Built on a PSA platform, the face-lifted seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra is one of Britain's top-selling cars. Astra is a household name with over three million sold in the UK over the last four decades. Continuing QUBE/just-auto's review of interior design and technology trends, we take a closer look inside this ever-popular hatchback to see what's new.
There is an Astra to suit most needs and pockets thanks to a range of trims, but even entry models are offered with decent levels of equipment. Trim levels start with SE and move upwards through to the Business Edition Nav, SRi, SRi Nav, SRi VX-Line Nav, Elite Nav and Ultimate Nav.
Once seated in a SRi VX-Line Nav, the manually-adjustable heated front seats and leather-wrapped heated steering wheel means it doesn't take long to find a comfortable driving position.
Moving further back, the relatively shallow transmission tunnel also means that rear seat passengers sitting in the middle won't have to splay their legs to feel comfortable either. The rear seats are split 60/40 and can be folded forward in a jiffy.
Luggage-wise, Astra's boot 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.
The luggage space itself is provided in a practical square shape with a hidden under-floor stowage area. With all the rear seats folded flat – and assuming a saver spare wheel option is chosen – the boot floor rises to the same level as the backrests providing a flat surface to load stuff.
Plenty of cup-holders, cubby holes, storage pockets on the front seat backs are also welcome.
In the audio department, Astra is offered with a Bose sound system and six loudspeakers, including a RichBass subwoofer fitted beneath the boot. In addition, up to eight different sound profiles can be stored via the digital amplifier.
While forward visibility around relatively thin A-pillars is good, over-the-shoulder view out of the back is limited due to the sloping roofline and shallow rear window and thick rear pillars. Rear parking sensors and a camera do compensate here.
Way back in the 1980s, some automakers discovered the benefit of laminated glass as a way of introducing new functionalities in glass. It started with antennae: a fine metal wire was embedded in the PVB by use of a heated needle before final lamination and provided radio reception through the windscreen. Shortly thereafter came the defrosting system in the rear window by use of heating wires. A system similar to the antennae was used to embed tiny tungsten wires in the PVB, allowing the vehicle maker to offer an aesthetic solution for defrosting the rear window. Mercedes-Benz was the first user of this technology which has eventually migrated to windscreen. Vauxhall also offers heated windscreen technology on a number of models, including Astra.
The seven-inch touchscreen positioned centre-stage of the dash – that looks like it was designed to be there rather than an after-thought – helps eliminate a few buttons otherwise found dotted across the dash. While the no-nonsense touchscreen may not look quite as slick as that found in some rival models, it does the job perfectly well and is easy to use. Heating and air-con, however, are still sensibly 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 is also welcome.
The touchscreen offers optional voice control operation. Connected Navigation services with real-time traffic information and online map updates certainly help make the journey more relaxed, while the navigation display itself displays redesigned symbols in a fresher look. The same applies to the instrument cluster, which features a new digital speedometer.
Optionally available is the E-Call emergency call function. If needed, help may be summoned by pressing the red button above the rear view mirror. Smartphones can now be charged inductively via a wireless charging opening in the centre console.
Depending on the model and trim level, the latest generation 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.
Advanced driver assistance system
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 rearview 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. It can recognise vehicles and pedestrians, greatly improving safety. Furthermore, thanks to the high-resolution camera, traffic sign recognition can now process more traffic signs and show them as symbols on the display. The digital rearview camera works in conjunction with the Multimedia Navi Pro infotainment system. The view of the traffic behind the vehicle on the monitor is more distinct and precise, while the contrasts are slightly more visible in the dark.
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. 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 and 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.
Following a hazy announcement by the British government last Sunday regarding the next steps to ease us out of COVID-19 lockdown, it was time to say goodbye to the Astra this morning after seven weeks parked on my drive. Essential Saturday morning trips to a local supermarket gave me a chance to get a feel for the smooth and light ride. On balance, the interior feels functional and ergonomically sound. Its well-equipped cockpit, cloaked in soft materials incorporates everything where you expect to find it. Other thoughtful touches included the sliding front centre armrest and a ribbed boot floor liner which can prevent things rolling around. In a busy small family hatchback segment, such attention to detail is crucial to help stand out from the crowd.