In October, I had the pleasure of visiting the UK (for a second time this year!). The occasion this time however, was quite a bit more festive. I got invited to a wedding and decided to plan a whole week of activities around the weekend of the wedding. My trip had taken me all the way from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye to the Border Regions of Scotland and England, to the Lake District and back to Edinburgh. In order to do all the traveling, I needed a rental, hence this rental review.
Disclaimer: Vauxhall wanted me to review the new Astra so bad they had me book a flight, rent the car at Hertz, drive it around for a full week and hand it back in, all at my own cost.
Before I begin talking about the Astra, I want to add a TL:DR-like review of Hertz Edinburgh Airport. Now, I’ve rented/hired cars since I’ve gotten my drivers license. For business purposes but also for private purposes (holidays). I know the different ways how rental companies tend to mess with their customers and it always amazes me that in this day and age, rental companies that are supposed to be top tier like Hertz, still try to fall back on sleazy ways to mess with their customers. Granted, I’m not a Gold/Premium/WhateverHertzcallsit Member, but you’d expect them to be a bit more welcome to regular customers as well....?
In my experience? Not so much. After arriving at the Hertz desk at Edinbugh Airport, I showed my reservation for (I had reserved a car in the Compact class, which the Astra belongs to) my rental car at the desk and handed over the necessary documents. Everything checked out and the lady went over to get the keys. As she was filling out some forms behind the counter, I got a glimpse of the keyfob, it read Kia. ‘Alright, probably a Cee’d or something, nice!’ was my thought. She turned around and handed me the keys, saying: Alright sir, everything checks out, we have a Kia Venga for you today, its parked in spot 36.
I’m not an all-knowing car-guru by any means, hell, with the newer cars and models, I can’t keep up with what car belongs in what segment, but I had a gut feeling the Venga was not what I was supposed to get. Ah well, let’s check it out, I figured. Arriving upon parking spot 36, I could clearly see the Venga was a much smaller car than the Astra that stood next to it (On my reservation papers, my rental car example was an Astra or similar). I decided to walk back to the Hertz desk and ask if I could get the Astra instead of the Venga. I asked, before handing in the keys, whether they were in the same Hertz category, but the lady behind the counter couldn’t confirm nor deny. She figured ‘if it was the same, a trade was no problem’. Fine, but if it’s all the same, why were you giving me the much smaller car instead of what was on the lot, matching my ‘example-car’ on my reservation papers? So far my weird experience with Hertz.
The Vauxhall Astra: First impressions
On to the car! The Astra. It’s been a while since I had driven anything newer than a 2002 MY car and it really showed. So many buttons, so many options to play with, so many things to adjust and tinker with. My dads Audi A4 had electric mirrors and that’s it. I could spend a half a day tinkering with the Astra at the Hertz parking lot before actually driving away. My first impressions with the Astra were fairly simple: Nice, classy colour (brown-like), quite a bigger car than the Venga (lol), the boot fitted 2 large suitcases easily, oooooh! a Turbo badge on the back lid!!, manual and what looked like a well-optioned interior.
I drove the car for a good 900-1000 miles in a week’s time. The road surfaces varied from single lane roads to dual carriageways to single file farmroads and mountain passes. I had expected the car to perform well in the ‘Comfort’ department, but in all honesty, after every trip that lasted longer than an hour (which there were a lot of!), my back hurt pretty bad from the seat. I tried switching the position of the seat several times, it made no difference. Its great for city driving and short trips, but as far as a highway cruiser or roadtrip car goes, I wouldn’t go with an Astra.
The rest of the interior, the gauges, the buttons, the steering wheel feel, it is all very ergonomic and very nicely done. No hard plastics, no weird feels around the buttons, just a very decent, nice-looking interior. Even the one option that I apparently didn’t have in this trim, the one button that was missing, didn’t really stand out or make the dash look weird.
There’s really nothing that stands out. It’s a decent car and I think that’s always been the problem (or the advantage?) of the Astra. It’s a decent looking car, but it doesn’t ‘WOW’ you, granted, maybe cars in this segment aren’t meant to wow you either, but it’s just.....bland. I didn’t dislike it one bit, but I just wasn’t sold on it either.
I had the mid-trim 1.4 Turbo petrol Astra, with the Sport mode option. The engine is a peppy little mill that revs happily and has some go. It’s not the fastest car in the world (or is it..?) but it’s fine for everyday traffic. The sport mode makes the car feel a bit stiffer and seems to make it a bit more revvy, the pedal response was a bit better with Sport mode engaged.
Whether the Sport Mode was engaged or not, I couldn’t care much about the sounds it made, but again, in this segment, with this trim, is it really something you should care about? I can hardly imagine anyone buying a mid-trim Astra for the ‘sporty’ sound or the rev-happy engine.
Two things that did bother me an awful lot: It had an electric e-brake. I don’t like those in general, but the one in the Astra seemed to be extra annoying. You see, what the e-brake in the Astra does is, if you have the normal brake pedal applied for a longer time, it engages the e-brake automatically. I noticed, especially in circumstances that involved hills/mountain roads, that the e-brake had trouble staying engaged. I would release the brake pedal, it would hold the car for 3-5 seconds and just release the e-brake, resulting in the car starting to roll. Usually, this should happen when applying the throttle, but even without touching the throttle, it would sometimes disengage.
Another thing that bothered me: the lane departure system. I have to admit here that my daily driver involves a car that has bar none electric assistance thingys. It’s a great handling FWD car on its own, having said that, my lack of being used to a system like the lane departure system might have made my opinion on it in the Astra somewhat......biased. But....I hated it. It was awful. Every time I drove on a dual carriage motorway and wanted to switch lanes, it would ACTIVELY countersteer because I tried to leave my lane. Blinker on or off, it didn’t help a thing. I ended up switching it off after trying to master it for a full 3.5 hours of driving. I figured, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t driver error, but no matter what I did or how I tried to handle it, it would constantly countersteer, making a lane-change very awkward.
The Astra has some solid pro’s: The interior I liked a lot, city driving in the car was great, overall visibility was perfect. For the shorter trips, it’s a great car with enough space to fit 4 adults and a couple of suitcases in the back. The rear seats and rear space seemed decent (I’m below average height..:(..), it handled great on the twisties, felt a lot lighter than I expected. Sport mode is a nice quirk, but it didn’t add much to the car. IMO, they could’ve left the Sport mode out alltogether.
As for con’s: I found the comfort on longer trips (over an hour) lacking. Every time I did a longer stint (which was nearly every day) my back felt like someone had been hitting it with lead pipes for 4 hours. Even my ITR with near-solid engine mounts rides more comfortably than the Astra. The semi-auto e-brake let me a down a bit too many times for my comfort and the lane-departure system seems to have its own will. Maybe that’s the reason I see mostly newer cars lane-hogging....it’s the lane-departure system!
The C-segment, which the Astra falls in, has a huge basket of options to choose from. The Cee’d, the Astra, the Golf, the Civic, The Ford Focus, there are so many different cars, I’d really advise to just go out and try something else. If you really, really don’t care about anything in a car, you might as well get a better one.