The Auto Trader expert verdict: ★★★★★ ★★★★★ 3.1
The Vauxhall Astra is a good car, but it has one big problem. It competes in a class where there are some absolutely stunning cars, and in that sort of company, ‘good’ just isn’t good enough. That said, if you choose the right combination of engine trim, you’ll get a very capable all-rounder for a competitive price, and it shouldn’t cost the earth to run.
Reasons to buy
- Smart styling
- Comfortable ride (in most cases)
- Good 1.6-litre diesel engine
At a glance
- How good does it look? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's the interior like? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How practical is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- What's it like to drive? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How powerful is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much will it cost me? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How reliable is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How safe is it? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- How much equipment do I get? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
- Why buy? ★★★★★ ★★★★★
How good does it look?
You might look at an Astra and be completely unmoved, but we reckon that’s more to do with how common the car is; there’s very little wrong with the design itself. Granted, there’s nothing particularly daring or cutting-edge, but there are some interesting finishes on a few of the main features, some bold creases, and overall, the lines are quite swoopy. Be warned, though – not all Astras are equal in the looks department. Yes, the high spec versions have all manner of styling goodies, but as you drop further and further down the range, you get less and less flair. Entry-level Expression cars don’t even have alloy wheels, let alone chromey bits, spoilers or skirts.
What's the interior like?
The Astra’s interior follows the same conservative theme as the bodywork, but while that conservatism works on the outside, it leaves the cabin feeling a little drab. Many of the panels are fashioned out of dreary grey plastic that’s hard to the touch, so it all looks and feels rather low-rent compared with many competitors. The switches and dials don’t feel as slick, either. The ergonomics are another cause for complaint, not least because the centre console is absolutely covered with similar-looking buttons. The infotainment system you get on higher grade models is operated by scrolling through on-screen menus with a central dial, but neither the menus nor the controller feel intuitive to use.
How practical is it?
The Astra does a decent job on practicality, but many rival family hatchbacks do better, and some of them by a very big margin. There’s enough room in the back of the Astra to accommodate a brace of adult passengers, but the space provided is acceptable rather than exemplary. The same goes for the size of the boot, which is merely average by class standards. That said, all models get a 60/40 split folding rear seat, while most also have a useful split-level boot floor, which can be shifted around to either maximise space or eliminate the boot-lip – convenient when loading cumbersome items.
What's it like to drive?
Get the Astra out on the open road, and you’ll find it entirely adequate. There’s nothing it does badly, but it doesn’t do anything particularly impressively, either. Most versions do provide a comfortable ride, which is important for a family car. But, while they handle securely and predictably, they don’t have the finesse or agility that the best cars in the class give you. Sportier versions like the SRi come with a lowered sports suspension designed to make things a bit more nimble, but the improvement is extremely marginal and the ride comfort suffers as a result. It doesn’t get uncomfortable, but it’s not as cosseting as the low-end cars. Some high-end version are also available with the optional Flex Ride suspension, which allows you to set your car up for comfort or sportiness by selecting different driving modes. Again, you’ll struggle to tell the difference between the modes, so we’d advise you to leave that particular box unchecked.
How powerful is it?
As ever with Vauxhall, Astra drivers have an enormous range of engines to choose from. We haven’t tried the entry-level 99bhp 1.4, but even the 113bhp 1.6 struggles with the Astra’s weight a wee bit. At least it stays smooth and quiet. The 138bhp 1.4 turbo is the paciest petrol of the bunch, but it doesn’t feel as pokey as its power output suggests. There’s a wider range of diesel choices, ranging from a 94bhp 1.3 to a 192bhp 2.0-litre. Most of them are irritatingly noisy and not especially flexible, but the 1.6-litre diesel, available in outputs of 108bhp and 134bhp, is the exception. It’s smooth and perky, and delivers very competitive running costs.
How much will it cost me?
With such a wide range of engines on offer, there’s something to suit every taste and every wallet. The pick of the bunch for efficiency is the 1.6 diesel. Whichever output you choose, it puts in very competitive figures for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, making it very affordable to fuel and tax, especially for the company car drivers with which the Astra is so popular. We reckon it’s the pick for private buyers, too, but you’ll need to negotiate a sizeable discount on the list price from your Vauxhall dealer (and they’re always willing to slice a considerable amount off) to help offset the heavy depreciation that your Astra will suffer. Even if you do, it’s very possible that better, more desirable rivals that hold their value better, cars like the VW Golf, will actually end up costing you less long-term.
How reliable is it?
Vauxhall currently ranks mid-table in the manufacturer standings of Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, which indicates reasonable reliability. As an individual model, however, the Astra doesn’t score particularly highly. What’s more, you don’t get a particularly competitive warranty package, with only a three-year/60,000-mile arrangement provided. Some rivals are far more generous on that score.
How safe is it?
All versions of the Astra come with a decent amount of safety kit, including six airbags, stability control, sophisticated brakes, active anti-whiplash head restraints and a tyre pressure monitoring system. High-end Astra can also be specified with certain safety-based option packs, which add clever technology like automatic braking and lane departure warnings. The Astra has achieved the maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, but because it was tested quite a few years ago, it hasn’t been subjected to the latest, more stringent procedures that many of its rivals will have faced.
How much equipment do I get?
The Astra gets an acceptable amount of standard kit, but some rivals do much, much better. All versions get air-con, remote central locking, front electric windows plus electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors. Move up one level from Expression to Design, and cruise control is added to the list, along with alloy wheels and audio controls on the steering wheel. Tech Line trim adds desirable items like sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB and iPod connectivity, while Tech Line GT and SRi trims have a lowered sports suspension and some sporty styling upgrades. At the top of the range, Elite cars have climate control, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather seats and powered rear windows.
Good question. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t, because it’s a very capable all-rounder, and if you spec it right, it’ll be very affordable to own. However, there are some very, very good alternatives in this class, which do the important stuff better for no more cash. When the competition is so good, it becomes difficult to recommend the Astra.