics service, where humans assist rather than automated messenger.

Display
The black and red 8" display is busy on some menus, and much clearer on others, with the radio menu being one of the worst offenders. This is because digital shortcuts run along the top—on one hand this is helpful, but other manufacturers' designs have proved more intuitive. 

The sensor for the auto day/night is very sensitive and during dusk hours, jumped distractingly between a bright screen and a darker screen until we manually selected the nighttime screen. Equally, the screen wasn't particularly responsive under gloved touch, but when pressed a little harder in the wool gloves, there was some degree of accessibility—so this is not to say gloved fingers can't use the screen at all, but that it was more difficult. 

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have been integrated and notably, unlike the Peugeot, multiple navigation perspectives can be toggled on CarPlay.

Voice Control
The Astra's voice control isn't great but it isn't bad either. The steering wheel button can be pressed and fairly natural syntax can be used, provided the commands are basic. As a result, we scored this 2 out of 5 for natural use. 

There is a response facility to ensure the driver understands what the system has heard. The choices appear on the 4.2" cluster screen, which is practical. Drivers can pinpoint their exact choice using the steering wheel controls—often much quicker than going through the voice control process. If the steering wheel voice button is held for longer, this initiates the Auto or CarPlay voice control.

In the menu nesting, the voice control settings are more expansive than in other vehicles we've seen. There are 'confidence threshold', 'prompt length' and 'feedback speed' options, helping owners to initially learn the system and then reduce the help needed as familiarity increases. For accuracy, we scored the Astra's voice control system 4 out of 5, where the systems understands all of the commands most of the time. 

Audio
Provided by Focal the sound system is respectable, but it's simple. The sound can be configured to focus around the driver, but the sound isn't whole. It's a basic fader experience, just as the loudness adds additional bass. Though it had genre choices, these seemed to do little to change the overall audio experience, the way some of the more premium brands in our series do.

Switchgear
The switchgear, as with many other models, seems excessive when configured with steering wheel controls too. Though OEMs are keen to offer their customers a wide choice of options so they can personally tailor their preferences, this duplication is a cost the consumer inevitably bears. Taking the steering wheel out of the equation, Vauxhall has done a good job in providing a necessity-only, stylish configuration of shortcuts, climate control and sensor enable/disable buttons. The four physical shortcut buttons lie just underneath the screen and surprisingly don't feature a 'Nav' shortcut. Drivers can select this from the 'Home' page, where Auto or CarPlay icons can also be found. 

Networking
Connectivity is really where the Astra comes into its own. With one of the most reliable connectivity packages tested to date, Vodafone supplies the SIM cards for Onstar and the Intellilink system uses the WiFi hotspot feature, which can support up to eight devices, or a tethered connection for its updates. 

The antenna used on the Astra, in combination with Onstar, is much stronger so in some areas of poor data connectivity with mobile phones, the car is equipped to draw a stronger signal. 

Navigation
Navigation for the proprietary system is provided by NavTeq. This supports the destination downloads from the Onstar service but it is HERE's mapping and location services that provide support to the MyVauxhall app, where journeys selected out of the car can be made available on the Navigation screen. Though the design of the NavTeq system is nothing to write home about, all of this works seamlessly. However, Google Maps and Apple Maps are not configured to support the 'Destination Downloads' or 'Send To Car' route planning. 

The list of POIs included all the usual suspects, though the menu nesting was arduous and unfortunately, public toilets didn't feature under public facilities. 

ADAS
The cruise control isn't auto adaptive. For a brand that pioneered so many technologies in so many ways, ADAS provision is one of the areas the Astra falls behind its peers. On the plus side are the intelligent headlights, which will adapt the beam pattern based on the road usage ahead. That is to say, if it's a clear road, the full beam will illuminate on full and far into the distance. However, if there is oncoming traffic or pedestrians, the sensors instruct the LEDs illuminating in that direction to dim or switch off, so as to not dazzled other road users. Though it works well, it is not always so consistent and can be laggy.

The lane depart assist function also comes in very late. Autonomous Emergency Braking is called Pre-Collision Assistance and preferred distance can be set.

Other features, such as blind spot detection and park assist, worked as expected, where the latter was a lot more responsive than rivals. During a cold night, the windscreen iced. As the camera was obstructed, the car notified us that the traffic sign recognition was disabled.

Companion App and Telematics
Onstar is the telematics service, operated by General Motors' subsidiary. It's been operating in the US for almost 30 years and came to Europe in 2015. Onstar US already handles the legacy systems in Toyota and Lexus. So it is presumed that the same model will be used to handle Opel/Vauxhall customers, now that PSA Group has acquired the business. However, Onstar Europe is not as widely used as its Mexican, Chinese and American counterparts. European drivers are less inclined to press a button when they have a problem in their cars and it is supposed this is a cultural difference. 

The main USP of Onstar is that when needing assistance, whether emergency, breakdown or location guidance, the driver gets to speak with a real human being, rather than an automated service. Onstar Europe is now equipped to handle hotel reservations for drivers on the road in unfamiliar areas. However, in order to pass payment details, it is required that you park up, thus negating the need for assistance while on the move. Onstar US provides assistance with restaurants and other places where Europe will text the driver the number for them to do it themselves. Again, as this requires pulling over, where the driver could then safely use a smartphone to run the same check, it makes the system somewhat redundant. The service is free for three months, then it rolls to a subscription model and aside from the WiFi hotspot, it is difficult to see where the value lies for the driver.

Undoubtedly, the Onstar SOS service is the priority. In the event of a collision, a two-person team will automatically contact the occupants and the emergency services to deliver the best response. First responders at Onstar also respond to 'red' button pushes. Though, thankfully, we weren't in a position to test these, we can see the advantages over a straight eCall-style system that just triggers a notification to the emergency services without any additional information.
 
The companion app, MyVauxhall, offers vehicle health information, which can also be gained from hitting the 'blue' Onstar button. It doesn't have push notification, so it would only give you an update from the vehicle, once you open the app and refresh the information. From MyVauxhall, drivers can plan routes, send them to the car, remotely control lights, locks and horn, give a gauge of fuel level, parked location and provide instructions on how to use car features, including videos on navigation. This was really heartening to see, since many consumers are still very confused with much of the technology on offer these days. 

Vauxhall is also one of the few OEMs to explicitly address privacy. The Onstar system can be "muted" in terms of knowing your location in the press of the third button next to the Onstar call button. There is not a driver profile function per se, but there is a way of toggling to 'Valet Mode' so strangers moving the car cannot get access to contacts, previous locations (including home addresses) and potential payment information. 

Onstar only comes as standard on Sport, Innovation and OPC trims, so while it's offered across the whole range, some trim levels will be left without it, without an upgrade.

Conclusion
When launched, the Astra was ahead of its time. At that time, very few vehicles were offered human-based telematics support, mobile hotspot, park assist and intelligent lights. What's more, those that were tended to be premium models. 

At this point, it should be acknowledged that this particular model is one of the oldest in the series thus far. The Tesla Model S is older but due to the way the software is updated remotely, outdated design isn't going to be a challenge in the same way it is with the Astra. There is also a huge price difference between the two models, so any comparison beyond age is unhelpful.

However, testing the Intellilink and Onstar provision, it all seems very dated now and has not developed sufficiently enough to stay relevant. Since the acquisition of the Opel/Vauxhall brand by PSA, no changes have been announced, though it is evident they are desperately needed.

More HOT analysis

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of Tesla's connectivity and HMI.