Does it work? Vauxhall's OnStar concierge service tested

Published: 13 July 2016

► Vauxhall's OnStar concierge system tested
► Offers up location and emergency services
► Worth having, or best to rely on your phone?

OnStar is a big deal for Vauxhall. It’s a 4G-powered communications service you can access on the move, where call centre concierges are on hand to help you with location services, such as guiding you to a coffee shop, restaurant or cinema.

There are other benefits, from powerful automatic emergency assistance in a crash to the ability to trace and even remotely disable the car if it’s stolen. OnStar turns your car into a mobile wi-fi hotspot, to which up to seven mobile devices can be connected: perfect for keeping bored kids occupied with surfing or gaming.  The system is being rolled out across the Vauxhall range: after a free first year, it costs £79 annually including AA cover. 

To make the most of OnStar you’ll need to be in a chatty mood, as most of its functions are accessed by hitting the overhead blue service button and speaking to an adviser at OnStar’s Luton call centre. So, inside a new Astra, we do just that. 

Some 10 seconds after prodding the button, we’re connected to a slightly bemused-sounding but very polite adviser, who runs us through the possibilities. First she undertakes a remote diagnostics check, telling us that the car’s fluid levels are spot on.

Onto our request: please direct us to the nearest golden arch-fronted fast food outlet. She says the system is running slow (we called during the ramp-up phase before the system went public), but after a couple of minutes the co-ordinates for the A1M Junction 17 McDonald’s appear in the sat-nav. 

Nothing can overcome the nagging feeling that it would be more efficient to get your passenger to Google your heart’s desires instead. Aha: but what if you’re on the move solo? Voice controlled Apple CarPlay can do much the same thing, though you’re beholden to your unboosted mobile’s network coverage. 

File the majority of OnStar’s functions under ‘nice to have’ rather than ‘need to have’. But there are a couple of standout features: if you break down, OnStar can scramble a recovery crew, and the automatic crash response function – triggering a call to check you’re okay the instant the airbags deploy, and scrambling the emergency services – could be a life-saver.

Did it work?

Yes… but it’s awkward: OnStar can’t compete with a quick smartphone Google, assuming you’re stationary and have a signal. While the clunky concierge services feel redundant, the system is redeemed by two killer apps: the in-car wi-fi hotspot and the emergency safety net

Three steps to an in-car concierge 

Sharkfin aerial which offers 'far stronger 4G signal' than that of a mobile phone

1) Getting a signal

OnStar’s powered by a roof-mounted sharkfin aerial, claimed to offer a far stronger 4G signal than that of a mobile phone.

Push the button and chat away to an advisor, 'where's the nearest McDonalds?'

2) How can I help you?

Push the call button to speak to an advisor, who’ll handle everything from emergencies to sending you to the nearest McDonald’s. Hitting SOS skips the queue; privacy mode masks your location.

The system downloads the information direct from the advisor's computer

3) Have a nice day

If, like us, you’ve asked for directions to a point of interest, the destination’s downloaded straight to your sat-nav, hands-free. Took its time in our car, though.

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By James Taylor

CAR's deputy features editor, automotive design graduate, Radical champ

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