Our Vauxhall Astra long-termer faces one of its toughest tests yet: keeping the kids happy.
“Dad, I’m bored.” Forty-five minutes into any journey, it’s always the same. We do spelling, we do maths, we do a quiz… no matter what, 45 minutes later the kids are bored. But now I have the answer, and it comes in the form of three roof-mounted buttons that control the OnStar system.
OnStar encapsulates the connected but disparate functions of creating an in-car wi-fi hotspot, allowing you to phone a call centre to ask for route information (which can then be automatically uploaded to your sat-nav system), detecting if you’ve had an accident and alerting the emergency services, tracking the car’s whereabouts and showing you the status of various aspects of your car via your smartphone (from tyre pressures to the fuel level).
So far, the wi-fi has had the heaviest workout. It’s simple and easy to connect and a breeze to use, whether you’re sending emails, browsing the web or downloading TV. Bored kids love it.
Meanwhile, the ability to ask for directions is a boon — not least because it’s hands-free and the people on the end of the phone are ever so polite. Would I buy an Astra for it? No. Would it swing me away from buying a Focus or Golf because it has it? Yes, it definitely would — and that’s a huge credit to Vauxhall.
On a recent visit to Portsmouth, I happened to park opposite the HQ of Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team just as they were hoiking the boat out of the water after a training run.
The Astra is not as cutting edge, but after another relaxed, economical 100-mile trip four up, it struck me that this Ford Focus rival’s Ellesmere Port origins should make it a British icon in its own right.