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ASTRA-nomical

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I'm stood outside my local shop with the owner salivating and drooling over my latest ride.

"Jaysus, she's a beauty," he manages to utter, in between the almost orgasmic groaning of a man who likes his cars.

What is surprising is that he barely mentioned the BMW M4 I had the week before, or the Range Rover from a couple of months back or the Mercedes E Class in the summer.

No, John McCann is only interested in the practical and, more importantly, the affordable, and this week he is beside himself at the sight of the new Opel Astra.

I hadn't really noticed the Astra that much until John stopped me in my tracks outside his shop and, as I stood back with him and surveyed the reasonably-priced car in front of us, I began to see his point.

The all-new Astra saloon is quite the car to look at and, it's got to be said, is one of the most exciting drives you can get for a reasonable €20,000.

QUALITY

It's not long ago that the general quality and styling of Opel cars were somewhere between No Man's Land and Nowhere Street, but that has clearly changed.

The brand's overall reliability and performance are getting stronger, and here we have the fruits of their labour.

The look is accentuated by twin spoke alloy wheels (18in of course), the winning LED Daytime running lights and chrome trimmings around the window frames.

My version was the Astra Saloon Elite - Carbon Flash, if you don't mind.

And as you might expect from a car named after a lightning rod hand-crafted on Planet Krypton, this is a very sporty affair with lots of trimmings and features to gladden the sportiest of hearts.

There are sports seats with extendible cushions, cruise control and a delicious three-spoke leather steering wheel.

The Astra is a combination of glorious aesthetics and even more attractive extras, combined with the sensibilities of sensible motoring.

So, what of the ride itself - was it disguised by a muddle of frills and a sackful of sassiness?

Not a chance. This was a pretty impressive ride, a car that stretched itself beautifully on acceleration and that cruised happily at high speed on the motorway.

There are around 140bhps in this car, which throw together a maximum speed of 205kph - it hits 100 clicks in 10 seconds, not breath-taking, but certainly more than enough.

Now, if the 1.4 litre turbocharged petrol doesn't light your fire, then you could opt for either of the 1.7 litre diesels offering 110 or 130bhp.

These are not wanting in power or torque and sip fuel, returning an astounding 67 mpg (4.2l/100km).

But the real deciding factor for those debating the saloon over the hatchback is space.

Cabin-wise, there is not a whole lot to separate them, but the boot is an entirely different story.

The saloon has a luggage capacity of 460 litres compared with the 370 litres for the hatch, and split-fold seats are standard.

Back behind the wheel and enjoying the comfort from those sports seats, the drive itself and the simplistic entertainment system combine to give the pilot a really great driving experience.

Any bumps or uneven surfaces are ironed out by the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension which improves handling too.

Verdict? A top-class all-rounder for family motoring.

The Opel Astra range starts at €19,495.

 

Herald