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Astra finally gets a booty call with slick new saloon

IT must be an Irish thing ... our fascination with the saloon that is

IN fact, this obsession with the booty is so prevalent I'd be surprised if Kim Kardashian didn't run for the Aras next time round.

Yes it's got so shockingly bad that even Audi have entered the fray with news of an A3 saloon later this year.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't have anything per se against this 4-door mode of transport once it's a proper labour of love.

You see, all too often a saloon version is merely an afterthought -- a quick-fix creation to satisfy the hunger of the masses.

Cars that have been designed primarily to be hatch backs which are then hastily morphed into stretched versions of their former selves to fill a gap in the market.

Prime examples of this are the first generation Focus, the Skoda Fabia, the Corolla and the Opel Astra.

UPMARKET

Now in it's fourth generation (2009) the Astra was due a refresh anyway, so what better time to launch the new offering and boy, was it worth the wait.

Thankfully they have learned from past mistakes and adopted the Germanic way of thinking (haven't you seen the ads?) and brought the design much closer to the original concept.

What you get now is more mini Insignia, than Astra which gives it a much more upmarket look.

Check out the side profile of this fabulous looking machine. Everything is so neat and crisp and the whole design flow centres around the scooping side flanks which run from the funky LED headlights to the subtly raised spoiler sitting on the bootlid.

The smatterings of chrome especially around the windows, scooped inlays in the foglamps housings and on the door handles give it a touch of class.

Inside it's pretty much the same as the hatchback with an improved cabin on the previous generation but still lacking the attention to detail which has been capitalised on by its rivals in Ford and VW.

The model we're testing today is the uber efficient 1.7 litre, 130bhp, turbodiesel ecoFLEX which along with the two 1.4 litre petrol units (140bhp turbo and standard 100bhp), will be the volume sellers for Opel.

Thanks to Stop/Start technology, low resistance tyres and gear shift indicator the oil burner sips fuel, returning well over 60mpg while emissions are kept down to 114g/km -- meaning annual road tax of €200.

The drive, while competent and comfortable, lacks the fun factor of the brilliantly nippy petrol and we were left cold by the lack of connectivity from the electronic steering.

Now for a few quid more you could have the FlexRide option which allows the driver to select from Normal, Tour or Sports. A flick of the switch changes the whole dynamic of the car, stiffening the suspension, tightening the steering and adjusting the traction control to suit the ride. A really worthwhile investment.

The Opel Astra saloon starts at €19,495.