Vauxhall and high-end? Well, a claim the manufacturer has staked for a while. Whether the current Astra can hold a candle to the likes of Audi is for others and especially customers to decide. As far as our specialty – car lighting – goes, the answer is yes, the headlights are definitely premium. Things such as the matrix light in the compact Astra can usually only be found in high-end saloons, and not at all in comparable compact models from premium manufacturers.
Intellilux LED matrix headlights is the name Vauxhall uses for the headlights on our test vehicle, an estate. Behind this marketing term is a system which can individually control 16 high-power LEDs, creating many different types of light distribution – in the form of glare-free high beam. The term describes best what it’s all about.
A camera fitted to the back of the driver’s mirror captures the traffic situation and controls the light accordingly. It starts with full high beam. If there’s oncoming traffic, the light shining in its direction will be masked out. The same happens if the camera picks up a car ahead. The whole thing works a treat. The driver can manually change to low beam anytime, but this wasn’t necessary at all on our journeys. Especially in left-hand bends (in Great Britain and other countries driving to the left), glare for oncoming traffic is a lot lower than with conventional low beam.
Masking out other road users is such a smooth process that you have to look very closely to notice the effect. That’s good the way it is, because frantic opening and closing of the masked out sections can be irritating and tiring. There would have been a great temptation to show buyers what they have paid the premium for by repeatedly doing this. But hats off to the team led by lighting developer Ingolf Schneider for resisting it. The Astra also shows its subtle side when it comes to cornering lights. In its unobtrusiveness, the automatic system generally works so well that drivers won’t have to think about it. It’s also best they forget about reading the relevant passages in the manual, in which the whole thing sounds more complicated than it actually is. You only need to switch on automatic high beam when it’s dark. Sadly the system is not allowed to do that itself. Outside urban areas the glare-free high beam is then active. In illuminated urban areas the Astra automatically adjusts the distribution of the light beam.
The Achilles heel of matrix lights is called the chessboard effect. This means that the sections illuminated by the individual LEDs are recognisable by the slightly darker outline – or more like were, because lighting experts need to look very closely to make out the slight remnants of the chessboard. Certainly, the light is not as uniform as xenon fans are used to, which makes the other side of the road ahead of oncoming drivers slightly patchy. But you shouldn’t be looking at these spots anyway. Vauxhall projects the majority of the light onto the important parts of the road. At a distance of 50 to 75 yards, the distribution of light is as uniform as can be with LEDs these days.
Vauxhall has the Intellilux LED matrix headlights manufactured by Austrian specialists ZKW, a company that also works closely with Osram. The premium of £995 is around the same as it used to be for a Xenon system. Unfortunately, Vauxhall wants another £195 if the LED rear lights aren’t included in the model’s trim package. Those who want LED lights at the front also need to have them at the back. But that’s something most buyers would usually want anyway.