WHEN Vauxhall bosses said they had raised the bar in the hatchback sector with the new Astra they were not kidding.
The latest Astra comes with a degree of refinement, power, comfort, driving quality and technological features that make it anawesome contender in its market sector.
The Astra has long been perceived as an also-ran in its battle against the Ford Focus, but now things have changed and there is a great heads-up among car company bosses to see how this new kid on the block fares in the long term against its blue badge rival.
But the Astra name is far from new. The first of its ilk rolled off the production line 36 years ago and was a bright and breezy bread and butter hatch that offered value and a lot of driving enjoyment.
Since then the Astra has been one of the UK's top-selling and best-loved cars. A household name for British car buyers it has achieved almost three million sales in the UK.
The impressive fact is that more than 25 per cent of British motorists have either owned or driven an Astra.
But the current Astra is very different from what has gone before.
It has a pocket premium feel to it and is packed with features that back up this claim.
One such is the Vauxhall OnStar function which turn the car into a mobile 4g Wi-Fi hotspot that can be used by up to seven devices simultaneously.
And it is also a helpdesk on wheels because the OnStar button will take you through to an advisor at any time and operators will be able to assist with a variety of problems including the nearest petrol station, supermarket etc.
Roadside assistance is also included with the OnStar package so you can get in touch for problems like a flat tyre or if you run out of fuel. If an airbag deploys, The OnStar team will be alerted automatically. If there is no response, emergency vehicles will be despatched automatically.
Press the SOS button and an advisor can detect which parts of the car have been affected and can send emergency help.
Just as impressive as the leap in build quality in this car. I have to say that some Astra marks I have driven since the car's birth all those years ago have sometimes left a little to be desired - but not any more.
It's made in Britain at the Ellesmere Port factory and is a car in which Vauxhall can be justly proud.
The vehicle I sampled was an SRi Nav 1.4i 150ps Turbo a powerful car for it size which flew the sporty SRi flag with pride.
For instance, it is capable of 134mph and can hit 60mph from a standing start in 7.8 seconds.
In the past powerful SRi models have been petrol guzzlers, but not this one which boasts a combined mpg figure of 51.4, and a CO2 emissions readout of 128g/km.
The new Astra is based on an all-new lightweight construction with new powertrains and technology.
I find it amazing how Vauxhall has shaved so much weight off this car. Depending on the model and trim level it is up to 200kg lighter than its predecessor.
The body shell weight alone was reduced by 20 per cent from 357kg to 280kg.
Additional, chassis-related measures resulted in a further 50kg weight loss. These include high-strength and ultra-high-strength low-weight steels, compact subframes as well as weight reductions to the front and rear axle.
The powertrain line up features petrol and diesel engines ranging from 100ps to 200ps, including the all-new 1.4-litre ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo and the recently-launched 1.6-litre CDTi 'Whisper Diesel'.