What is it?
It’s the new Vauxhall Astra, which means it’s quite important. Small family cars are writ so large into the fortunes of mainstream car companies that none of them dares to be without one.
Even Nissan, which successfully hung its fortunes on crossovers and SUVs, was told by fleets it needed a conventional hatch and therefore ponied up the Pulsar. If you want to sell lots of cars in Europe – as Vauxhall/Opel already does – you have to offer a small family car, which is why now even Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW sell them, as if the mid-market wasn’t having a hard enough time already.
There is probably no more important car to be launched this year, then, than the new Astra. And here it is, tested near Vauxhall’s Luton HQ, cars with right-sided steering wheels adorned with Griffin badges, rather than as Opel-badged left-hookers driven in the south of France or Spain.
For why? Because Britons buy Astras in greater numbers than anybody else, because it is ‘Brit-built’, says Vauxhall like a red-top headline, and because we get an Astra whose driving characteristics are tuned specifically for our roads. Vauxhall and Opel have, no question, put the hours in on this one.