Vauxhall Astra review
With its upmarket cabin and sleek design, the latest Vauxhall Astra is a refined family hatchback
When the latest-generation Vauxhall Astra made its debut in 2009, its mix of sleek design and upmarket cabin pitched it head-to-head with the VW Golf. And while the Vauxhall can’t match the all-round appeal of its German rival, it still makes a comfortable and capable family hatchback choice. A wide-range of trim levels and engines means there’s a model for every taste and budget, while the recent arrival of the practical Sport Tourer estate and rakish GTC coupe have further broadened the appeal of the Astra. Only the lack of any real driver involvement and the pricey range-topping versions take the sheen off the Vauxhall’s showroom appeal.
Our choice: SE 1.7 CDTi 16v 110PS ecoFLEX S/S
While the Vauxhall Astra isn’t as eye-catching as a SEAT Leon or Ford Focus, it’s still a handsome and well-proportioned machine. Taking its cues from the larger Vauxhall Insignia, the Astra has a classy look that packs decent company car park kudos. There’s plenty of showroom choice, with Expression, ES, ES Tech, Exculsiv, Excite, SRi, SE and Elite trim levels available. Entry-level versions get plain plastic wheel trims, while ES Tech and above feature alloy wheels and extra chrome embellishment. Vauxhall has given the cabin an upmarket feel, although it can’t match the VW Golf for quality. Air-con, electric windows and an aux-in socket are standard across the range, while Elite models add leather trim and climate control.
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. 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 tumble in our 2012 Driver Power survey - falling 28 places to 39th. 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.