Vauxhall Astra review
All-new, British built Vauxhall Astra scores with strong refinement, excellent quality, lots of tech on board and competitive pricing
The new Vauxhall Astra is right up there with the very best in the small family hatchback class, competing strongly against the VW Golf and SEAT Leon, and being a much better bet than the Ford Focus. It was developed in the UK and it shows - it drives really nicely on our roads. It also looks great, inside and out, while there’s more space inside than in the old car, even though the new model is smaller on the outside. Efficient engines, the very latest technology and prices lower than its predecessor all add to the new Astra’s appeal. If that wasn't enough, it was also named 2016 Compact Family Car of the Year at our annual New Car Awards.
The Vauxhall Astra has an unfortunate history of being somewhat of an also-ran in the hatchback market - constantly up at the top of the best-seller charts with rivals like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, yet never quite competing with them on quality, dynamics or practicality. But the new Astra is a true competitor for the best in this class.
Now in it's seventh generation, the Astra offers great driving manners paired with a broad range of engine options. A choice of five-door hatch or estate bodystyles has practicality sewn up, but we're expecting a coupe version to arrive eventually - possibly bringing a hot VXR model with it when it does. For now though, the hottest Astra comes with the 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
You can also get an Astra with the fabulous new three-cylinder 1.0-litre engine with 104bhp, or two turbo versions of a new 1.4 with 124 or 149bhp. The entry level Astra features a 99bhp 1.4-litre engine with no turbo power.
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Diesels are mostly versions of the excellent ‘whisper’ diesel engine – although not entirely silent, they all offer strong refinement, performance and economy. The 1.6 can be had with 109 or 135bhp, while there’s also a 159bhp Bi-Turbo version, too.
Vauxhall seems to be able to bring new models out at lower prices than the old cars and the Astra is no different. It’s strong value when you look at the kit levels, too, which includes on some models Apple CarPlay connectivity and the Award-winning On-Star safety and navigation concierge system. Astra trim levels go from Design through Tech-Line, Energy, SRi and Elite, with the top two also available as Nav versions with standard satellite navigation.
Automatic gearboxes are available with the 1.0 and 1.4 149bhp petrol engines and the 135bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine that’s also likely to be the most common engine choice.
Engines, performance and drive
Unlike many of its rivals, the Vauxhall Astra is not only built in the UK, it has had its chassis tuned in the UK. In fact, Auto Express was invited on an early chassis development drive to give initial feedback.
Our thoughts back then mirror what we think now – the new Astra sits nicely somewhere between the sportiness of the Ford Focus and the comfort of the VW Golf.
The new Astra’s weight loss of up to 200kg has helped engineers deliver a car that rides on the firm side of comfortable over nasty British roads, yet won’t leave you wincing over the worst pot holes. Nor is the car as rigid in its sportier settings – SRi models and above sit on the shame chassis settings as other cars, with only wheel and tyre combinations making a slight difference to the ride and handling balance. For the record, we’d be very happy with an SRi model.
Vauxhall has chosen a novel torsion beam rear axle with a Watt’s linkeage rather than the independent multi-link system used in a Golf. It means there’s less weight and bulk, although it’s a bit bouncier at the back over lumps and bumps than the Golf.
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The engines are a real highlight of the way the Astra drives, though. The ‘Whisper’ diesels may not be whisper quiet, but they’re not as clattery as rivals’ engines, while performance is impressive. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine is punchier than you might imagine, too, while the 1.6 petrol turbo is also excitingly swift.
The steering is linear enough, if not super-quick to react, while the brakes on a couple of our test cars have been a little bit grabby and take a bit of getting used to.
We’ve yet to try an auto Astra, but the manual box is easy enough to use, if not quite as slick as a Ford Focus’ shift.
New Astra comes with a broad range of engines: five petrol engines and three diesels. We’d expect the diesels to be the most popular and all come from the Whisper Diesel family. Although not exactly whisper quiet, they are more refined (and more powerful) than rivals – the 109bhp engine offers the best mpg and lowest emissions, while the 134bhp version is likely to be the best seller.
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The star of the petrol range is the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo, although it’s likely to be the 1.4 124bhp turbo petrol that’s the biggest selling petrol model – this engine impresses with its smoothness and performance. The 1.6 turbo model is a strong performer, and could appeal to those after a quick car without the pumped-up looks and expense of a hot hatch.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
With many Astras still selling to fleets, having a sub-100g/km CO2 emissions figure is vital. The Astra 1.6CDTi 109bhp model smashes that with a claimed emissions figure of 82g/km – which equates to a claimed mpg average of an astonishing 91.2mpg. Of course, real-world figures are likely to be very different, but unless you go for a Toyota Auris Hybrid with its 79g/km figure only a Peugeot 308 manages to match the Astra’s figures.
The more powerful 134bhp 1.6 CDTi diesel will also dip under the magic 100g/km figure for free road tax and lower company car tax figures when it’s on smaller 16-inch wheels, but the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo model will also dip under that figure in certain specs and will save you 3% on your company car tax benefit-in-kind.
As with most rivals, it’s expected that Vauxhall will offer service packs on the new Astra to retail customers, which will cap service costs for a period of time.
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Insurance groups have yet to be set for the new Astra, but you can bet that they’ll be on par with rivals, especially with the strong raft of safety and security kit the Astra gets as standard. If the car’s fitted with the OnStar connectivity system, that includes full vehicle tracking in the event of theft.
The Astra has never been a particularly strong performer when it comes to depreciation, due to the numbers finding their way onto the market and the fact that the old car was never a class leader.
The new model is proving to be much better – although we’d expect the current predictions to soften over time. Being first with new tech on the new market will mean that the Astra will be first with new tech on the used market, too, which will contribute to better residual values than the old model.
Interior, design and technology
Vauxhall interior design has been impressive of late, with a stylish, easy to use dash and good quality materials used, too. The Astra takes that a step further with strong tech on board – all operated through an intuitive seven- or eight-inch touchscreen.
That screen sits neatly in a classy piano black surround that stretches across the width of the dashboard and is underlined by a stylish piece of chrome effect trim.
The main instruments also have an information screen between them and the graphics are nice and clear – although strangely there are no obvious markings for 30mph and 70mph on the speedo.
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There’s Apple’s excellent CarPlay connectivity system or Android Auto depending on the type of smartphone you use, while the award-winning OnStar navigation and concierge system can be found on higher-spec cars – this uses a call centre to help you find a destination and will automatically send it to the navigation system in your car. It’ll also call the emergency services automatically in a crash, while a 4G wifi hotspot is created to allow passengers to use internet services on their own devices.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Vauxhall prefers to offer its navigation system as part of a trim level, hence the SRi Nav and Elite Nav models that are available. Vauxhall has clearly given much thought to what makes a good nav system and the Astra’s is one of the best with a combination of clear graphics and a simple menu system that’s easy to follow.
Of course, you don’t have to press any buttons at all – one call to an OnStar operator (working 24/7) and you can have directions downloaded directly to your car. It’s a very useful system, especially if you’d otherwise be hunting through the points of interest options on the screen. OnStar is so good it won the 2015 Auto Express Technology Award.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
When it comes to space for all the family, the Astra does a good job of offering decent, if not spectacular, accommodation for five people. It’s not quite as generous in the back as a Skoda Octavia, but it’ll keep passengers happier than those in a Ford Focus. The boot is a decent size and shape, too, although the new Astra Sports Tourer estate model will be following the hatchback into showrooms in the near future.
At 4370mm long, the new Astra is only 10mm longer than a Ford Focus, but it’s closer to 100mm longer than a Golf. It’s the same story when you compare width of Astra and Golf, although the Focus is marginally wider than both – but there’s only millimeters in it. In spite of the coupé-like roofline of the Astra, headroom inside is pretty good. Sportier models also ride at the same height as other cars – so SRi is really now just a style-led trim rather than having any ride and handling differences – wheels are tyres are the only significant change.
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Leg room, head room & passenger space
Although the new Astra is smaller than the outgoing car, it offers more space for passengers and an identical-sized boot. Set the driver’s seat for a six foot tall driver and a six foot passenger will be able to get into the back easily (the doors open nice and wide in the back – handy for fitting child seats and children), while knee and headroom are both impressive – certainly more so than in a Focus. There’s plenty of adjustment for the driver’s seat and the steering wheel, while forward visibility is good. Over the shoulder visibility is slightly compromised by the rising waistline of the car and hefty rear pillars.
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Open the Astra’s boot and you’re presented with a nice square shape and a ribbed floor – very handy to stop items rolling around. There’s a bit of a lip to heave things over, but it’s no worse than in most hatchback rivals. However, if you fold the seats down – which is easy enough to do – there’s a step between the boot floor and the seat backs. That can be eradicated if you chose to go for a space-saver spare wheel, in which case the boot floor raises to the same level as the backrests when the seats are folded. The downside is a slight reduction in boot capacity.
Reliability and Safety
New Astra gets impressive safety kit and we’d expect reliability to be okay, although Vauxhall’s Driver Power ranking is poor
The new Vauxhall Astra comes with a full roster of advanced electronic safety aids and can be specified with even more. Opt for the Driving Assistance Pack and you’ll get a forward-facing camera that brings with it all sorts of benefits. There’s autonomous emergency braking to help prevent you bumping into the car in front at low speeds, while the car will even tell you if you’re travelling a safe distance from the car in front. There’s Lane Departure Warning to let you know if you’re wandering out of your lane on the motorway, while Lane Keep Assist will gently turn the steering wheel to help keep you in lane.
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The Astra will also read and display road sign speed limit information and warn you if there’s someone in your blind spot. And as with rivals, there are self-parking systems available, too.
As far as airbags are concerned, there are front and side ‘bags for driver and passenger and full-length curtain airbags to protect all occupants. The seats will also play their part in keeping you healthy as they’re certified by the Campaign for Healthier Backs.
Vauxhall’s Lifetime Warranty is no longer – the company didn’t see much value in it and consumers didn’t seem that bothered either. So instead, there’s now a standard three-year warranty that’s a match for rivals’ cover.