The Vauxhall Astra has always been hugely popular, thanks to a diverse model range and keen pricing. But its rarely been in contention for best-in-class honours among its mid-size hatchback competitors.
It’s immediately obvious that the latest, seventh generation Astra is a giant leap forwards over its predecessor, but it faces the strongest opposition there has ever been in the class. Is it good enough?
Though it’s more-or-less the same shape as the old car, the Astra’s styling is much sharper. That continues inside, where the dashboard is neatly, logically laid out. Our car came with the £700 Navi 900 infotainment system, which is among the best I’ve come across. It’s easy to navigate and the screen is quick to respond. The only complaint is that the satnav is a bit dim-witted and its display crowded.
All Astras come with Vauxhall’s new OnStar telematics system, which will alert the emergency services in the event of an accident. It also offers a concierge service; a very helpful operator found me a restaurant in Grantham and sent the location to the satnav.
Otherwise, the SRi trim tested here (expected to be the most popular) comes well stocked with electric everything, many driver assistance systems and plenty of device sockets.
There’s plenty of space for people and things, though not as much as some competitors. The belt-line is quite high along the rear doors too, meaning children might not be able to see out.
The brand-new platform that underpins the Astra brings an average 200kg weight saving over the old car and you can really feel it behind the wheel. The handling is agile and accurate; it has a lightness of touch not often found in front-wheel-drive cars. The electric steering is largely feel-free, but the chassis provides plenty of feedback.
The ride errs on the firm side, but remains composed even over the worst surfaces our uniquely crumbling road network offers. Indeed, the suspension was tuned on UK roads for that very reason.
Vauxhall engines have traditionally been a major weakness, but the Astra carries a new generation of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines (bar the entry-level 1.4 petrol). Our car’s 134bhp, 1.6-litre CDTi diesel lives up to its Whisper name, proving remarkably smooth and quiet. The performance doesn’t set the world on fire, but there’s enough mid-range poke to dispatch A-road slowcoaches.
Claimed fuel economy stands at 72.4mpg, with CO2 emissions of 103g/km. In 800 mostly motorway miles, I rarely saw less than 53mpg and achieved heights of low-60s. But a relatively small 48-litre (10.5 gal) fuel tank and a pessimistic gauge meant I found myself filling up more often than expected.
Overall, the Vauxhall Astra is an impressive, competitive package. Perhaps not quite a match for the Volkswagen Golf, but I think a couple of clicks better than the Ford Focus.
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 134bhp SRi Nav
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel
Transmission: 6-speed manual; front-wheel-drive
Power/Torque: 134bhp; 236lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 72.4mpg; 103g/km
Top speed: 127mph
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By Only Motors
- Refined diesel engine
- Agile handling with composed ride
- Brilliant infotainment system
- Could be more spacious
- Limited range
- Samey design