Vauxhall’s Astra has been a favourite of UK buyers since the very first model arrived in 1978. You’ll find one on every high street, every cul-de-sac and probably even your local police station. This sixth-generation version should prove as popular as ever, thanks to a wide choice of trim levels, engine options and bodystyles (including the handsome GTC coupe). Prices start from around £12,995.
Vauxhall has enjoyed something of a design renaissance in recent years, with cars like the Insignia and Meriva shrugging off its humdrum past and demonstrating a more forward-looking approach. The Astra is clearly a product of this new approach with a striking window line and curves everywhere. You do need to choose colour and wheel combinations carefully however, as its body can look as if its dwarfing its wheels in some cases.
It’s a similarly impressive story on the inside, with a dashboard layout that borrows much from the impressive Insignia. The materials used are of a decent standard — not as good as the best in class, it is pleasing to the eye, particularly the sweeping line of the dashboard that runs from the base of the windscreen into the doors.
Any thoughts of the Astra’s practicality being compromised by the slick exterior design are dispelled as soon as you step inside. Although the design of the cabin has a cosy feel, the amount of space on offer is very good; even in the rear there is good head and legroom. Meanwhile, the Astra’s width gives good shoulder space compared to its rivals — an important factor if you’re carrying three passengers in the back.
The Astra’s practical nature continues in the back with a large, well-shaped luggage area that provides 351 litres with the seats in place and 1,216 with them folded down. There are also a number of useful storage areas in the cabin, helped by the space-saving electronic handbrake on some models.
Performance & handling
The Astra drives well no matter what engine and specification you choose. The suspension has a slight bias towards comfort rather than flat handling, which will suit the vast majority of buyers. The ride quality is very good and the grip on offer is impressive. Keener drivers might want to go for an SRi model or the adaptive damping option for a sharper drive, but even these versions don’t ride badly.
The Astra comes with a huge range of engines, but it’s important to make the right choice. Skip the low-output 1.4-litre petrol which is a little too weedy, but the 100hp version is reasonably quick and frugal. There’s also a 1.4-litre turbo which has a real turn of speed and yet is more economical than the 1.6-litre petrol. On the diesel front the 1.3-litre is pretty frugal but the bigger 1.7-litre is more powerful and in several versions is actually more economical. The big 2.0-litre diesel is quick too.
Economy & environment
It all comes down to engine choice on this front, and if anything Vauxhall has been a little unhelpful by giving you more choice than you really need. Almost all the engines come in a choice of power outputs as well as some with and without stop/start, so you need to do your sums. For example, there are three outputs on the 1.7-litre diesel, two of which have stop/start. The cheapest version at £19,105 has 110hp, 62.8mpg combined and CO2 emissions of 119g/km, yet another £1,005 adds stop/start to give you 76.3mpg and 99g/km. Another £625 on top of that adds 20hp for more performance with the same economy and emissions. Confused? So were we.
Equipment & value
There’s a model to suit every possible whim, but even the entry level Expression has electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning and CD/radio with MP3 compatibility. You need to upgrade to the Exclusive trim to get cruise control as standard, but disappointingly you need to go all the way up to the top Elite trim before you get climate control thrown in. Alloy wheels aren’t even an option on lower-spec cars, are a £360 option on Exclusiv and ES models and standard on Tech Line models and above. In fact if you do want to choose a few options then avoid the base Expression model as this has very limited choice.
Ultimately, the Astra isn’t the cheapest choice on the high street although you should be in a position to shop around and haggle with dealers to get some form of discount.
You can be reassured by the Astra’s five-star overall EuroNCAP rating, with a healthy 84 per cent rating for child safety and even 46 per cent for pedestrian impact, which is actually a reasonable score. ESP is standard even on the cheapest model and there are front, side and curtain airbags on all models too.
You know what you’re getting with an Astra; a highly competent, attractive and good to drive family hatch that is practical and easy to live with. Once you’ve negotiated the minefield of specification and engine choices, make sure you get a good price and you will walk away with a car you can be very satisfied with.
Its obvious rival in the shape of the Ford Focus is arguably better to drive and just as pricey, but neither of them will hang on to their value after two or three years. For a cheaper alternative Kia’s second-generation Cee’d will arrive later this year and is likely to run it very close.
Model tested: Vauxhall Astra ES
Engine: 1.4-litre petrol (100PS)
Acceleration: 0-62 in 12.9 seconds
Top speed: 111mph
Emissions: 129g/km CO2