Vauxhall Astra

4 Oct, 2006 1:00am Sam Hardy

With a windscreen that extends over the driver’s head, this Astra offers a truly different perspective on motoring

Verdict

5
Plenty of firms sell cars with optional full-length sunroofs, but nothing comes close to matching the incredible view and feeling of space that the Astra’s Panoramic screen offers. It adds detail to the view ahead, and makes even grey days great fun. The extra glass does add £850 to the cost, but that’s not much more than a normal sunroof.
For an extra £850, the Panoramic screen is available as an option on the Astra Sport Hatch range. We sampled Vauxhall’s glass act on our first drive of the newcomer on UK roads.

With a line-up that includes the Tigra and recently launched Astra TwinTop, both of which feature folding metal roofs, Vauxhall isn’t short of cars that bring the outside inside. But neither model is quite like the Astra Panoramic – indeed, there’s no other vehicle on sale today that comes close! Citroen’s new C4 Picasso is the only other mainstream model available with a similar windscreen. We drove the new compact MPV last week (Issue 929), but even its big front window doesn’t extend as far back as the one fitted to the Astra.

The huge 1.8-square-metre piece of specially shaped glass finishes in line with the front seat headrests and, unlike convertibles or cars with full-length sunroofs, there’s no need for a crossmember linking the tops of the A-pillars.

As a result, your view above is totally unimpeded, bringing the tops of buildings and skylines into the cabin. It all feels very dramatic and is bound to be popular with the kids! The super-sized window makes the interior much more airy than a normal car’s, and on grey, rainy days, you enjoy all the benefits of a convertible without getting wet. It’s also great fun at night. If you have ever marvelled at the bubble canopies fitted to fighter jets, this is the closest you’ll get on four wheels.

Conversely, bright sunshine does the Panoramic windscreen no favours – des-pite the fact the special glass absorbs the heat, you can still feel as though you’re in a greenhouse.

However, unwanted rays can be shut out with a sliding sunblind that has two fold-out visors. This can be pulled forward to where the roof-line finishes on a standard Astra, or stopped in any number of positions in between. Fully closed, it makes the cabin feel just like a standard car’s. So the experience is amazing – but what about cracks, chips and scratches?

Vauxhall says that potential buyers shouldn’t be worried. The windscreen is made from laminated safety glass that is 20 per cent thicker than usual, which the firm claims makes it more resistant to flying road debris. If the worst does happen, a brand new screen will cost around £7 – and this should be covered by the majority of motor insurance policies.

As for safety, the A and B-pillars haven’t required any extra strengthening, but an additional beam has been fitted to the middle of the roof, just behind the larger expanse of glass. According to Vauxhall, there is a slight loss in torsional rigidity – which is why the Panoramic option isn’t available on the hot VXR model – but the car still meets all crash test requirements.

That’s partly down to the clever windscreen, which is manufactured using a special oven. In it, the glass is heated intensely at specific points and then allowed to bend under gravity in order to create its distinctive shape.

Despite being 6mm thick and having additional roof bracing, the whole car weighs only 10kg more than the standard model. And that’s great news for the ride and handling of the sporty three-door hatchback.

Sure enough, once on the move, we couldn’t detect any loss in stiffness on our 140bhp 1.8-litre SRi model, which felt identical to the standard car. Its precise and responsive steering is the same as before – as is the unusually thick-rimmed wheel – while the 1.8-litre engine provides willing performance. Buyers can also count on the Astra’s good body control, although it’s not quite as fun to drive as it is to look out of that windscreen!

Engineers at Vauxhall have clearly put a lot of thought into making the new screen work, because there’s no increase in wind or road noise compared to conventional glass.

Indeed, the only criticism we have concerns rear visibility, which is poor on all Sport Hatch models because of the thick rear pillars. Of course, that’s not really a problem at the front!

Key specs

The Astra we tested had the same 1.8-litre unit fitted to the standard car, but the screen is also available on 1.4, 1.6, 2.0 and 2.0-litre turbo petrol models. Frugal 1.7 and 1.9 CDTI oil-burners are also available – yet option won’t be offered with 240bhp VXR range-topper.
* Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 140bhp
* 0-60mph: 9.4 seconds
* Top speed: 130mph
* Price: £17,085

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