What is it?
This is the new Vauxhall Astra CDTi BiTurbo – the most powerful diesel-powered Astra there has ever been, and a promising addition to a class in which it offers more than 10 per cent more power and torque than the norm.
Sounds exciting. Excitement, however, remains a rare commodity in a company car in 2012. As the current crop of performance diesels such as the VW Golf GTD, Seat Leon FR and Alfa Giulietta Multijet prove, it’s easy enough for a car-maker to drop a grunty four-cylinder compression-ignition lump into a compact five-door hatchback and end up with something that handles well enough, goes well enough, and squeezes into a CO2 band low enough to keep your tax bill reasonable.
Making that car as involving to drive as a good petrol-powered hot hatchback, though – that’s an enduring problem.
What is it like?
And it’s a problem that Vauxhall hasn’t solved any more successfully here than most car-makers who’ve taken a shot. The omens looked encouraging: with headline figures of 192bhp and 295lb ft, this new fast oil-burner is second in the class only to the BMW 125d on sheer power and torque. More’s the pity, then, that it just isn’t the sort of car to really tickle your giggle receptors.
The BiTurbo CDTi engine has been added to the Astra range at the same time as the car’s first mid-life revision since its launch in 2009 – of which, besides some quite subtle but welcome exterior styling updates, new optional gadgetry and one or two engine lineup tweaks, the addition of a performance diesel model is the most newsworthy part. Criticisms we’ve made of the Astra’s practical, functional but slightly dowdy and downmarket cabin therefore go unaddressed.
Vauxhall’s 2.0-litre CDTi engine has had plenty of attention. Fitted with not just twin sequential turbos but twin intercoolers, aluminium pistons and new conrods and camshafts, it seems to lack for little on paper. But in practice, the engine’s responsiveness and flexibility somehow rob it of performance character. There’s little drama or charm to the way this motor serves up maximum thrust; plenty of noise and a little coarseness, but not much to woo the senses. Its businesslike delivery certainly makes the Astra brisk enough in outright terms, but little more so than a 168bhp Golf GTD (8.1sec to 62mph) or even a 163bhp Astra CDTi (8.5sec). And more disappointingly, you just never seem to get that healthy torque-driven slap on the back you’re expecting when you flex your right foot.
With Vauxhall’s optional FlexRide adaptive dampers – and even without the UK-specific power steering tune that Brit-supplied cars will benefit from – our test car had an impressive breadth of dynamic talent that would make it a pleasing everyday driver even for high-mileage users, as well as a capable fast car. In ‘Tour’ mode there’s Golf-rivalling suppleness in the suspension, and still enough steering precision and roll control to take on a B-road with some gusto. Switch to ‘Sport’ and the responsiveness of the chassis is even greater, although the ride deteriorates.
But whichever driving mode you chose – despite a lower, tauter chassis tune than the standard Astra hatch gets – the Astra BiTurbo struggles to improve on neat-and-tidy adequacy in the way it corners. Its steering is accurate and direct but uncommunicative, its handling obedient but lacking in real purpose or verve. This is definitely a journeyman sort of driver’s car; it’s effective enough, but no virtuoso entertainer.
Should I buy one?
Perhaps. But only perhaps because few quick oil-burning hatchbacks are actually as big on entertainment value as we’d like them to be.
If your heart is set on a car like this, the Astra BiTurbo is certainly well priced, smart and impressive enough in its own way to be worth considering. A Golf GTD is slower, after all, as well as £1500 more expensive.
And for the more three-dimensional thrills of a BMW 125d M-Sport you have to part with almost £28k: thirty grand or more for a like-for-like car equal on equipment level, we’d guess.
But for keen drivers, this Astra does little to advance or improve the performance diesel breed. So just don’t buy one as a cut-price alternative to an Astra VXR. That way disillusionment lies.
Vauxhall Astra 2.0 CDTI BiTurbo
Price: £24,095 0-62mph: 8.0sec Top Speed: 141mph Economy: 55.4mpg C02: 134g/km Kerb weight: 1475kg (tbc) Engine type: 4 cyls in line, 1956cc, twin turbocharged diesel Power: 192bhp at 4000rpm Torque: 295lb ft at 1750rpm-2500rpm Gearbox: 6-spd manual