New Astra hatchback. 1.6 Year 2001 model year a jpoc road test.


Inside this car is dark and gloomy. I bet that the designer likes going to funerals.

The rear seat folding mechanism is very odd. What, please, is the point of a split seat back if the seat base is in one piece? To fold the seats, you must first remove the rear headrests. The mechanism to do this was very fiddly, women and guitar players can say goodbye to at least one fingernail now. It was also a two handed job so you had better not feel the need to hold something to steady yourself as you lean inside the car to complete this job.

Having finished the load carrying part of my trip, re-erecting the rear seat was another game. The seat belt buckles would fall under the seat cushion and disappear from view. There were no clips to hold these in place so you need to hold them up by hand while you lower the cushion. That's no problem as there are only three of these so you only need four hands to do the job. (One hand for the cushion as well as one for each buckle.) You can just about manage if you have the handspan of Rachmaninoff (hold two buckles in one hand) and the agility of an olympic gymnast to push the cushion down with a knee while holding the buckles. Me? Since you ask, I just enlisted the help of Oscar my pet octopus. Clearly he is more the sort of customer that GM have in mind but the rest of you should get friends or try being genetically augmented.

All this makes me wonder if anyone from GM ever tried to fold and reassemble the rear seats. (The wretched Dilberts who designed the thing in the first place do not count.)

The load area beneath the hatchback is covered by a removable tray which is mounted on a substantial plastic moulding. Sadly, this moulding robs valuable width from the load bay. Having said that, with a bit of jiggling, I did manage to fit a folding bed and a stack of three garden chairs into the load area. with the rear seat erect, there was plenty of room for the spoils of a big shopping trip. One failing in the luggage compartment was that there was no facility to secure any bags so you have to expect that everything will roll about.

The ventilation system was ghastly. It was not possible simultaneously to blow cool air at the face and warm air to the feet. In case GM are wondering, this strange idea allows you to keep warm and alert when driving at night in cold weather. For me, this is a show stopper, I would not buy a car that cannot do this and I happen to believe that this is a safety feature! I suppose that you'd all think that I was going over the top if I said that they should do a safety recall on this point but ABS and airbags won't help you much if you fall asleep because your head is surrounded by hot muggy air.

Aside from that, the vents were very well placed, the air goes to your face and not to the back of your hand which is better that some other cars that I have driven recently.

The sound quality from the standard radio was poor but it did have a novel innovation. They put controls for the radio on the steering wheel but then made them so unintuitive to use that they are more distracting than a plain old well designed unit in the dash.

The seats were so uncomfortable that, after a couple of hours driving, I was considering turning round and giving the car back and cancelling my travel plans but I stuck it out. It is all down to the relative position of the steering wheel and the pedals. Get that wrong and the best seats in the world will not get you comfortable for a long drive. The poor lumbar support and contour of the seat cushion did not help either.

The car came with some form of central locking. Either it was broken which indicates poor quality control in a nearly new motorcar or it reflects some strange thinking on the part of GM about the workings of central locking systems. The remote control would, occasionally, lock and unlock all of the doors but most of the time it would do something else. Get out of the car, close the doors and press the lock button on the remote and usually, all of the doors would lock. Then, one second later, they would all unlock. That's just long enough for you to note that the doors have locked and then turn away. If you were parked by the side of a busy street, you'd not hear the sound of the doors unlocking which could have unfortunate consequences. Locking and unlocking the car with the key seemed a little more consistent but on one occasion, when the drivers door was unlocked and the others were locked, a simple twist of the key was enough to lock the drivers door and unlock the others.

Introduction Back to the start
Performance & Economy Adequate but no more
Handling & Ride Not bad at all
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