What is it?
The current Vauxhall Astra is the seventh generation of a core British-built family hatch.
Efficient downsized engine, quality cabin, plenty of tech
The Vauxhall Astra remains a best-seller because it does everything it needs to highly competently, without exceeding in one area to the detriment of others.
It’s easy to live with, offers a quality interior, has enough performance while majoring on ride comfort, and boasts competitive levels of equipment.
The Vauxhall Astra is built in Britain.
Vauxhall appears quite suddenly to have remembered its British roots – “British brand since 1903,” all the adverts now remind us. And the one Vauxhall car in today’s range that is truly British is the Astra, built in Ellesmere Port, on Merseyside.
The seventh-generation Astra was launched in 2015, a major step forward for the long-lasting model and an evolution that earned it the European Car of the Year award. The judges were impressed by a radical reworking that included a significant weight loss, upgraded interior and improved dynamics, and these have helped keep the car highly popular – sixth best-seller in the UK in 2017.
Vauxhall continues to evolve the Astra – only in May were two new, more efficient engines announced for it. However, The Car Expert’s test model focuses on the significant shift to petrol and the most up-to-date downsized versions, the 1.0 turbo.
More Astras are sold to British buyers than in any other European market – so is it as good as painted?
Buying and owning a Vauxhall Astra
The Vauxhall Astra has been around in its various generations for so long – Ellesmere Port has been building them for more than 40 years – that it is easy to forget it amongst perhaps newer and more curiosity-inducing models from the likes of Korean brands.
Both the Astra and its entire sector are now also under serious threat from the rise of the SUV – dealers will find visitors walking through the doors of the showroom turning increasingly to the Mokka and another SUV, the Nissan Qashqai, now vies with the Astra for the title of the biggest-selling British car.
So perhaps Vauxhall’s new ‘True Brit’ campaign is no real surprise, reminding us just how important this particular car has been to the UK, with such thought-provoking claims as one in four Brits has driven an Astra…
Of course, bold words are no good if the product does not match up. Fact is, there have been some pretty dull Astras in the past, which is perhaps part of the reason why the latest version, on UK roads in 2016, earned almost rave reviews.
Vauxhall’s design types took the famed clean-sheet approach when penning the latest Astra, which they had to as its closest rivals the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf had both just been renewed to wide acclaim.
The new car launched with a new, more purposeful shape, from its sharply styled front to the signature two-tone rear screen pillar. – this was the most aerodynamic five-door car yet produced by Vauxhall and sister brand Opel.
It was also a significantly lighter one too, by at least 130kg, making the most of the brand’s new modular platform. All of which was good news for economy and emissions, as well as on-the-road performance. And this all came in a car that was actually smaller than its predecessor – 5cm shorter, 2.5cm lower and even with a 2cm shorter wheelbase, but thanks to that modular construction, more interior space.
A prime consideration making the Astra attractive to buyers has been value for money. The new model saw the number of trim levels on offer simplified but today, including ‘sub-trims’ such as the Nav version of the SRI model, there are still nine different varieties to choose from. They start from the entry-level Design at £17,670 and range up to the Ultimate starting at £25,490.
Equipment levels are a positive aspect of the Astra – even entry-level Design models include air con, cruise control, daytime running lights and the Intellilink infotainment system. Operated through a seven-inch touchscreen on the centre console, this includes DAB radio, Bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration – meaning, of course, you don’t have to worry about paying for a satnav-equipped model as you can simply pipe the app on your phone through the screen.
Popular with many buyers is the SRI trim as worn by our test car and starting from £20,270. Notable among its features are the OnStar suite of connected services, including wi-fi and emergency crash response. But be warned that Vauxhall intends to shut down these services after the end of 2020.
The SRI also includes a front camera system with autonomous emergency braking, and Astra safety standards rate highly – the car earned a top five-star rating when crash-tested by EuroNCAP in 2015, and this was without the AEB taken into account as it was not standard equipment.
Inside the Vauxhall Astra
The interior of the Astra is where some of the greatest gains have been made – it is of higher quality, and with generally spacious surroundings, though the rising rear window design can make the back seats feel tighter than they really are.
In fact, the modular construction has liberated more space in a shorter car – there is for example 35mm more legroom in the back. Generally, the Astra competes with its direct rivals for space while not outclassing them.
A definite step forward is the dash layout. The redesign saw the important controls placed together in a more logical fashion – those dealing with vehicle functions are close by the gear lever, the climate control in the lower half of the centre console, and the infotainment on the top half.
Particularly noticeable is the infotainment touchscreen – its glass runs right to the edges of the console which looks much more attractive than a plastic surround. Commands are very responsive too, though the sat nav graphics can’t match some recent versions on rival cars from the likes of the VW Group.
The steering wheel falls naturally to hand and feels comfortable, though it is somewhat festooned with buttons. Again they are fairly logical to use, but just a little fiddly.
Driving the Vauxhall Astra
Engine choices for the Astra depend on model. You won’t currently find hybrids or anything electric-related in the line-up, though that is set to change within the next few years.
The most traditional unit is the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol engine of 100hp, the only Astra powerplant not boasting a turbocharger. Much more interesting is the 1.0-litre 105hp unit in our test car. It may be less powerful than its 1.4-litre sibling but it is quicker to 60mph by some two seconds (taking 10.5 seconds in manual form), and boasts fuel economy improved by around 12mpg, and CO2 emissions some 20g/km less.
Further petrol choices include 1.4-litre turbo units of 125 and 150hp, and the range-topping 1.6-litre of 200hp, which passes 60mph from rest in 6.6 seconds.
Diesel buyers currently get three versions of what Vauxhall describes as its ‘whisper-diesel’ with either 110, 136 or 160hp. Best-selling of the three is the middle one, on the basis of a nine-second 0-60mph time, plus 74mpg fuel economy and emissions dipping under (just) the 100g/km barrier.
Coming soon are replacements for both the 200hp turbo petrol and the 136hp diesel, both conforming to the new ‘real-world’ emission regulations.
Remember when a 105hp engine of only 1.0-litre capacity would have been sneered at? No longer. The turbo unit in the Astra is enthusiastic and picks up strongly, while remaining pleasingly refined, particularly for a three-cylinder unit. It combines well with the five-speed manual transmission.
On the road, the Astra offers everything one would expect of a family car – most importantly, it is a comfortable ride. Only the most damaged of surfaces (typical south-east roads for example) are seriously felt in the cabin, the response from the chassis somewhat firm.
The car cruises motorways for mile after mile in a relaxed manner, while point it at a series of corners and it will tackle them with confidence. The steering is perhaps just a little on the light side, but SRI versions do include a sport mode that firms up the response, though not to a degree that would challenge the acknowledged leader in handling prowess, Ford’s Focus.
Does the Vauxhall Astra deserve a Best-of-British title? It does, because while like its predecessors it doesn’t write any radical headlines, it does do everything required of it rather well, which some of those predecessors didn’t.
On offer here is a well-designed, well-built car that will fit so seamlessly into an owner’s everyday life that they will almost fail to think about it. This is not a criticism – so many car buyers want an easy-to-live with car, that makes the journey from A to B a non fatigue-inducing process – a willing and capable servant. In that role, the Astra ticks all the boxes.
|Make & model||Vauxhall Astra||Ford Focus||Honda Civic|
|Price (on-road)||£20,950 (range starts £17,670)||£21,535 (range starts £17,930)||£20,755 (range starts £18,635)|
|Engine||999cc petrol||999cc petrol||988cc petrol|
|Power||105hp @ 5500rpm||100hp @ 6000rpm||129hp @ 5500rpm|
|Torque||170Nm @ 1800rpm||170Nm @ 1400rpm||180Nm @ 1800rpm|
|0-62mph||10.5 sec||12.7 sec||11.0 sec|
|Fuel economy (combined)||64.2mpg||58.9mpg||56.5mpg|
|Euro NCAP rating||5 stars (2015)||5 stars (2012)||5 star (2017)|
|Country of manufacture||Great Britain||Germany||Great Britain|
|The Car Expert rating||7.8 / 10||N/A*||7.8 / 10|
*car reviews prior to July 2016 do not have ratings