As part of the unveiling on Tuesday, Vauxhall let the press drive the outgoing model from the hotel to the Ellesmere Port factory where the new car is built.
It was a canny move too – the dramatic leap forward the new car has made over the old one was even more apparent when we finally got behind the wheel.
My first impressions were good. The interior is brilliant – just like its bigger Insignia brother – and the handling is spot on.
With the rain pouring down at the launch in north Wales, PR supremo Denis Chick told us he was full of excitement about the new Astra.
And the car’s brand manager Lindsay Wickens added: ‘It is the single most important event of 2009 for Vauxhall.’
That I suppose, and the take over by Magna. Maybe that had slipped her mind…
But then we had been warned in no uncertain terms by Chick that the ‘car was the star’ at this event – and that the ‘Magna deal will not be discussed’. Maybe not by Vauxhall staff, but it was a hot topic among the journos!
Anyway, the new Astra looks stunning – for a hatchback anyway. The design concept for it was explained to us by chief designer Malcolm Ward, who said: ‘We have made the new car very dramatic, sporty and elegant.
‘And independent from the other models in the range – it is clearly part of the family but individual also, we don’t have a Russian Doll range.’
The handling and ride development was highlighted by former Rover man Peter Stoker, from Vauxhall’s engineering centre at Millbrook. He talked us through the new sophisticated rear suspension, which I later found out gives supreme handling and comfort.
Altogether it’s a very impressive machine – but I’ll reserve my full thoughts on it for the road test, appearing in the December issue of Car Dealer.
However, one final thought. When we finally got to Ellesmere Port, I was surprised at just how quiet the factory seemed.
I was expecting to see cars lined up ready for delivery, or transporters full of new cars ready for shipping, but there was nothing that I could see. Maybe I missed something, but it still smacked of being a bit strange…