26 July 2016

REVIEW: Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant

Knight Rider had nothing on this.

Cars these days are so much more than metal boxes that get you from one place to another. Although the cars of the future will drive themselves everywhere, letting you get on with turning into one of those chubby humans from Wall-E, for now a hi-tech car means a system that will make driving (and living) as easy as possible. We check out the Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant.

First up, the Vauxhall's OnStar system isn't something you can buy and fit to any old car; it is an integrated bit of tech that comes with many new model Vauxhall vehicles. And so, in order to try the system out, Vauxhall very kindly loaned us a motor: an Astra Sports Tourer to be precise. As awesome and luxurious as the car itself was, this isn't a review of it, and instead we're focussing on the OnStar assistant. Because there's a lot to get through!

The Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant is more than just a clever sat-nav system. There is indeed a navigation element to it, with GPS and a very user-friendly on screen mapping programme, but even that is augmented beyond anything we've ever played with. For example, if you're following the directions given by the sat-nav but become a little lost and confused, you can hit the car's service button and be automatically transferred to a Vauxhall OnStar adviser – a real human who you can talk to who can track your car's exact location and help you navigate – allowing you to concentrate on the actual driving.

That OnStar adviser isn't just there to help you if you get lost. If the airbag ever deploys, suggesting you've been in an accident, a call will automatically be put through to them, so you can ask them to call the emergency services if you're unable to. The car also relays your exact position to the adviser, so they can supply the emergency services with information to help them get to you quicker. Fortunately that was service we didn't have to rely upon during testing!

Also, if some cheeky tea-leaves make off with your Vauxhall and you call the Police to report it stolen, that same OnStar adviser can track the vehicle's location with GPS and even stop the ignition from being turned back on, when the criminals stop the car. All this info will then be relayed back to the Police who will then be able to locate your stolen pride and joy (and hopefully bring the ragamuffins to justice, eh?).

But the OnStar system isn't all about the 'just in case' situations, as there is plenty there to keep you and the family happy. We were a little surprised to see that the windows of the Astra we were sent were printed with the words 'WiFi Ready', but the car really was! The Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant acts like a WiFi hotspot, projecting a short-range wireless network for up to seven mobile devices to connect to. The internet access is handled by a cellular connection, with new customers getting their first three months for free (or rather 3GB of data – whichever runs out first), after which you can sign up to a fixed connection.

One thing to note is that the WiFi hotspot is provided by Vodafone; a company about which we really don't have anything good to say. Still, the reception the car received while driving around central York was good, but it dropped off totally as soon as we left the city. You might be wondering why a WiFi hotspot in a car would be needed, especially considering your phone is capable of projecting the same kind of network. However, we actually found ourselves using it for laptops while out and about, and we can imagine it being a Godsend to executives who quickly need to get online before a meeting or presentation.

The system will also keep an eye on the health of your vehicle. If any warnings flash up on the dash, you can call your OnStar Adviser to run a diagnostic of the car remotely, and they will then suggest whether of not you need to see a mechanic (they'll even send you directions to your nearest Vauxhall dealer). Also, should you wish to receive it, you can get an email sent to you each month giving you the lowdown on things like oil levels and tyre pressure – so you don't have to worry about what need to be checked manually.

And yes, there is an app. The Vauxhall OnStar app provides remote info about the status of the car, as well as giving you the ability to locate it should you get lost in a crowded car park. By tapping a button you can get your car to flash it's lights and honk the horn – which to be honest is just a fun thing to do to freak people out! You can also use your smartphone to connect to the system via Bluetooth, allowing you to make and receive calls hands-free, and also have your text messages read out to you – by a pretty nice, non-scary, voice. The Bluetooth connection also gives access to the media on your phone, which can be navigated using the touch-screen controls on the dashboard, or fiddled with using the cursor controls on the steering wheel.

The Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant is pretty spectacular, and shows just how connected the modern car can be. Like we said, this isn't a review of the Astra Sports Tourer itself, but using the system while driving about in the car was a total dream. You actually do feel safer, knowing that there is a team of people somewhere ready to deal with whatever problem you might have, from your car getting stolen, to you breaking down or having a major accident. It's all very clever and fun, but it could also save your life.

Find out more about the Vauxhall OnStar in-car assistant, and what cars you'll find it installed in, at www.vauxhall.co.uk/onstar

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