2016 Vauxhall Astra review: Impressive tech and even better value

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For the past ten years, technology has played an increasingly important role in our cars, and in 2016 cutting-edge tech is no longer restricted to the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series level cars of this world. Today, modern, affordable and more humdrum hatchbacks are starting to benefit from technology that has filtered down from more flagship vehicles, and the new Vauxhall Astra really is the physical embodiment of that trend.

It might not have the same refined styling are more executive cars, but what the Vauxhall lacks in sophistication, it more than makes up for in value. Sure, a starting price of £21,480  with £2,000 of extras isn’t cheap for a car at all – but when consider exactly technology you’re getting for the money, the Astra really is a dark horse when it comes to in-car tech.

Connectivity 4/5

Although Vauxhall might change or jazz up the Astra every couple of years, at its heart it’s still a fairly non-descript looking car. Even on the inside, the Astra is nothing out of the ordinary, but in 2016 it’s really hiding a decent amount of technology. All the basics are here like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth – and Vauxhall has also made it easy to pair your mobile phone to the car’s 7in touchscreen. When it comes its comes to connectivity, the Vauxhall Astra doesn’t fare as well: If you want to go wired, you’re limited to the Astra’s single AUX port, or a USB port, which is compatible with a USB stick or other mass storage device.

Although I’d prefer to see one more USB charger, so I could charge my phone at the same time as listening to music, it could be much worse. There aren’t many connections at the front, but rear passengers will be glad to see they also get their own 2 USB sockets on Elite models.[gallery:1]

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The Astra really raises the benchmarks when it comes to apps and smartphone connectivity, though. Along with its own UI which I’ll get to later, the Astra also includes Apple CarPlay and  Android Auto. Although you’re still able to use the car’s own OS, the presence of these gives you a slick alternative, and dramatically improved the overall experience of using the Astra.

Both systems are great, but I found the integration could have been executed more thoughtfully. Although the Astra has physical buttons and a rotary knob for its own menus, Vauxhall doesn’t let you use them to interact with CarPlay. Instead, you’re forced to use the car’s touchscreen for everything. Sure, CarPlay is designed for touchscreen, but it would be nice to be able to use the knob directly below the screen to scroll through lists of contacts, tracks and destinations, for example.

Despite that criticism, the Vauxhall does have an ace up its sleeve in the form of 4G in the cabin and OnStar, a fully-featured concierge and SOS service. This is no algorithm-powered Siri knock-off; OnStar gives you access to a real team of people, and they’re able to answer all sorts of questions and help out in emergencies. When we tested it last year, we were impressed with the service. OnStar can beam locations like where to get a coffee, straight to the sat nav, check vehicle diagnostics and more – and isn’t just a novelty.

It’s without doubt one of the best bits of tech in the Astra, and really does feel like something more suited to a car three or four times its price. Best of all, it doesn’t cost all that much to add: OnStar is a mere £395 extra, and that includes the first three months of 4G data connectivity and the first year of OnStar services. After that, you pay £79.50 per year for OnStar plus a monthly fee for your 4G – if you still want it that is.


Satnav: 2.5/5

The Astra may have extremely useful kit such as OnStar onboard, but it also features tech that betrays its humble hatchback roots. Enter the onboard satnav. It’s not bad by any means, allowing multi-point routes to be plotted, and I found the search easy to use. On the road, instructions were issued in good time as and when needed, and weren’t overly repetitive or premature.

However, there are a few niggles. Points of interest are a great tool for quickly finding useful places nearby, and while most cars seem to have a healthy selection, the Astra’s POI section was pretty bare.

Some of the Astra’s routes appeared to be less than ideal, too. Sure, the Astra calculated routes in a just a few seconds, but a couple of the journey plans it gave me were less than ideal. When compared to our Google Maps control, two of the Astra’s journeys would’ve taken far longer to drive.

However, the Astra’s lukewarm performance is somewhat saved by its inclusion of CarPlay and Android Auto. When using an iPhone or Android handset connected via USB, it’s possible to bypass the the Astra’s own satnav, and I think that’s what the majority of smartphone owners will be doing. Voice-searching and general navigation was far better when using either of these two options.


Audio and infotainment: 4/5

The Astra’s UI is a tale of two halves – and its audio performance certainly fits into the better half. Tracks are quick to scroll through, which makes getting to the tune you want to listen to relatively painless, there’s handsfree calling, and DAB radio with 36 station presets.

As for the sound? The Astra’s six-speaker system performed surprisingly well for a budget car, with most of the music and spoken word delivered in clear, accurate detail. Voices and vocals sound crisp without being too trebly or nasal, and in general the balance of sound was fine.

The Astra’s bass output is another matter. Although it’s big and weighty – exactly what you want for more energetic performances – it’s also unmeasured and lacks focus. The end result is a boomy low-end that can often overpower the rest of the music.

But despite this rather lopsided sound, the Astra was surprisingly refined in other areas. There was little distortion at higher volumes, and also little cabin buzz or rattle – something I’ve experienced more in cars twice the price of the Vauxhall Astra.

Display and performance: 3/5

You’ll spend most time controlling the Astra via its 7in display, and luckily it’s one of the better units I’ve tested. Although it suffers from a slightly greyish tint, the Astra’s screen is good on the whole, and even has day and night modes to give you great readability regardless of the weather conditions. Once again, however, the Astra falls short in one or two important areas.

Although resolution is good, the Astra’s UI lets it down with low-res graphics that introduce ugly pixellation to an otherwise good screen. At the same time, processing power also seems to be an issue. The Astra’s UI isn’t as fast as I’d like it to be, and when trying to zoom in on maps, it can take a couple of seconds to respond. It’s far from ideal.

Driving, parking assistance and safety: 3/5


The Vauxhall Astra ticks most of the boxes when it comes to in-car tech, and thankfully it does the same when it comes to semi-autonomous features. As with most new cars in 2016, the Vauxhall Astra comes with front- and rear-parking sensors that beep when you’re too close to nearby objects. As well as the sensors, the Astra can also be specified with a rear-facing camera, too, to help you with tricky parking maneuvers.

However, if you can’t be bothered to do any of that manually, all of these sensors can work in unison to form an autonomous parking solution. I tried this out, but in practice the Astra was a mixed bag. The instructions were clear, and an intuitive push/hold button system makes it simple to switch between parallel- and bay-parking modes. The self-parking itself often works without a hitch, too, scanning quickly and parking well, but there were one or two hiccups: the Astra cancelled on me twice for seemingly no reason.[gallery:11]

Verdict: 3/5

The Vauxhall Astra might not be the most technologically gifted car I’ve ever driven, but it provides everything you’d want in 2016 – plus the additional bonus of the OnStar concierge service.

What’s more remarkable about the Astra, however, is the amount of tech it delivers for the price, with Android Auto and CarPlay as standard, and OnStar addable for a mere £395.

Simply put, the 2016 Vauxhall Astra packs in the same amount of tech you’d find in a flagship executive saloon from few years ago, and it’s an indicator of just how accessible, cheap and essential in-car tech has become in the past few years. 

For another take on the Vauxhall Astra, head over to our sister site Auto Express

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