Alfa is bravo, but Vauxhall is victor

So the time came to take my pursuit of the Alfa Romeo Brera to the next level. I did the research and worked out exactly the model I wanted. I scoured the small ads, browsed Autotrader.co.uk and got a handle on the kinds of prices I should be thinking about. My poor Land-Rover Discovery was discovering yet another fault, and I wasn’t going to spend another small fortune trying to repair it… again. Enough was enough, so I pointed it in the direction of the Research Alfa Romeo Garage in Nuneaton and, within an hour, I was the proud owner of… a Vauxhall Astra.

Suffering a rare bout of common sense, I spotted the Unremarkable-Grey diesel hatchback in the packed forecourt and realised I could drive away with a reliable car AND an extra £500 in my pocket.

I have had Vauxhall Astras before and I know they are vastly under-rated cars, but even with that experience, I have been blown away by how good this car really is. I’m not even talking about a recent model here. Mine is a 57-plate so it’s the last of the ‘chunky’ hatchbacks. It has clearly been in a few scrapes (unless the production team that fitted the rear light clusters were just having a bad day) but is, nonetheless, a tidy car for the price I paid. I’m convinced that 90% of Astra owners don’t take the opportunity to get out of the daily grind and see how well their little piece of Ellesmere Port can actually perform.

I got the chance to see What was What on a 500 mile drive to the Scottish Highlands.

Being a 1.7-litre hatchback, the Astra won’t be left behind on the motorway but, sitting at 70, I felt I could have used a sixth gear. Otherwise, it was more than comfortable enough and the near 50mpg it returned was a welcome relief after the dismal economy of the Land-Rover. Things only seem to get better as the fuel prices continue to tumble, although the Scottish Highlands still serves some of the priciest fuel in Britain.

It’s when you leave the motorway network that the humble Astra starts to shine. Yes, this is just a diesel and no, it’s not an exciting shape or colour, but what I call “the chassis” – the suspension, body structure, steering etc – is just spot on. Loch Lomondside, Rannoch Moor, Glencoe, Glen Garry and Skye – you won’t find a more comprehensive real-world test of a car’s dynamics than on these wonderful, tight, technical, winding and open roads. This is no sports car, so I’m not about to say it’s up there with Porsches and Jaguars but, for an everyday small car, the sheer driving enjoyment you can derive from the little Astra is far above what the average buyer will expect, or go looking for.

Now, it could be said that it’s not a patch on the Brera but I’ll need to wait a little longer before I test that theory. I must admit, though, that new Giulia… I may have to revisit my local Alfa Romeo Garage in September 2016!

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