With the manufacturer’s future the stuff of soap operas, one thing is for certain – the Astra has lot of work to do.
So what’s it like to drive? Well, so confident was Vauxhall at the launch of its new car that it put journos in the old model for the half-hour drive to Ellesmere Port where the new model was waiting.
It was an unusual move on a car launch – usually the old one isn’t even mentioned, let alone driven. But it worked – highlighting the new car’s plus points superbly.
What are they? Well, pretty much everything. The styling has been brought bang up-to-date with aggressive, classy and modern looks. Note the chrome surround on the windows, wide shoulders and low front, Astra’s designers have come out fighting with a very positive design.
The inside is even better. High-grade materials make up a tidy cabin. This is how a new car should look. The detail that’s gone into it is stunning. It’s right up there with the very best from VW and Audi, which is important for this new car. There’s buckets of room too, loads of storage compartments and chrome surround buttons adding to the upmarket feel.
Remember, this is a Vauxhall after all.
The manufacturer surveyed more than 400 customers as part of the new car’s design and asked them what they actually put in the car. That’s why you can now fit four-and-a-half litres’ worth of drinks containers in the car – handy if you’re a thirsty type!
There’s a non-slip hole for your iPhone or iPod too, plus an Aux-in on every model. That ticks a lot of boxes for younger drivers which the Astra is aiming to attract. The insurance groupings have been reduced across the range to broaden the customer base to a younger audience too.
We drove the 1.6-litre non-turbo SRI first. With 114bhp, it hardly seems worthy of a sporty badge, but nevertheless it is nippy around town and in traffic. However, on the open roads of the north Wales launch it was a little disappointing. It can be hard work to drive, with constant gear changes needed to ensure progress is swift.
The handling, however, is fantastic. You get a ‘big car’ feel from the new suspension as it levels the car through corners to maximise comfort. In fact you have to keep reminding yourself it’s ‘just’ a hatchback. The accomplished ride could just do with an engine to really do it justice.
Later we got to try the 1.4-litre Turbo SRI unit with 138bhp, which is much better. It couldn’t be described as a ‘hot’ hatch, but it’s a huge step up from the sluggish 1.6. The Turbo hits 60mph in 9.0 seconds compared to the 1.6-litre, which is nearly two seconds slower. The smaller capacity unit chucks out less CO2 as well – with 139g/km for the 1.4 compared to 147g/km for the 1.6-litre.
Diesel wise, buyers can currently choose from a 1.7-litre CDTi or a 2.0-litre CDTi. But next year a fuel-sipping ecoFLEX 1.3-litre CDTi joins the line-up with 109g/km putting it in the £35 per year tax bracket.
At the moment the whole Astra range is only available in five-door. An estate is due next year and we hope a three-door VXR version will follow soon afterwards. The chassis is
certainly capable enough to handle increased power outputs.
Overall it’s a dramatic step on from the previous generation – that was clear when we got to test the two back to back. So, a fantastic-looking, British-built hatchback with an entry level price of £15,675 – sounds good doesn’t it? Let’s hope buyers think so too…
by Duncan Chappell