Vauxhall Astra

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A much-improved Astra goes on sale in Vauxhall-Opel dealers on October 17th. A great deal of work has gone into the aerodynamics producing both a distinctive shape and what is claimed to be the lowest drag of any car in its class. The top-of-the-range GTE has a drag coefficient of just 0.30, the normal hatchback one of 0.32, while even the estate versions manage 0.35.

The effect of the shape is to give a marked increase in top speed (the 1.3-litre hatchbacks reach 106 mph, the 1.6S hatchbacks top 112 mph and the GTE will reach 126 mph), a claimed increase in economy, very low wind noise, good stability and better ventilation.

Of the 17 model line-up, the car which is of most interest to Motor Sport readers is undoubtedly the GTE which must now be the quickest car in its class. We had a recent opportunity to drive one and can only say that we eagerly await a full road test. It was not possible to check performance claims on the narrow roads of Killarney but our brief experience gave no reasons to doubt that the car will accelerate from 0-60 mph in under nine seconds and will reach 126 mph.

The GTE has a pleasant close ratio 5-speed gearbox, a firm, sporty, ride and superb roadholding. The one thing we did not like was the LCD instruments but understand that an analogue dashboard will also be available. This car is an outstanding addition to the “hot hatchback” class.

The cheaper 1.6 SR model is no less impressive, judged by its rivals. Indeed, we felt that the whole range of petrol powered cars is an extremely good one. The diesel version, however, is disappointingly sluggish.

Some writers at the launch expressed reservations about the styling and drew comparisons with the Ford Sierra. Our feeling is, though, that the Sierra has broken the ice and that the enormous advantages conferred by the aerodynamics will outweigh most criticisms about the styling.

Prices have yet to be announced but expect them to be around five per cent more than the current Astra range. — M.L.

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