Vauxhall Astra 1.7

Top-selling family hatch scores on style, inside and out

For decades, Vauxhall has vied with Ford for family car supremacy. Last year, the Astra won the race, and was the UK’s second best-selling model. A total of 80,646 found homes; the outgoing Focus came third, with 2,842 fewer sold. 

 

Visual appeal has always been a crucial part of this closely fought contest, and the latest Vauxhall has enjoyed an advantage here since its debut in 2009. But an all-new offering from the blue oval means the Astra is no longer the new kid on the block. It lacks the instantly recognisable solidity of the Golf and the boldness of the new Focus, so its smart design doesn’t stand out – although the interior leaves a more positive impression. 

 

Material quality is a match for its rivals and the layout of the dash is less fussy than the busy Focus. Classy ambient lighting also provides a premium feel after dark. But the cabin isn’t perfect, as the multitude of small buttons on the centre console can be frustrating until you’re familiar with them. 

 

The Exclusiv gains marks for its multifunction steering wheel and standard cruise control, but this is tempered by the downmarket feel of the rim. It is made of unappealing hard, cheap plastic.

 

Elsewhere, the steeply raked A-pillars cause nasty blind spots when cornering, and the handbrake is poorly sited. Higher-spec variants get an electronic parking brake, but the traditional lever fitted to S and Exclusiv models can pinch fingers against the raised gearlever surround as you release the brake. 

 

Rear space is acceptable, with comparable legroom to the Golf, although headroom is tighter than in rivals. Load space is a plus point in this company, as the 370-litre boot is the biggest on test.

 

However, it has a small opening, and the rear seats don’t fold flat. 

 

Up front, the driving position provides plenty of adjustment, but this doesn’t stop the Astra from being a disappointment on the open road. Although the steering is positive and precise, there’s a disconcerting lack of feedback through the rim. 

 

Grip is plentiful, but the chassis cannot match the agility, responsiveness and poise of the Focus, and the Golf feels more composed. As a result, it rarely inspires the confidence or pure ‘drive me’ enthusiasm of its rivals.

 

It’s not all bad news, though, as the supple suspension delivers a comfortable ride and, aside from a fraction more wind noise than the Focus at motorway speeds, refinement is impressive. All of which conspires to make the engine’s coarseness a drag. The tried and tested 1.7-litre CDTI feels its age in this test, as it’s breathless and slow to rev.

 

The diesel’s 260Nm torque output is competitive, placing the Astra between the Golf and more powerful Focus, and in-gear performance is comparable to the Ford in third and fourth. 

 

But it trails in higher ratios. The lighter Golf is faster from a standing start, yet longer gearing makes it slower than the Vauxhall at higher speeds. The Astra’s diesel also trails at the pumps, where it recorded the worst economy on test; a CO2 output of 119g/km also makes the CDTI the dirtiest of the trio. 

 

Given that the Vauxhall is more expensive than the Focus, and can’t match the Golf’s image or low emissions, it has a fight on its hands in its perpetual battle for family hatch glory. 

 

 

Details

 

Chart position: 3WHY: Griffin-badged model is Ford’s traditional nemesis in this class. The latest Astra is smart and comes with a classy cabin – but is it good enough to put one over on its arch rival?

 

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