THINK popular family hatchback and one of the first cars that will spring to mind is the Vauxhall Astra which has always sold in high volumes for very good reason.
Since the Astra first graced our roads back in 1979 it has been a firm favourite with motorists searching for reliability, practicality, low running costs and good value. And over the years Vauxhall has built on that loyal fan-base.
Now in its seventh generation, the latest five-door model is much lighter, comes with a choice of highly efficient engines, is packed with technology and still has a price-tag that will leave you on speaking terms with your bank manager.
The latest car is shorter and lower than the sixth-generation model, yet rather cleverly the Vauxhall designers have managed to create extra space inside the car.
Back seat passengers have an additional 3.5cm room and the storage capacity in the boot has been raised to 370 litres - a capacity that is increased to 1,210 litres with the rear seats dropped down.
The SRi Nav model is at the higher end of the Astra line-up and was priced at £20,675 (£22,830 with options fitted).
This car was powered by a 150ps 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox and could sprint from 0-60mph in 7.8 seconds. It maxed out at 134mph and could deliver combined fuel economy of 51.4mpg with carbon emissions of 128g/km.
The car was certainly striking in its design and looks far sportier than previous versions.
Design features include 17-inch alloys, dark tinted windows, a rear spoiler, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights and plenty of smart chrome trim around the windows.
The grille housing the company's iconic Griffin logo flows smoothly into the headlight clusters and the divided rear pillars help to create a floating roof impression.
The interior is clutter-free and modern in its design with plenty of techno treats to explore. These include an eight-inch colour touchscreen, sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, a six-speaker audio system with DAB radio, air conditioning and a very practical system called OnStar.
There is an OnStar button located near the rearview mirror and when you press it, you are instantly connected with an operator - not an automated voice, but a real person based at a call centre at Vauxhall's HQ in Luton.
They can offer information and directions to local restaurants, hotels or fuel stations, or details such as weather and traffic conditions for an area. And if you are lost, you can contact OnStar and ask for directions. After a couple of minutes the route is downloaded directly to your sat nav system.
In addition, OnStar makes the car a hotspot for up to seven mobile devices, it can be used to check safety features such as oil levels and tyre pressures, but possibly most importantly of all it detects if an airbag is deployed in your car following an accident. If the operator cannot contact you or get a response then the emergency services are alerted and given your exact GPS location. The system is free for first year, after which there is a charge.
Out on the road the Astra was a great all-rounder when it came to driving and performance. On the faster roads, the acceleration through the six-speed manual gearbox was both smooth and responsive with ample power on tap to overtake if necessary.
The road-holding was ultra-grippy and the car could be thrown into bends with a degree of confidence.
In busier areas, the all-round visibility was good and the car weaved effortlessly through the crowds.
The suspension is a little firm, but it does successfully iron out most of the road's uneven surfaces along the way.
Vauxhall has packed the Astra with safety features, including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability programme, hill start assist and six airbags.
In addition, the SRi NAV model included a Driving Assistance Pack which added lane departure warning with lane assist, traffic sign recognition, following distance indicator and forward collision alert with automatic city emergency braking.