Driving the Vauxhall Astra

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I have been driving a Vauxhall Astra Hatchback, the German-built car from Luton that rather self-consciously wears the Wyvern badge where the Opel “lightning-flash” is expected. In fact, there are a few, but subtle, differences between Opelian and Lutonian policy. Vauxhall for instance intend to continue with their delightful rear-drive Chevette, and not allow the new Astra fwd models to immediately replace it, whereas the other General Motors’ subsidiary, Opel, abandoned its rear-drive small cars on the introduction of these new front-drive Kadetts, and the Astra has slightly better equipment and more sound-damping. The Astra is available only in five-door GL Hatchback and five-door L Estate body styles. Both use the 1.3 engine, with its ingenious valve-gear that incorporates hydraulic tappets. There is little need to say much about this healthy new Vauxhall-badged small-car, because I wrote up the New Kadett in Motor Sport in February 1980.

It is an excellent economy-car proposition, larger than a Chevette, and possessed of a lively performance, even in top gear. The road-holding is very good indeed, but the steering is low-geared at four turns, lock-to-lock, yet rather heavy until the wheels are turning, and the feel, for rack-and-pinion, is a little dead. The noise level is lower than on the Kadett, so that a 60 mph cruising speed is no hardship; at 70-80 mph there is noticeably more engine roar. The seats are comfortable and altogether General Motors has introduced a very notable addition to the growing ranks of medium-small economy cars. On the score of fuel economy, I got an overall 34.1 mpg, but had expected something better as some of the mileage was done at pottering pace, investigating the pleasant rolling by-ways of Shropshire and I cannot cure myself of the naughty habit of coasting on these occasions, we even had time to stop for tea at the Glebe Farm in delightful Diddlebury. Almost no oil was consumed in 700 miles.

That the Vauxhall Astra was conceived and built abroad is evident from the left-hand direction-indicators’ stalk, the left-hand bonnet release, and a speedometer with no 30 figure. The Astra’s automatic choke seemed to give an over-fast idle, which may have added a quota to the fuel-consumption figure. For a time the fuel-gauge and heat-gauge went on strike but both recovered just as I was about to see if a fuse had blown. The fuel-gauge registers steadily but is optimistic at the top of the dial, pessimistic at the other end. The heater only gives a decent feed if the fan is used, but as engine noise drowns the sound of this on the second of its three speeds, this is no real hardship and the instruction book recommends it.

The Astra is a significant 1980’s economy-car and in a way its advent recalls the position of the Chevrolet in the days when GM fought Ford with that make. But it is the Fiesta, and will soon be the New Escort, that will be joined in sales-battles with the Astra/Opel. The Astra Hatchback costs £4,602, for a well-equipped, spacious and thoroughly useful and enjoyable little car. WB.

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