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Astra-nomical value? The Vauxhall Astra feels like a bit of a national institution, a nameplate that has signified a small, affordable family hatchback for over three decades. Alan Taylor-Jones checks out the 6th gen model.

DESPITE Vauxhall's best efforts over thirty years and five different generations, their Astra has rarely been the family hatchback its drivers would ideally have chosen to own. Not because it's ever been a bad car: just never a class-leading one.

The kind of model you bought because it was good value. Or more likely, because you were given the keys by your company Fleet Manager. At the launch of this MK6 version in 2009 though, greater efforts than ever before were made to ensure that 'want one' factor.

So it was bigger, sharper to drive and nicer to sit in. And back then, it looked like a very complete proposition indeed.

By 2012 though, much had changed in the family hatchback segment. Hence the need for a package of Astra changes designed to keep this car current in such an increasingly closefought family hatchback sector. These created the smarter, higher-tech, more efficient car we're looking at here.

WHAT YOU GET Though the aesthetic improvements made to this improved MK6 model Astra were subtle, they did succeed in giving it a much fresher look.

Take the front end which, as well as a redesigned bumper, got a more pronounced GTC-like lower grille, while the upper grille got a more prominent winglike chrome bar and the option of LED daytime running lights. The rear was revised too, with smarter rear panel styling and a chromed lower moulding.

Vauxhall boasted that it was longer than virtually all of its main rivals, sat on a longer wheelbase and was just about the only family hatch buyers could have that was over 1.5m tall.

That's something that as a used buyer, you'll notice most on the rear seat. A fully-grown adult really can sit comfortably in the middle for decently long periods alongside passengers who'll appreciate the fact that you can slide your feet properly right under the seat in front.

So yes, this really is a proper 5-seater in a way that many of its rivals simply aren't. In fact, there's basically as much space here as you'll find in the brand's apparently bigger Insignia model.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR As is always the case with mainstream family hatches, you'll want to keep a look out for thrashed company hacks or ex-hire fleet vehicles.

Ensure that the car has been serviced on the button and that the mileage on the service record stamp tallies with what the odometer says.

It's also worth checking the car for accident damage, as many cars will be de-fleeted early if they've had a prang and have been repaired.

ON THE ROAD Back in the steam age, an inventor called James Watt (remember his name from school history lessons?) invented a linkage system created to constrain the movement of a steam engine piston in a straight line.

Over a century later, this Astra's engineers turned again to the same concept. When applied to a car's rear suspension, this Watt's linkage reduces sideways motion between the axle and the body of the car in a way that they claim is more space-efficient, lighter and adjustable than the multi-link rear suspensions used in the Focus or the Golf.

As to whether it all works, well, if you regularly corner your family hatchback on its door handles, you'll probably still find a Ford Focus to be a slightly more engaging drive.

The rest of us though, will find this a welljudged compromise that matches the Ford for ride comfort and is pretty much as good as anything else in the class when it comes to an engaging drive.

OVERALL There are lots of options if you're looking for a family hatchback from the 2012 to 2015 period and in a class packed with noteworthy cars, it would be easy perhaps, to overlook this facelifted MK6 model Astra - or at least to assume it to be an also-ran in this tightlyfought segment. You shouldn't do that - and it isn't.

It's worth looking at this later facelifted post-2012 version of the sixth generation design, rather than the original version. If you can do that, then you get yourself smarter looks, more efficient engines and extra hi-tech features.

Do that and you'll almost certainly come away with a very good deal. On a surprisingly good car.

CAPTION(S):

The Watt's link rear suspension system

The revamped sixth generation 2012-15 Astra
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 8, 2015
Words:726
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