Opel/Vauxhall is on the point of launching the most important model offensive in its history. It will start with a sleeker, more upmarket Astra range (seen here undisguised for the first time), followed by all-new 2010 Meriva and 2012 Zafira models designed to maintain the marque’s strong MPV foothold across Europe.
Vauxhall is also set to launch a 320bhp Insignia VXR, is working hard on a hardcore Corsa VXR to challenge the Renault Clio Cup, and is clearing the decks for the 2011 launch of Ampera, the European version of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid that could be built at the Ellesmere Port Astra plant.
Since Opel and Vauxhall stand on the brink of a reorganisation that could reduce their present owner, General Motors, to the role of a minority shareholder by mid-year, bosses are desperate to keep pushing forward with new model developments.
The new Vauxhall Astra five-door’s styling is deliberately sportier than that of a Focus or Golf, aided by the longer wheelbase and wider track of the new General Motors Delta platform. Overall length grows by about 100mm, mainly because of the demands of crash legislation, and the new car is slightly roomier inside.
The Vauxhall Astra introduces a torque-biased 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine and a 1.7-litre turbodiesel. Ecoflex versions will cut CO2 emissions to well under 120g/km. Body styling picks up Insignia elements such as the wing-shaped headlights (the Insignia’s adaptive light technology comes too) but reverses the individualistic ‘blade’ feature along the body sides.
There are also strong Insignia echoes in the interior, which is more sculptural and better executed than previous models. A spacious Sport Tourer (aka estate) uses most of the five-door’s features but extends the body about 20cm for generous space.
The hit of the range is certain to be the new Vauxhall Astra three-door, a rakish fastback coupe that will become the VXR model. Likely to account for 15 per cent of sales, it rides lower than mainstream models and seats its occupants lower, too. The combination of strong haunches, a diffuser-like black rear valance and a frontal design that emphasises lower air intakes makes the coupe one of the most striking cars ever seen in this class.
Pilot-build Astras are being made now, and first cars should hit showrooms by December.