THE Vauxhall Astra seems to have been around since the invention of the wheel and with each new-generation model, the car goes from strength to strength.
The latest Mark VII car proved that point by scooping the European Car of the Year award, which is just one of a long line of accolades stacked up by Astra that also includes victory in the British Touring Car Championship.
Since it first debuted back in 1979 more than three million Astras have been sold and the latest model raises the bar even further.
Available in five-door hatchback or Sports Tourer guise, the new Astra comes in seven well equipped trim levels with prices starting from £18,885 for the hatch or £20,335 for the wagon.
And while the latest mid-life facelift model looks almost identical to the car that was launched two year's ago, the real headline news is beneath the bonnet with a range of completely new engines and an impressive nine-speed gearbox option.
As a result of these new powertrains, the carbon emissions and fuel consumption have been reduced by up to 21 per cent which is great news for both fleet and private buyers.
Design is seen as one of the latest Astra's key strengths, so there was little need to change much. However, there are some cosmetic changes including a new front grille, fascia and LED headlamps. The new Astra is also available in two new colour shades - a red and navy.
The car boasts a new-look shutter grille which allows the upper and lower sections to open and close automatically to help improve aerodynamics and the chassis has been revised with new dampers to help cope better with the ever-increasing number of uneven road surfaces. In addition, the steering has been upgraded for improved handling at high speeds.
But it's the new line up of highly efficient petrol and diesel engines that really help this car stand out from the pack. The three-cylinder turbo petrol units are a 1.2-litre with 110, 130 or 145ps or a 1.4-litre 145ps version. The new 1.5 diesel offers either 105 or 122ps and customers can also choose between a six-speed manual, new seven-speed CVT or smooth shifting nine-speed automatic gearboxes.
We tried a couple of models on a variety of roads through the Leicestershire countryside and the car certainly impresses.
First up was the Astra that Vauxhall believes will be the biggest seller - the mid-trim SRi VX Line Nav powered by the 1.2-litre 145ps turbo petrol engine with 225Nm of torque. This car, costing £24,195 (£26,420 with options), can complete the 0-60mph sprint in 8.8 seconds, maxes out at 137mph and has combined fuel efficiency of 51.4-54.3mpg (WLTP) and carbon emissions of 99g/km.
This particular Astra is another fine example of three-cylinder engines proving their all-round capability. On the fast open road, it pulled well and there was always ample power on tap as it moved swiftly through the six-speed manual gearbox.
The road holding was excellent and the raspy engine note that filters into the cabin adds to the appeal. Comfort levels are high and there is enough leg room for a couple of adults in the back provided the front seats are not pushed back too far.
Techno treats are plentiful with the likes of a seven-inch touchscreen, smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, sat nav, a six-speaker sound system, air conditioning and plenty more besides.
Next up was the 1.5-litre 122ps diesel-powered car with 285Nm in Elite Nav guise costing £26,510 - increased to £28,395 with a few optional extras added in. This car could reach 60mph from a standing start in 10.0 seconds, topped out at 127mph and could deliver a combined 51.4-54.3mpg with CO2 of 120g/km.
It also featured the super-smooth nine-speed gearbox that really impressed. It's very efficient and the gear shifts are barely noticeable no matter how aggressively the car is driven.
This diesel variant seemed slightly more mature than the petrol model with a quieter cabin environment, but it's still an absolute delight to drive and can certainly deliver on the performance front with swift acceleration and beautifully balanced handling.
Storage levels within the Astra are good with a boot capacity ranging from 370 to 1,210 litres with the 60:40 split-folding rear seats dropped flat. And there are lots of handy compartments scattered throughout the car too, such as door bins, a central cubby, glovebox, a tray in front of the gear lever, seat back pockets and cup holders.
Vauxhall has also improved the safety specifications on the car with the introduction of a new digital front camera which is smaller and more powerful than before thanks to a faster processor. It now recognises pedestrians as well as vehicles.
This system complements a comprehensive range of safety features that helped the Astra secure a maximum five stars when it was tested for its Euro NCAP safety rating.
With CO2 figures from as low as 90g/km and combined fuel economy as high as 83mpg, the all new Astra certainly makes perfect sense for anyone with an eye on economy, but who also wants a great performing car packed with all the latest technology.
The latest Astra is available to order now with first cars arriving in showrooms in November.