Vauxhall Astra review
Can the Vauxhall Astra hold its own in the competitive family hatch segment with good looks and a classy cabin?
The Vauxhall Astra is a permanent fixture on lists of the most popular cars on sale in the UK.
Having been on sale for over 35 years, the Astra squares up against similarly-established rivals such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, as well as more recent additions like the Kia Cee'd, Hyundai i30 and SEAT Leon.
The Astra range is vast - made up of five-door hatchback, three-door GTC and the Sport Tourer estate, meaning there's an Astra for everyone. More recently, the Cascada convertible was added to the Vauxhall range, though this is made up of parts from both the Astra and Insignia.
In terms of trim levels, Expression kicks off the range, before the line-up extends through to Design, Excite, Tech Line, Tech Line GT, SRi, Elite, BiTurbo and the performance VXR.
A huge range of petrol and diesel engines are available too, including the efficient 1.6 CDTi ecoFLEX diesel which comes in 108bhp and 134bhp outputs, a 2.0 CDTi with 163bhp and a powerful 2.0 BiTurbo CDTi which offers 192bhp and a combined economy figure of 55.4mpg.
The Astra still lacks the level of driving engagement that you'll find in the Ford Focus. Despite the comprehensive model range, range-topping cars are expensive when compared to some of its rivals, too.
Vauxhall has worked hard to make the latest Astra as competitive as possible in the hatchback segment. It sports sleek looks and an attractive cabin, with a huge step forward for interior quality over its predecessor. It remains a comfortable and refined car, but it can't quite match the all-round appeal of the Volkswagen Golf.
Our choice: 1.6-litre CDTi ecoFLEX S/S
The current generation Astra was introduced in 2009, with a design taking cues from the larger Insignia. It is, however, beginning to show its age when compared with sharper looking rivals such as the Focus and Leon. It is still a handsome car with good proportions, though.
Entry level Expression models do without the alloy wheels and chrome exterior trim afforded to higher-spec versions, but the cabin has an upmarket feel throughout the range with air-con, electric windows and an auxiliary-in socket available as standard. However, the cabin still can't match that of the Volkswagen Golf.
The chrome-ringed dials look neat, but the red dot-matrix readout set between them looks dated compared with the colour screens that feature on most of the Astra's key rivals. Elsewhere, the button-heavy centre console slopes away from the driver, so the central screen is set further back than that of the SEAT Leon, for example.
The Astra is an impressively refined and comfortable car on the road, soaking up potholes and poor surfaces with ease. Noise levels are low, but the entry-level 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrols are gutless and become vocal.
The levels of refinement and comfort found in the Vauxhall Astra are impressive, and it soaks up poor road surfaces with ease.
Noise levels are low, but the entry-level 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrols are thrashy and gutless. The turbocharged 138bhp 1.4-litre unit is stronger and worth paying a bit extra for.
For those who prefer a diesel powerplant, the Astra is available with either a 1.3, 1.6, 1.7 or 2.0 CDTi engine. The 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre units come in two states of tune each, with the 2.0-litre CDTi BiTurbo topping off the range.
The introduction of the 1.6 ecoFLEX means Vauxhall now has a rival for the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion, Ford Focus ECOnetic and SEAT Leon Ecomotive.
Vauxhall fits the Astra with a long throw five or six-speed manual gearbox as standard, the latter of which can feel notchy. However, a six-speed automatic can be specified as an option.
While it can't match the Ford Focus for fun as a result of lifeless steering, on twisty roads, the Astra is grippy and composed. Buyers can opt for the Flexride option that tweaks the dampers, steering and throttle response for a sportier drive, but this is expensive.
The Astra is a safe and sturdy family car, having achieved a five-star rating in Euro NCAP's crash safety tests.
Six airbags and electronic stability control are standard across the Astra range, while SRi models and above have active head restraints as standard. Adaptive xenon headlamps to improve vision at night are also available as a cost option.
While sturdy build quality suggests the Astra should be a reliable choice, it ranked a disappointing 124th place out of 150 cars in our 2014 Driver Power survey. In the manufacturer rankings, Vauxhall came 29th out of 33.
On the inside of the Astra, five adults will fit with ease and benefit from a generous amount of head and leg room. The boot is well-shaped and offers 351 litres of load space, but this can't match the class best.
The Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon both offer 380 litres of space. With the rear seats folded, the Astra’s load capacity increases to 1,216 litres.
There's also the option of Vauxhall's Flex Floor system, enabling owners to create a completely flat load area with a hidden compartment below to store valuables.
Throughout the cabin are a host of neat cubby holes and storage boxes which will swallow up most of a family's paraphernalia. The door bins could benefit from being slightly bigger, though.
Our choice of the Astra range is the 1.6-litre CDTi, which returns 76.3mpg, and emits only 97g/km of CO2. However, these figures aren't as impressive as the equivalent Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion or SEAT Leon Ecomotive.
These two cars return in excess of 80mpg and CO2 emissions of less than 90g/km, so the Astra trails behind slightly.
Elsewhere in the range, the engines on offer are efficient enough, but still can't compete with the class best for running costs.