Motoring review: Astra's new star quality
PUBLISHED: 09:39 20 April 2016
Vauxhall has raised its game with the Astra - it's leaner, meaner and is loaded with new technology, says motoring editor Andy Russell
You meet an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. They’ve lost weight, toned up and had a makeover - you can’t help but feel good for them. So it is with the new Vauxhall Astra. Around three million have been sold in the UK since it launched 36 years ago and one in four British motorists have either owned or driven one.
The new model is clearly an Astra but the bold lines and contours, inspired by the Monza Concept, bring out the ‘blade’ curved athletic design. And, cleverly, while the new Astra appears lower, longer and wider, it’s actually smaller on the outside but bigger inside.
Astra has always played second fiddle to the more dynamic Ford Focus but this is by far the best one I’ve driven. With a new chassis and the tried-and-tested suspension fine-tuned and enhanced, the new model was developed on UK roads with steering, ride, grip and control benchmarked against rivals. Keeping the car’s weight to a minimum – it’s up to 200kg lighter – has also made it more rewarding to drive and you appreciate the more agile handling with good feedback from the well-weighted steering. It hasn’t been at the expense of ride quality and the sporty SRi test car was composed and comfortable. The way it soaked up grotty road surfaces made it feel like a much bigger car.
Part of the Astra’s appeal is the range of efficient engines, with 1-l, 1.4-l and 1.6-l turbo petrol, ranging from 105-200PS and 110-136PS 1.6-l turbo and 160PS BiTurbo diesel. Diesel will appeal to high-milers but the new 150PS 1.4-l turbo petrol is a cracking proposition for both on-road and environmental performance. It’s smooth, refined and flexible, with strong pick-up from 2,000rpm and revs happily when kept on the boil with the snappy six-speed manual gearbox. Put it in sport mode and everything feels sharper and more responsive for even more fun. Even with spirited driving I got 42mpg overall and nudged 50mpg on a run.
For a mid-sized family hatchback, there’s no shortage of space with decent leg and headroom in the back for adults. The deep 370-l boot is well shaped so can take a good load, while rear seat backs split 60/40, freeing up 1,210 litres of space, but don’t lay totally flat and step up from the boot floor.
Vauxhall interiors are so much better than they used to be for both look and feel with tactile, high quality materials and sculpted curves. Easy to find your way around, thanks to clear dials and well-sited controls, the fascia has a cohesive feel, while switchgear has been reduced to the minimum (unfortunately even in size when it comes to some heating and ventilation controls).
Full marks for the intuitive IntelliLink system touchscreen, the centrepiece of the dashboard, and at the core of the Astra’s connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto opens up access to maps and messages and third party apps such as Stitcher, Podcast and Spotify.
The Astra also debuts Vauxhall’s ground-breaking OnStar connectivity, turning it into a 4G wi-fi hotspot for up to seven devices. If an airbag goes off it alerts an advisor who will contact the vehicle to see if help is needed and it offers a 24/7, 365 days-a-year UK contact centre for roadside assistance and even directions to a restaurant or the closest filling station directly to sat-nav.
The new Astra features a host of new safety features, including systems to automatically brake to avoid collisions and stop straying over white lines. One of the brightest is the glare-free IntelliLux LED Matrix lighting. It’s not cheap as a £995 option but worth considering if you do a lot of night driving. Each headlight has eight LED segments that constantly adapt the length and distribution of the light beam to give maximum visibility without dazzling other road-users.
The popularity of the Astra has made it a familiar sight, so much so that it is easy to take it for granted. This latest model takes it to a new level, yet costs up to £2,200 less, and deserves to win attention.
Price: Vauxhall Astra SRi Nav 1.4i Turbo 150PS £19,595 (hatchback £15,295 to £23,520)
Engine: 1,399cc, 150PS, four-cylinder turbo petrol
Performance: 0-60mph 7.8 seconds; top speed 134mpg
MPG: Urban 38.7; extra urban 62.8; combined 51.4
Size: L 4,370mm; W 2,042mm; H 1,485mm