Vauxhall Astra review
With its upmarket cabin and sleek design, the latest Vauxhall Astra is a refined family hatchback
The Vauxhall Astra has been in production since 1979 and has long been one of the UK’s most popular cars. The most recent model, the MKV, was launched in 2009 and marked a significant change in direction for the Luton firm’s family hatchback. The utilitarian looks of the MKV were replaced with a far more sleek and sporty design, while the upmarket cabin saw huge improvements in quality, as Vauxhall attempted to pitch the Astra against the Volkswagen Golf. Sadly, it can’t quite match the all-round appeal of its German rival, but it still makes for a comfortable, refined and capable family hatchback. There’s a huge range of engines and trim levels, which means there’s a model for every taste and budget. While the more practical Sport Tourer estate and rakish GTC coupe broaden the appeal of the Astra still further. Unfortunately, the Astra lacks the driver involvement you find in its rivals, and range-topping models are expensive.
Our choice: SE 1.7 CDTi 16v 110PS ecoFLEX S/S
There’s no doubt that the Vauxhall Astra is a handsome and well-proportioned machine, with a sleek and sporty-looking profile. It takes its design cues from the Vauxhall Insignia, and certainly isn’t going to be a cause for embarrassment in a company car park. But the Astra was launched in 2009, and its age is starting to show a bit – it’s just not quite as eye-catching as younger rivals like the Ford Focus or SEAT Leon. It comes in baffling array of trim levels, including: Expression, Design, Energy, Limited Edition, Tech Line, Tech Line GT, Sri, Elite and B-Turbo. All but entry-level Expression models get alloy wheels and extra chrome embellishment. The cabin feels quite upmarket, but it’s no match for a VW Golf for quality. Air-con, electric windows and an aux-in socket are standard across the range, while higher spec models get leather trim and climate control as standard, too.
Refinement and comfort impress with the Astra. Noise levels are low and the ride soaks up the worst bumps and potholes, while comfy seats and great driving position makes long journeys effortless. The entry-level 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrols are thrashy and gutless, but the turbocharged 138bhp 1.4-litre and 178bhp 1.6-litre are stronger. Diesel fans can pick from 1.3-litre, 1.7-litre and 2.0-litre units – all deliver decent mid-range urge, but are noisy when worked hard. Most recently added is a 2.0-litre BiTurbo diesel with 192bhp, giving Vauxhall a rival to the Golf GTD. All models get a long throw five or six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a six-ratio auto is an option. On twisty roads, the Astra is grippy and composed, but lifeless steering means it can’t match a Ford Focus for fun. The optional Flexride system tweaks the dampers, steering and throttle for sportier responses, but it is expensive.
A five-star Euro NCAP rating means the Astra is a strong and sturdy family choice. All versions get six airbags and electronic stability control, while active head restraints are standard on SRi models and above. You can also pay extra for adaptive Xenon headlamps that respond to steering inputs for better night time vision in corners. Solid build quality suggests that the Vauxhall should be a reliable choice, but the Astra did take a dramatic tumble in our 2013 Driver Power survey - falling 64 places to place 103, with an 84.04 per cent rating. However, the first owner of the car benefits from a unique warranty that lasts the lifetime of the car or 100,000 miles, which should give some piece of mind.
As you’d expect, the Astra is on a par with the VW Golf when it comes to practicality. The spacious cabin will accommodate five adults, with those in the back benefiting from decent head and legroom. Further marks are awarded for the thoughtful layout of the cabin, which includes plenty of neat cubby holes and storage boxes for all the family's odds and ends – although the door bins could be bigger. Opening the tailgate reveals a well-shaped 351-litre load bay, while folding the split-fold rear bench flat results in 1,216-litres of space. An optional Flex Floor system allows you to create a completely flat load area with a hidden compartment below it for valuables.
If you’re looking to keep running costs to a minimum, then the ecoFLEX models make a compelling choice. Best of the bunch is the 1.7-litre, which when coupled to stop-start technology, manages to reduce CO2 emissions to just 99g/km. What’s more, it promises to return a fuel sipping 76.3mpg at the pumps – that’s 4mpg better than the hard-worked 1.3-litre. Sadly, the petrol models are off the pace, particularly the turbocharged 1.6-litre turbo. With CO2 emissions of 160g/km it will cost you much more to tax than a 1.6-litre EcoBoost equipped Ford Focus. The Astra also suffers from high prices and if you look past the bargain basement Expression model, and the Vauxhall is one of the priciest family hatchback contenders. However, dealers often offer big discounts on new and nearly new cars and range-topping versions do provide plenty of kit in return for your cash.