My first thought, when my eye fell on the new Vauxhall Astra in the flesh for the first time, was that this was far too good a car to be killed in some kind of recession-fuelled reorganisation.

As you can read here (and in the magazine this week), the sixth generation Astra gets a bit bigger, and picks up quite a few of the high-tech features foreshadowed in the full-size Insignia, but compensates for extra bulk with a raft of improvements to powertrain efficiency, including a 1.4 litre petrol turbo engine that sips fuel and only gently exhales CO2, while performing like an old-style normally aspirated 1.8.

However, for me the obvious achievement is on the styling front. Vauxhall design boss Mark Adams has further widened the visual gulf between the ‘family’ five-door — being built now in Ellesmere Port and on the market before Christmas — and the coupe-like Sport Hatch three-door. The former now has Golf-like grace in its lines, while the latter is understood to match or even beat the sporty visage of Renault’s Megane Coupe, which to my eye looks more expensive and exclusive than it actually is.

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago the three-door version of saloons in this class were referred to as “poverty models” or “Post Office versions”. I always thought GM Europe was a bit behind the game with its styling, ecliped by the engaging but brash sportiness of Ford, and the more considered and developed sculptural shapes of VW.