Review: Vauxhall Astra - Built for Britain07 April 2017
Variant tested: 1.6 CDTi SRI Nav
Words by Wayne Gorrett
Throughout the global automotive market, the attainment of a seventh generation model is a significant milestone. There aren’t many surviving members in the current ‘7G Club’; the Golf, Corolla, Corvette, Civic, Fiesta are a few still in production. Recently, that elite club opened its doors to its newest member - Vauxhall’s all-new Astra hatchback…and it couldn’t be more British if it tried. It was designed by Brit Mark Adams, is built at the company’s Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire and was fine-tuned over many thousands of UK miles several months prior to release.
At first glance, the new Astra may appear familiar, but is completely new from the ground up. Beneath the visually sharper styling is GM’s all-new D2UX global platform – the result of over £190 million investment and which contributes to the car being around 200kg lighter than the outgoing model.
To put that into context, just imagine that heavyweight boxers Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye both climb out of your Mk6 Astra. You can almost hear the air rushing into the wheel arches.
Combine that significant weight reduction with slippery aerodynamics and a new range of efficient and lightweight engines and you begin to understand the huge amount of effort Vauxhall designers and engineers have put into this significantly important car, little of which goes unnoticed.
The new Astra is actually smaller in external dimensions that the outgoing car, yet offers more interior space.
Rather than a complete overhaul of exterior design features - and tamper with an already winning package - Vauxhall sharpened the look of the previous Astra with a few subtle extras that give a higher quality aesthetic. The new model is 5cm shorter and 2.6cm lower making it more aerodynamic and delivering improved road manners. The new lines afford the car more gravitas and make it appear wider and more hunkered down on the road.
Inside, there’s more space for passengers, allowing four six-foot adults to sit comfortably, while there’s also been an overdue revamp of the dashboard. It is a significant advance over the previous model in terms of ergonomics and quality of materials.
The interior takes many styling cues from the recently revised Corsa and Adam and deploys higher quality plastics in critical touch zones. On the Sri Nav as tested, there is a sleek new eight-inch touchscreen panel, which links Apple and Android devices to enable users to control navigational functions, make calls and use a whole range of apps including Spotify, Skype and WhatsApp. It also comes with Vauxhall’s excellent OnStar system.
Using telematics, OnStar is essentially a customer support and monitoring system that has been around a while in the USA, but made its UK debut in the new Astra. It offers a range of advantages including the ability to speak to an actual OnStar advisor 24/7 for assistance such as directions to the nearest Café Nero, which may be sent directly to the car’s navigation system for you. The car has good boot space, with 351-litres standard capacity that can be increased through some clever rear-seat adjustments.
Trims and Specifications
The new Astra is available in five trim grades (nine if you include Nav and VX-Line variants); Design, Tech Line, Energy, SRi and Elite.
Standard kit on the new Astra is very impressive for the class and includes dual front airbags, front seat side-impact bags and full curtain bags, ESP and ABS, hill start assist, 16-inch alloys, cruise control and speed limiter, tyre pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, electrically adjustable and heated rear view mirrors, electric windows, auto lights and wipers, LED DRLs, rear spoiler, steering wheel mounted audio controls and IntelliLink infotainment system via a 7-inch colour touch-screen, DAB radio, USB connection with iPod control, Bluetooth phone/audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The SRi Nav as tested adds 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, leather steering wheel, front arm rests, six premium speakers, Navi 900 IntelliLink system, ‘Sport’ button, OnStar telematics and driving assistance pack with forward camera system.
Engine, Drivetrain & Performance
Vauxhall sent me the 1.6-litre 134 bhp ‘whisper’ diesel which already leads the new Astra pack in sales volumes. There are two other diesels with 109 bhp and 158 bhp outputs. The Astra’s engine is pleasantly refined – hence the adoption of ‘whisper’ terminology.
Response from the 1.6 diesel is impressive. The 134 bhp engine delivers 320 Nm of torque from just 2,000 rpm and claims 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds – seven-tenths quicker than the previous model (there’s that weight loss benefit again). That also helps with the 103 g/km and 72.4 official combined mpg claims.
To help keep the new Astra safely on the black stuff, underneath the front end are MacPherson struts and at the rear a neoteric torsion-beam rear axle with a clever Watt’s link arrangement. Vauxhall chose not to go with an independent multi-link rear set-up, claiming that its chosen route is inherently better suited for the overall ride and handling equation.
The Astra and I travelled 449 mixed miles during our week together and it returned a credible 68.3 mpg at an average speed 33.2 mph.
On the Road
The 200kg weight loss re-awakens the Astra’s enthusiasm for meandering backroads and the car excels through tight twisty bits. The ride and handling are very well balanced with strong grip levels.
The light but precise electric steering isn’t blessed with much feel and the ride has a discernible edge to it. But it’s communicative rather than unforgiving and all the more enjoyable for it.
The new Astra is a credible front runner in the family compact hatchback class and is now the brightest star in Vauxhall’s increasingly stellar line-up. It looks sharp, drives better than any of its predecessors and the cabin execution is top notch. There’s plenty of interior space, tangibly improved quality, hi-tech equipment and style.
With a range of frugal and efficient engines and a five-star Euro-NCAP safety rating locked firmly in its arsenal, it would be distinctively unreasonable to expect more for your money.