Auto Trader verdict:
The new Vauxhall Astra is better to drive than ever, more practical than ever, more efficient than ever, and it’s also a bit cheaper to buy. It’s a very good all-rounder that finally has a realistic shout of challenging the class-leaders.
Author: Ivan Aistrop
Location: Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
What is it?
Big news, as any new Astra is. Vauxhall has sold almost three million examples of its family hatchback during the car’s 36-year history, including 50,000 in the last 12 months, and it still ranks among the UK’s very best-selling cars.
The looks of the new Astra might appear fairly similar to what went before, but this car is all-new from the ground up. Built on a new platform, from new materials, with new powertrains and a host of new technology, this is a completely fresh start for the Astra, one that many people would argue it badly needed. The question is, can the new car achieve what its predecessor never could, and be a worthy rival for its fiercest competitors, the Ford Focus
and Volkswagen Golf
What's it like?
If you’ve got any experience of the old Astra, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you climb inside. The dashboard that was sprinkled indiscriminately with buttons and switches is gone, replaced by one with far fewer controls that are logically placed and clearly marked. The standard Intellilink touch-screen infotainment system, which supports Apple and Android connectivity systems, takes a little more getting used to, but it does lend the cabin a fairly high-tech feel. So do the OnStar services (free for the first year with the top two trims, optional on the rest of the range), which give you your own wifi hotspot and 24-hour emergency and breakdown assistance, along with access to your vehicle data through a smartphone app.
The other thing that strikes you about the interior is the quality, which is a marked improvement over the old car’s. There are some soft-touch materials and attractive finishes on show, and the design looks fresh and sophisticated. Granted, some of the panels - like the central partition between the driver and front passenger - feel a little scratchy and low rent, so it’s no match for a Golf on outright quality. However, Focus buyers may well be looking through your window feeling a pang of jealously.
What's more, despite the fact that the Astra is a smaller car than its predecessor – shorter, lower and with a shorter wheelbase – it has more interior space. The rear seats have easily enough head- and legroom to keep gangly passengers happy, and the boot is also a decent size at 370 litres. That said, there’s a hefty load lip, and although you get split-folding rear seats, you’re left with a big step in the load floor when you fold them down. The hefty rear pillars don’t do much for your over-the-shoulder visibility, either.
The biggest big news for the new Astra, however, is how much lighter it is than the old car – up to 200kg in some forms - and this pays a variety of dividends.
Firstly, the new car feels much lighter on its feet in the corners, turning more easily than before, giving the car an agile feel. This is helped further by strong grip, tight body control and nicely weighted steering with consistent responses. SRi models also have a Sport button that dumps more weight into the steering and sharpens up the throttle response, and it’s pretty effective in giving the car a slightly sportier character. Thankfully, the Astra also provides a reasonably supple ride. Yes, there’s a slightly firm edge over rough surfaces, but it rarely gets unsettled and strikes a really nice balance between comfort and control.
Enhanced performance is another benefit of the Astra’s crash diet, because the engines have less mass to lug around. There are eight to choose from, five petrol and three diesel, and the one we tried, the mid-range 134bhp 1.6-litre ‘Whisper’ diesel, delivers strong, consistent pull from around 1,500rpm to keep you rolling along easily in most situations. True to its moniker, it’s also pretty quiet, but you do feel quite a few vibrations through the controls. There’s some road noise to be heard at cruising speeds as well, but wind noise is very well contained.
Finally, and also partly thanks to the Astra’s lower weight, efficiency is also pretty impressive. The version we tested returns official figures of 72.4mpg and 103g/km CO2 emissions, while the cleanest Astra, the lower-powered diesel fitted with stop/start and small wheels, is capable of 91.2mpg and 82g/km.
Should I get one?
Well, you should definitely think seriously about it. The Astra has come down in price as well as size, making it a more affordable option in a class where prices are creeping ever upwards. This, along with the impressive efficiency, will also keep tax costs down for company car drivers.
The Astra comes reasonably well equipped, too. Entry-level Design models have alloys, LED daytime running lights, DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, four powered windows and six airbags, while Techline trim adds sat-nav and a leather steering wheel. Energy trim does without the nav, but features bigger wheels and a heated steering wheel, while SRi cars come with sports seats, foglamps, Onstar and a suite of active safety systems that includes Lane departure warning, Lane keep assist and Autonomous city braking. Range-topping Elite cars have climate control, rear-seat USB sockets and heated seats front and rear.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that the Astra is a massive improvement on what’s gone before it. We’d like to try more versions of the car, and try them back-to-back with equivalent Focus and Golf models before deciding which is best, but we do think that the latest Astra might well be in with a shout. And that’s not a position it’s been in for a mighty long time.
For many people, the car that defines the small family hatchback class
Practicality, comfort, quality and affordability all in one package
The class act in this, er, class. Lovely to drive, and to be in
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