You know how it is. You’re sat in an early morning meeting when, out of the corner of your eye, you spot a Mk3 Vauxhall Astra looming into view.
It’s a while since you’ve seen one, so you can’t help but turn to face the Astra as it swings past – a quite literal term, seeing as you recognise it as a special edition Astra Swing, finished in metallic Caribic Blue. It parks within view of your table, so you grab your smartphone to take a photo of a car that was, in its day, one of the most popular cars on the road.
This is the world of the PETROLBLOG reader and no, there isn’t any cure for your ailment. Sorry.
But here’s the thing: when was the last time you saw a Mk3 Astra? Admittedly, it’s not about to sink without a trace, joining the likes of the Sao Penza, SEAT Malaga and the Renault 14 into oblivion, but numbers must be in steep decline. Let’s remember, this was a strong seller throughout the 90s, favoured by fleets, rental firms and the constabulary.
It has been gone 20 years, but the shape, considered too evolutionary at the time, is ageing nicely – a more 90s taken on the Mk2 formula, which was very much of the 80s. Hardly surprising, given that the Mk3 Astra was based on the Mk2 platform although the body and interior were brand new.
For the first time, the Astra was also badged Astra in other parts of Europe – the Kadett name was consigned to the big bin of unwanted model names with the coming of the Mk3 Astra, or ‘F’ model. GM had lofty ambitions for the car, hoping to edge it away from the Escort and closer to the Golf. History will recall that the gap remained too large for the Astra, but the overall quality was a huge step up from the Mk2.
It’s not for PETROLBLOG to tell you what to think of the styling, but with the benefit of hindsight, the shape pulls together rather well. It’s a rare example of a five-door hatchback that looks as good, if not better, than the three-door equivalent. Note the sculpting on the rear door and leading back to the rear lights – designed to improve airflow, it had the added benefit of lending some interest to the rear three-quarter view.
The Vauxhall Nova remains the king of the underappreciated rear arch, but the Mk3 Vauxhall Astra deserves some acknowledgement.
Not that Vauxhall styling chief Mark Adams is a fan. Talking to Auto Express, he said: “It’s a clear evolution, but if I am honest, it didn’t quite have the iconic character of the Mk2.”
“That integration of the back fenders in the side bodywork using a tapered spear shape really added dynamism,” he continued, so at least somebody else shares PB’s love of the rear haunches.
Away from the hatchback, the Mk3 Astra was a bit of a mixed bag. The Astra GSi was handsome and, thanks to a 2.0-litre 16v engine borrowed from the Cavalier, rather rapid. The Bertone-designed Astra convertible remains achingly good looking and a current bargain to boot. And, speaking of boots, there was also a Shatchback, but the least said about that the better.
Buy a white Mk3 Astra hatch and you could pretend to be a copper in one of the numerous crime dramas to use an Astra cop car. Dalziel and Pascoe, Taggart and Prime Suspect, to name just a few. Buy a plush CDX and you’ll enjoy owning the closest Astra to a Golf without buying a Golf. Or something.
Dear reader, here is the question: is it time to appreciate the Mk3 Vauxhall Astra as a cherished British-built relic from the 90s. Or should it remain in banger land, just one failed MOT away from a front lawn on a sink estate or a date with the scrappy?
Or, has PETROLBLOG been sniffing the highlighter pens again? Answers on a postcard to the usual address. Thanks.