Reducing this seventh generation Astra model’s weight by up to 200kgs has had a significant effect on the way this car drives. It now soaks up bumps better and turns into the bends more easily, aided by a stiffer chassis and torque vectoring that helps with cornering traction. As before, this Vauxhall does without the kind of independent rear suspension system you’d find on a rival Ford Focus, instead favouring a neat Watts linkage system that claims to reduce sideways motion between the axle and the body of the car as you go through the corners.
Under the bonnet, those in search of petrol power have an up-to the-minute range of options. We’d suggest you bypass the most affordable 100PS 1. 4-litre engine in favour of the lighter, more responsive and much more efficient 105PS 1. 0-litre ECOTEC turbo three cylinder unit. If you need more power, there are a couple of 1. 4-litre Turbo powerplants offering 125 or 150PS, plus a top 200PS 1. 6 Turbo option. Diesel drivers get Vauxhall’s refined 1. 6-litre CDTi ‘whisper diesel’ unit with a choice of three power outputs – 110, 136 or 160PS. The 110PS ecoFLEX variant delivers class-leading efficiency figures – 91. 2mpg on the combined cycle and 82g/km of CO2.
Give this seventh generation Astra little more than a cursory glance and your first impression may well be that visually at least, it isn’t very much changed from what went before. Look more closely though and a different piece of styling presents itself, leaner, lighter and more agile in appearance, just as was intended.
We’ll start at the front, where the prominent Griffin badge that marks the centrepoint of a chrome grille that flows seamlessly into the lights.
Move to the side and you start to get a real feel for what the designers have tried to do with this car. For a start, unusually for a new generation design, it’s slightly smaller than the old MK6 model, in both this five-door hatch guise and in Sports Tourer estate form, the other main seventh generation bodystyle on offer. A far-reaching efficiency programme has delivered us a shape that sees this hatch version 5cm shorter and 2. 5cm lower than its predecessor, with shorter front and rear overhangs and the option of smaller wheels.
So it’s smaller and lighter outside: will that mean a cramped interior? Vauxhall claims quite the opposite.
Rear passenger room was one of the plus points of the old MK6 model but on paper, you can’t imagine that would be improved by that shorter, lower shape I just mentioned and a reduction of 2cms from the wheelbase length. Which makes the space you get back here all the more surprising. There isn’t any car in this class in which a third middle-seated adult could be really comfortable over long journeys, but if you do have to carry five, then you’ll do so more easily in this Astra than would be possible in almost any of its rivals.
In its own way, the up-front experience is just as surprising, the previous forgettable rental car-style cabin here replaced by a cleaner, simpler, smarter and more interesting design that some premium brands could even learn from.
The centrepiece of this dash is this beautifully-integrated Intellilink infotainment screen which incorporates the usual DAB stereo, Bluetooth ‘phone and informational functions. Include the optional satellite navigation system and the screen size increases from 7 to 8-inches and you’ll be better set up to use this car’s other key technical innovation, the OnStar ‘personal connectivity and service assistant’. This includes a vehicle tracking system in case of theft, creates in your Astra an in-car wi-fi hotspot and will allow you to monitor key vehicle information via a downloadable ‘MyVauxhall’ smartphone app. ‘OnStar’ will also automatically alert the emergency services if the airbags deploy. And if you press the system’s blue button on the roof here, you’ll be connected through to an operator who can find just about any information you might need throughout your journey, downloading any directions needed into the Intellilink sat nav system.
Finally, let’s take a look at luggage space, another area you’d think might have been compromised by this seventh generation model’s slight reduction in size. Again, the contrary is true. The standard boot gets this useful ribbed floor and features a capacity that this time round has risen from 351 to 370-litres.
So to the bottom line, which is, quite simply, that it’s time for the market to re-evaluate the Vauxhall Astra. You might have ignored the previous model because a Focus felt better to drive, a Golf felt better built or any one of a whole series of potential rivals offered better value. Forget that now though: to a great extent, it’s reasoning that no longer applies.
The closer you look at this car, the more readily you appreciate that. It’s the most efficient and technologically advanced contender in its class, as well as being one of the best equipped and most affordable. Despite smaller dimensions, it somehow manages to be more practical than before – and smarter too. Better still, a weight loss programme has also resulted in a much lighter car that’s more agile and responsive to drive. Avoid the entry-level petrol engine and it’s hard to make a bad choice in the powerplant department either.
Best of all, this MK7 model Astra remains mainly British, with hatch and estate models built at Ellesmere Port near Liverpool to a quality at least as high as anything the Japanese brands can manage. That reason alone might be enough to give this car a place on your family hatchback shortlist. Fortunately for Vauxhall, there are also many others.