Vauxhall Onstar - Review, prices, details

The manufacturer's new in-car connectivity system will be on our roads in Europe this year. We put it to the test during the trial period to see what it can offer

Words ByDoug Revolta

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What is it?

Vauxhall’s in-car connectivity system. It’s been in North America for 19 years, and also in China, and now it’s coming to Europe.

What does it do?

It is operated by three discreet buttons by the interior light: one button selects a privacy setting and WiFi settings; the blue middle button connects you to a 24-hour call centre, and a red SOS button connects you to an emergency helpline.

Operators at the Onstar call centre in Luton can input navigation details, deliver vehicle diagnostics, and offer emergency help if required. If the car is involved in a collision, for instance, an operator will automatically call through to the car to check the status of the occupants.

There's also a smartphone app that allows users to lock and unlock the car, request vehicle diagnostics information and monitor data such as engine oil condition and tyre pressures.

If the car is stolen, Onstar can locate the vehicle and disable the engine once it is stopped.

The car can also be turned into a 4G portable WiFi hotspot that can connect with up to seven devices inside the car.

What cars can use it?

Onstar will be standard in the new Astra in SRi and Elite trim, and it will be optional across the rest of the range.

It will also be available in the Viva, standard in SE trim, and SL will have it as an option while the Insignia gets it standard in Tech Line and Elite and as an option across the rest of the range.

When will it be available?

It's available to order now, and will be in cars on roads in the UK from October.

How much does it cost?

The system is free for the first 12 months, but buying it as an optional extra costs Β£395 including the free year.

After then, an annual subscription fee of Β£79 gets you the Onstar safety and security systems, but the 4G connectivity will be an additional cost on top of that.

There’s no word on how much that may be, but expect it to be announced next year.

What’s it like?

Onstar is still being worked on for its European debut but the test model we tried offered a glimpse at the system's capabilities, and it proved simple to operate on the move.

Pressing the blue Onstar button puts you through to a phone operator at the call centre, and once you're connected they're able to help with any number of queries you may have.

On this drive, we got them to input a navigation destination, and it was as simple as asking a passenger to do it for you. This could prove a great alternative for drivers who get frustrated with robotic voice command car systems, and it'll be very useful if you need to change your destination while you're on the move.

The 4G WiFi proved to be intermittent on our short motorway trip, though, and when the call centre failed to solve the problem by reconfiguring it we needed to stop the car, take the key out of the ignition, open the door and wait for 20 seconds before starting the engine again to make it work.

Having a portable WiFi hotspot could be a hugely attractive proposition to buyers, but Vauxhall will have to make sure its data provider can guarantee good UK coverage to make it a truly desirable product.

What are its rivals like?

Other manufacturers offer emergency help, like BMW's Intelligent Emergency Call, but Vauxhall says that Onstar will be available in more trims and models than its rivals.

However, by March 2018 all new cars will have to be fitted with an emergency call system by law. So while Vauxhall may be ahead of the curve now, it will be a standard feature in a few years' time.