Gareth Butterfield ponders the merits of a £30,000 Vauxhall Astra
Ah, the Vauxhall Astra. The enduring epitome of an affordable, no-fuss car for the masses. But, wait, here’s a version of the long-serving family staple that costs nearly £30,000. What is Vauxhall thinking? I ask myself, as a perfectly normal-looking but very expensive Astra arrives on my driveway.
It’s called the “Ultimate” and, essentially, Vauxhall has taken its popular hatchback and thrown every bell and whistle it offers at it.
In truth, the price actually starts at a shade under £28,000 for an Ultimate, but bolt on a few choice options – such as a premium paintjob, a sunroof and a spare wheel and you really are knocking on the door of £30,000.
Not that you’ll need to spend long poring over the options list, that said. The whole point of the Ultimate is to offer an all-in luxury Astra. My test car comes with Vauxhall’s best engine, a brilliant new 197bhp 1.6-litre four-pot, and a dizzying array of gadgetry you’d normally find lurking behind a three-pointed star.
Without listing the full package, which would go on for several pages, highlights include adaptive cruise control, perforated, heated leather seats front and rear, a top-of-the-range infotainment system, dual-zone climate control, trick LED headlights and a driver assistance pack featuring a forward camera.
It really is, then, as its name suggests, the ultimate Astra. But is it worth the eye-watering asking price?
Well that rather depends where your priorities lie. Opt for something with a premium badge, such as a Volkswagen, an Audi or a Mercedes, and you’ll struggle to get anywhere near the same spec for the same cash.
Spec up Ford Focus to a similar level and you’ll also struggle to beat the price, especially once those notoriously generous Vauxhall dealers have had their calculators out.
Having said that, a Ford Focus drives significantly better than an Astra, and there are, of course, some Korean competitors from Kia and Hyundai that would show it a clean pair of heels at the same time as coming reasonably close to matching its spec and price.
More prestige rivals, such as the German best-sellers, have a nicer badge and tend to feel better-made but, it has to be said, the Astra is certainly better value.
And I guess that’s the point. Going back to what I was saying about your own priorities, if you’re the sort of person who values bang for your buck over badge snobbery, and if you couldn’t give two hoots what your neighbours think, then it’s hard not to recommend the Astra.
If you really must, you can bring down the price by opting for a lowlier engine – the 1.4i with 148bhp is more than adequate – and by ditching some of the trinkets it should certainly be possible to pick up an Ultimate for less than £25,000. If you smile sweetly at your dealer, that is.
And then it makes a really good case for itself. Here’s a car with all the toys of a £50,000 Mercedes, but for half the price.
Sure, it’s still “just a Vauxhall”, but that does of course mean you’ll be buying into a bustling dealer network, a decent warranty and a brand that, let’s face it, is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
So it might not be a BMW or a Mercedes, but you’ll feel like you have a car with all the benefits, but none of the price premium. The Ultimate should be in hot demand in the used market, too, which is good news for residuals.
It’s a car for those who like the finer things in life, but can’t be doing with paying through the nose.
It’s for Waitrose shoppers who make a bee-line for anything with a yellow on-offer sticker, or for people who book last-minute holidays from the airport because they might end up with a bargain plane-filling trip to the Maldives.
Sure, this level of added luxuries won’t be for everyone but for those who like top spec car, think of it not as an over-priced Astra, but as a bargain-basement luxury car.