Vauxhall Astra: big on sales, small on desire. Fire-cracking VXR models aside, the Astra has always played the role of the segment’s lukewarm porridge. Slightly stodgy and with far tastier options on the breakfast table. Well hold on to your cornflakes, because the seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra is actually very good. You may actually aspire to owning this one.
What are its rivals?
For years, the Vauxhall Astra has played second fiddle to the global sales phenomenon that is the Ford Focus. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308, SEAT Leon and Kia Cee’d to contend with. Just as well this Astra is sharper and far more appealing than before.
Which engines does it use?
There’s little doubt that, even with the current question marks over diesel engines, the 1.6 CDTi (available with three outputs) will be the best-seller. But buyer can also select from three turbocharged petrol engines, in 1.0-, 1.4- and 1.6-litre guises. The 1.4-litre unit, as tested here, is all-new and offers 150hp and 180lb ft of torque. This translates to a top speed of 134mph and a 0-60mph time of 7.8 seconds.
What’s it like to drive?
Don’t be fooled by the TURBO badge on the boot, this isn’t an Astra that likes to be hurried. It’s a lively enough unit, with plenty of mid-range punch, but press it hard and it’ll begin to sound strained, with the car feeling less refined as a result. But you’re instantly aware that this is a tauter and lighter Astra than before. Whisper this, but the Astra is actually quite fun to drive.
Fuel economy and running costs
The 1.6-litre CDTi could, on paper, return as much as 91.2mpg, while emitting just 82g/km CO2. In the real world you’re unlikely to achieve anything like these figures. Our test car offers 51.4mpg on a combined cycle and 128g/km CO2. You’ll pay £20,315 for the Astra 1.4 Turbo in top-spec Elite Nav trim.
Is it practical?
The Vauxhall Astra not only feels more cavernous than before, it is actually bigger inside, despite being smaller on the outside. Rear seat passengers will find plenty of leg- and head-room and the central rear seat is flat and capable of transporting an adult in comfort. Children may not like the way in which the window line rises up to the rear, which could obstruct their vision. The boot is usefully square and offers 370 litres of space. Overall, the Astra now offers an interior in which all occupants will be happy to spend some time.
What about safety?
The big news here is the availability of Vauxhall’s new OnStar connectivity service, which includes Automatic Crash Response. When the airbag inflates, OnStar opens a direct line to a trained advisor, while sending emergency services to the crash scene, if the report warrants it. All models feature ISOFIX points for the outer rear seats, along with hill start assist.
Which version should I go for?
At £20,315, there’s no doubt the 1.4 Turbo in Elite Nav trim offers very good value for money. Standard features such as heated rear seats, two rear USB charging points and a heated steering wheel elevate the Astra to a level beyond its usual station. We’ve driven three different engines and can find merit in all of them. Put it this way, you won’t mind spending time scrolling through the spec sheets and testing different engines. Finally, the Astra will reward some thorough homework.
Should I buy one?
For the first time in quite a while we can wholeheartedly recommend a Vauxhall Astra. And it gives us real pleasure to be able to say that. You’ll no longer need to breathe a deep sigh when the car rental agent hands you the keys to an Astra. It’s much, much nicer to drive than ever before and if you’re fortunate enough to be given the Elite trim, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the overall quality and spec.
Vauxhall’s innovative OnStar concierge service is free for the first year and includes an on-board wifi hotspot. We tested the system by asking for directions to our hotel. It’s rather surreal, connecting to an actual human being who, politely and efficiently, reprogrammed our sat nav and wished us a pleasant journey. Could this be the world’s best sat nav?