New Vauxhall Astra vs rivals

It's a make or break car for Vauxhall but has it done enough to blow its rivals away?

It’s the new car Vauxhall says will challenge our view of the luxury machines built by the likes of BMW and Mercedes… So say hello to the all new Astra, unleashed on UK roads this week.

Auto Express was first behind the wheel of the newcomer, putting both 1.6-litre petrol turbo, and new 1.7-litre CDTi diesel models to the test for this exclusive first drive.

What’s most important is that Vauxhall is also claiming that this is the most “British” Vauxhall in more than a generation.

Not only is the car set to be built at the firm’s modern factory in Ellesmere Port, but much of the chassis tuning has also been carried out with UK drivers in the front of engineers minds.

In the flesh, the car’s longer wheelbase and wider track really help boost the road presence, particularly from the rear three quarter.

Up front, there are new lights too – which for the first time include LED bulbs, and offer as an option Vauxhall clever Adaptive Forward Lighting system

The cabin is well proportioned, though we couldn’t help but identify a couple of small ergonimic niggles... We liked the layout of the raked dashboard, but found that it’s arranged at such an angle that the gearlever is mounted too far back.

The optional satellite navigation system also proved a confusing to use, and its LCD screen is small. Nevertheless, the car is well equipped, with options including a cycle rack, and an MP3 stereo system,

Fire up the engine, and it’s clear that there are no such troubles with refinement. We tried the 180bhp petrol unit first, which idles smoothly and quietly - yet remains eager to rev. Even more impressively, the diesel is every bit as quiet as its petrol counterpart. Though slower to respond to the throttle, it never feels short on urge.

Both engines offer smooth throttle response, though the effect of the pedal itself is not the most accurate we have ever tried…

Draw away from the line, and the turbocharged petrol car quickly shows it’s performance credentials. Fitted with a six-speed manual box, it will sprint from 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 138mph. The 110bhp diesel is slower, completing the benchmark test in 11.8 seconds,

Yet it’s the Astra’s chassis that is the star attraction.

The first thing that hits you is the ride quality – which manages to deliver an extremely comfortable ride and class leading body control at the same time.

Steering is accurate and there is plenty of grip, particularly through demanding, bumpy corners. We also liked the Astra’s traction control system, which on a high speed test track proved reassuring but never invasive.

Though we have driven cars that offer greater steering feel, there’s no doubting that the Astra’s blend of comfort and good handling will take some beating in this ultra competitive class.

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