There is an old cliché that says the fastest car on the road is a hire car. Well ultimately ones speed is determined by self-preservation, license preservation and (hopefully) good road manners. Well for most of the time, until you are on a road Scottish author Ian Banks calls a ‘nice wee road’. Even the term brings a smile to my face. The road between the small Yorkshire village of Sheriff Hutton and small market town of Easingwold is just such a road, a road I have driven each day for the last week.
The car is a Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTI, and I soon understood why the lady at the hire car counter had a slightly smug look when she whispered I can get you an Astra. It is shod with good low, wide tyres and has a chassis designed to match, just perfect for the nice wee road. There is power a plenty and a great 6 speed box, when it all comes together it is an absolute pleasure. Choose your line and go for it, with enough up your sleeve just in case someone is coming the other way, or a big green tractor pulls out of a field in front, towing the biggest trailer I have ever seen full of stuff you would not want to end up in. You soon get the feel, wide into the corner and tight out until you can see that the road is clear, then floor it.
So, what’s the downside? Well it’s that diesel thing, a red line at 5K and in this case nothing below 2K either. It was embarrassing when on the first day I came to an intersection at 15km/h in second gear, and when I saw it was clear accelerated away, but I did not go anywhere cos the engine stalled. Even in first you cannot be complacent, without plenty of revs you will end up reaching for the key to get the engine restarted. At the other end the engine management system is fiercely protective, as you approach 5K revs everything stops, its like you’ve run out of fuel. Keep between that 2k and 41/2 K rev range and it’s a joy, stray out of it and its game over, thank your god, or Vauxhall for that 6 speed box, the only thing that keeps it all together. Now I know beauty is in the eye…. But this thing looks like it was styled on a bike helmet, far too many interlinking curves and like many current cars the curved style and chopped door front leaves a little wedge of glass between the door and windscreen. That combined with wide door pillars and big mirrors results in a huge blind spot, especially when encountering a right hand corner.
Get to know this car and it pays you back in spades, but never forget that diesel foible. Ultimately a foible you may choose to live with in the interests of fuel economy.
I’ve come to enjoy the Astra, and with fuel twice the price it is in Australia, I enjoy its frugality. I’m not so sure I enjoy scraping ice off the windscreen each morning, but I cannot blame the car for the weather!