The new Vauxhall Astra impressed us with its composed ride, spacious interior and composed handling, and now we've had the chance to try the most powerful model in the range, featuring a 1.6-litre petrol engine with 197bhp.
So far there's no hot VXR model in the Astra range, so if you're after something with a bit more poke, this model is your best bet. There's plenty of torque in the mid-range, which helps with overtaking, but it's also rewarding to push harder, with the full 197bhp available at around 5,000rpm. Plus the 1.6 strikes a good balance between being quiet at low revs and building into a more exciting sound as you push on.
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A 0-60mph time of 6.6 seconds is impressive, but the car doesn't quite feel as quick as the figures suggest. That's in part thanks to the more refined nature of the new Astra: since the cabin is quiet and comfortable, it just doesn't feel as sporty as its figures suggest.
On SRi models you get a Sport button, which improves throttle response slightly and adds weight to the steering, but the standard steering is well-judged enough that Sport mode not needed. It lacks feel, but the Astra still handles very well, with just a little body roll and plenty of grip - at least on the bits of our drive in the Alps that weren't covered in snow.
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The suspension is firm but comfortable, and while at higher speeds there is some wind noise the Astra is very refined. The cabin quality is solid too, with soft-touch materials and a nicely presented infotainment system.
The Elite Nav model we tried is the top-spec car, and gets 17-inch alloys, sat-nav, heated seats & steering wheel and leather upholstery. Vauxhall execs told us that the brand is dedicated to its market and isn't trying to become a premium manufacturer, but with this much equipment and the quality of the cabin, the Astra will feel more upmarket than a VW Golf at the same price.
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The boot is big, at 370 litres, and there's lots of room inside for passengers as well. As you look into the back it doesn't seem like there will be enough legroom, but sit down even behind a tall driver and there's easily enough room for another two adults in the back. With 300Nm of torque this model is great for carrying heavier loads, so there won't be any trouble on trips to the dump.
In equivalent trims, this engine is about £1,500 more expensive than the 1.4-litre petrol, and the extra performance could make it worth it for drivers looking for something with a bit more fizz.