I WAS never a fan of the Vauxhall Astra in the past because I found the ride uncomfortable.
But the latest facelift has transformed not only the comfort but many other aspects of the car, bringing it right up to challenge the class leaders.
The Astra is now a fantastic all rounder - a cracking car in every way - with a new range of engines, low running costs and very low emissions.
Not only that, but to my eyes at least, it is better looking than both the Ford Focus and the VW Golf that head the class.
This latest model has a new range of engines borrowed from parent company Peugeot Citroen and the one I drove was a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol with no less than 145bhp on tap.
This diminutive little unit suits the car perfectly. It's smooth and quiet until pushed for higher revs, when it becomes beautifully tuneful without ever getting annoying.
Time was - not that long ago - when two-litre engines struggled to reach this kind of power, so the performance is very good, giving great acceleration through the six gears for overtaking and enough for decent urge even in top gear.
There is a little turbo lag if the revs are allowed to drop under 1,700, but it will pull happily - if with a little thrumming noise - from 1,200, which is just above tickover.
The ride quality is absolutely brilliant, soaking up poor surfaced country roads with ease and also taking in its stride the potholes, much repaired tarmac and speed bumps in town.
Multi-adjustable hip and back hugging seats hold front seat occupants perfectly, adding even more to the level of comfort, and there's space for two six footers in the back.
The front seats give all the support needed through the fast corners made possible by the excellent road holding. There's loads of grip even in the very wet weather we've been having recently.
The handling balance is also very good and the feel of safety and security through fast corners instils huge driver confidence despite sometimes slightly over light steering.
Without any doubt this ride and handling combination is the best ever offered in the Astra.
I hugely enjoyed every minute driving this car. Its wide range of abilities are right up there with the best and since dealers are often able to offer good discounts, the price could be well below some of the competition.
The binnacle has a figure readout for speed plus a half sweep tachometer, minor dials and a repeat of the stereo or sat nav in the centre.
The interior of the Elite Nav I drove was finished in black, with white stitching in the seats that relieved it somewhat and it came with sat nav of course, plus DAB radio, Bluetooth and aux in.
It also has Android Auto and Apple Carplay, air conditioning, multi-function steering wheel, leather upholstery, traction control, parking sensors and cruise control.
Vauxhall's OnStar personal connectivity and service assistant is also included, which adds stolen vehicle assistance and GPS location. This even allows an operator to cut off the vehicle's ignition remotely and stop it being moved.
OnStar also has an automatic crash response, a 4g wifi hotspot, smartphone connection and vehicle diagnostics.