Drive the New Vauxhall Astra Interest Free for 3 Years!
Drive the New Vauxhall Astra Interest Free for 3 Years!
The Ford Focus has had things its own way for far too long and as for that Volkswagen Golf? Well, it's about time that somebody knocked it off its perch. These aren't the views of the nation's family hatchback buyers who, if the customer satisfaction surveys are to be believed, are quite content with their Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus models. This is a rough approximation of the thinking behind the scenes at Vauxhall, a manufacturer with its crosshairs trained on nothing less than the very top of this money-spinning market sector. The car it hopes will hit the target is the latest Astra.
Ten Second Review
In order to go straight in at number one in the family hatchback class, the latest Vauxhall Astra is going to have to be very good indeed. Vauxhall will tell you that it is with more space, sleeker styling and improved driving dynamics, courtesy of a clever rear suspension system. With Vauxhall's usual vast range of engines and trim levels, it will certainly be one to watch.
Versions of the Astra, Focus and Golf have been locking horns over the affections of family hatch buyers for years. With models like the Renault Megane, Peugeot 308, Toyota Auris, Honda Civic, Fiat Bravo and Citroen C4 also wrestling for attention, things can get confusing. In the UK, the Astra brand carries plenty of weight with the public and Vauxhall will be looking for the latest version to hammer that advantage home. To achieve this, it has worked on enhancing quality, increasing space and taking the driving experience to the next level. Will that be enough?
The best that the Vauxhall engine range has to offer will get an outing in the Astra but it's the suspension set-up that will be of more interest to those who've been following recent family hatchback developments. The Focus and Golf both use fully independent suspension systems and it's no coincidence that these cars are widely regarded as the sharpest handlers in the sector. Like most of the also-rans, the previous generation Astra had independent front suspension and a less sophisticated torsion beam at the rear. Today's car, while still not fully independent in its set-up, uses a more advanced Watt's linkage rear suspension that helps distribute cornering forces more effectively than a conventional torsion beam, while retaining its cost and space saving advantages.
Put the Astra through its paces on the road and it's hard not to come away impressed. The ride and body control are assured and tight respectively as the car flows over the surface feeling well planted through bends. The steering is something of a let down by comparison and could be more precise but a slick gearshift and well-judged pedal weights go in the plus column. Generally, the Astra is a highly polished drive.
The car is available with the standard suspension or Vauxhall's FlexRide variable damping system that allows the driver to choose from normal, Tour or Sport settings. The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine powers the livelier models in the range and is strong on both power and torque. There's 180PS being produced at 5,500rpm and the 230Nm maximum torque is available between 2,200 and 5,500rpm. The 0-60mph sprint is covered in under 8.0s and a 140mph top speed will be more than enough for most. A 140PS 1.4 Turbo is another option, plus there are the usual 1.4 or 1.6-litre normally aspirated entry-level petrol units. The diesel range opens with the 95PS 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX models, then there are 110 or 125PS 1.7-litre CDTi options. Possibly most desirable of all is the 160PS 2.0 CDTi diesel flagship.
Design and Build
Vauxhall's design team will have marked the Insignia down as a success and it's no surprise to see the Astra borrowing heavily from the pool of styling devices employed by its bigger brother. The L-shape cut into the car's flanks is a reverse of the Insignia's but the lights, grille and bonnet bear marked similarities. Inside, it's a similar story, with the steering wheel, gear lever and centre console design lifted directly from the larger car. The dash itself curves around the front seat occupants integrating cleanly with the doors and while the centre console does host a plethora of buttons, they're clearly marked and experience with the Insignia has proved them easy enough to use.
This Astra is significantly bigger than the one that preceded it. There's been an 18cm increase in length, a 7cm growth in the wheelbase and the track is 6cm wider. It gives rise to good space for three adults to occupy the rear bench and a boot of 370 litres, which is equal to the previous generation car. Vauxhall is particularly pleased with the array of storage options it has installed around the cabin, designing purpose-built receptacles for cups, sunglasses, coins, CDs and the other paraphernalia that people tend to have cluttering up their cars.
Market and Model
It's the five-door cars that most buyers will choose but there's also a Sports Tourer estate. Buyers can expect the usual wide range of engine options and trim levels, not to mention a bulging options list. The Astra range comprises six models – Expression, S, Exclusiv, SRi, SE and Elite – each of which comes with high levels of equipment as standard, including ESP, six airbags, air conditioning, daytime running lights and electric windows.
Amongst the available features, there's ambient mood lighting that lights up areas of the cabin with bulbs hidden in the trim and an adjustable boot floor that can open up a variety of storage options. For the fetching ambient lighting, you'll need to stretch to the Exclusiv. Only the 1.3-litre unit and the 109bhp 1.7-litre diesel are offered with the S and Exclusiv trim levels and neither engine can be specified with Elite trim but otherwise, there's a lot of mix and match potential. The 2.0-litre oil-burner is available with a smooth six-speed automatic and the FlexRide adaptive suspension is an option on the higher spec cars.
Cost of Ownership
The headline economy figure is 67mpg for the Astra ecoFLEX which features various mechanical and aerodynamic modifications to make this possible. Fuel economy for the 1.7-litre diesel models is the same no matter which power output you choose and at 60mpg on the combined cycle, these units are certain to be popular with company car drivers. Interestingly, the 2.0-litre diesel is only fractionally thirstier with 57.6mpg but the automatic gearbox option sees that figure tumble to under 48mpg. CO2 emissions are 124g/km for the 1.7-litre cars and 129g/km for the 2.0. Go for the mainstream petrol models and you're looking at 51.4mpg for the basic 1.4-litre unit or 44.8mpg for the entry-level 1.6, with respective CO2 emissions figures of 129 and 147g/km.
Vauxhall being a mainstream brand, residual values aren't as strong as, for example, a Volkswagen Golf but the Astra claws the advantage back with a low upfront price, modest cost of options and very affordable servicing.
Vauxhall will be looking for its latest Astra to make the kind of impact on the family hatch sector that the previous generation model never quite managed. Astra sales have been consistently strong but the critical acclaim that would help it surpass its rivals ultimately failed to materialise. The firm has certainly given the latest car a fighting chance of eclipsing the very best that this area of the market has to offer with more space, sleeker looks and an enhanced chassis.
The Astra must now be taken more seriously. It's a fine driver's car that's probably still a fraction behind the top dogs in terms of sportiness but gives nothing away in ride comfort or composure. The classy cabin is another strong suit with the look and feel having been raised far beyond what we've seen from Vauxhall Astras in the past.