They've all been trying to catch up with the top-of-the-class VW Golf for ages now, but to no avail. Yet the new Astra - a ray of hope for the European GM subsidiaries of Vauxhall and Opel - has much to recommend it. They have at last introduced elements of modern design and a full palette of engines, plus the prices aren't going to burn a hole in the pocket of the average crisis-ridden motorist. In addition, they seem to have got the material specifications and finishing quality right. Now it has to prove itself under market conditions. The Astra is a step in the right direction but it's unlikely to topple the Golf off its podium. Before that happens, the Vauxhall/Opel image needs a boost. But it could certainly give the VW best-seller a run for its money.