Gareth Butterfield finds himself pleasantly surprised by the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer
I CAN remember when my friends and family used to scoff at me for shopping at Aldi. They weren’t exactly regulars at Waitrose and M&S, but they’d never shun their beloved Sainsbury’s and Morrisons for a “cheap” German chain which piled its un-branded products high in unkempt shelves.
But these days they wouldn’t shop anywhere else. You see, Aldi has pulled off the clever trick of offering good value while not skimping on the quality.
At the time, few people believed me when I insisted its collection of groceries with unfamiliar labels was fit to grace an immaculate home in a leafy suburb, and yet, time after time, I see drivers of BMWs, Audis, Mercedes and the like pulling up in Aldi’s parking bays and filling their trollies with products they’d have turned their noses up at just a few years ago.
And I’ve seen Aldi’s neat trick of luring a better breed of customer starting to be repeated, slowly but surely, by Vauxhall. And it’s all down to one car: the new Astra.
Here’s a car which, overtly, is a perfectly normal family car from a brand synonymous with value and shipping families around with no frills and little in the way of luxuries.
Yet, all of a sudden, in its latest model, it’s boasting some of the equipment you would find in the pricey German cars. You know the ones I mean. The cars you used to see parked outside M&S and Waitrose before Aldi came along.
This system also oversees any breakdowns, sets up your sat nav remotely, dobs in any thieves, serves up WiFi for you and your passengers, and a person will even call you from Luton if there’s a problem with your car, before popping onto the other line to arrange recovery and repairs.
It doesn’t stop there, either. You can pick an option that effectively turns it into an automated vehicle. Adaptive cruise control is fitted, along with a clever system that looks out for you in case you wander over the lines on the road. If you do, the steering wheel will be tugged to bring you back in line, out of danger.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can do mile after mile along a dual carriageway without touching the wheel and pedals, but it comes pretty close. It’ll also park itself, if you’ve ticked the right box on the options sheet.
The infotainment system is brilliant, the headlights are clever, there are some wonderful interior features and it’s really quite attractive. Vauxhall has built a suitable rival to a Mercedes. Who’d have thought it?
And now there’s a new version. An estate. Except, to be clear, it’s not called an “estate” – that’s a bit last season – it’s a Sports Tourer. It’s there in a bid to lure the weak-willed Waitrose shopper who takes a couple of Labradors and the odd mountain bike out for their weekly shop. And it’s every bit as good as its rivals.
It’s actually a little bit more attractive than the Astra hatchback – the lines on the estate (sorry, Sports Tourer) seem to flow into one another better and the added space over the hatchback is far from significant, but it’s very useful.
Legroom is good, and this is the biggest Astra boot yet, so it’s pretty cavernous, if not quite as huge as its rivals, with a useful aperture and shallow loading sill.
On the road, it shares the hatchback’s positives but inherits some slight flaws. The steering is a little light, the ride is a tad firm and the controls don’t feel quite as expensive as the German competition.
But let me go back to my point. This is not a £30,000 Audi. This is a car that starts at a shade over £17,000, and even with all the bells and whistles I’ve been talking about – usually the reserve of a well-specced Mercedes – it’s not going to set you back a great deal more than £25,000.
So the next time you pop out for some Waitrose Essential Limoncello, call into Aldi first, buy a similar product and save a few quid.
And, in much the same way, before you put down a deposit on a BMW, give one of these a punt. You might be pleasantly surprised.
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