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What else besides Mokka-inspired looks has Vauxhall given its old showroom darling? We try the Vauxhall Astra and the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer.

The backstory of the Vauxhall Astra tells you much about Vauxhall as a company, as well as the ebb and flow of volume car making on these isles.

Having always been what we might now call a platform-engineered vehicle, the Astra was launched in the UK in 1980 as the successor to the popular Viva, but it differed from its predecessor technically in a number of significant respects. Even the Viva shared a floorpan and engines with its continental equivalent, the Opel Kadett, but while the Opel’s parts and panels were measured, cut and stamped out in metric millimetres, the Viva was designed, measured and made in imperial feet and inches.

I like the Astra’s new look, particularly the way the high-level brake light at the rear echoes the shape of the roof aerial fin. It’s clearly been laboured over. Now we find out if Astra buyers are the kind who value, and will reward, that sort of effort.

Like the eighth-generation version we are about to consider, the Astra Mk1 changed all that. It was also the first compact Vauxhall with front-wheel drive, and to offer a choice of both petrol and diesel engines. It quickly found a receptive market in the UK and continued the Viva’s sales success. Another six generations of the car followed onto Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port production lines over the proceeding four decades, during which time the Astra carved out a place as one of Britain’s biggest-selling new cars.

But now, change has come to the car that so many have known. The Mk8 Astra is the first to have been designed and engineered entirely by Stellantis. It is the first that won’t be built in the UK in any form, with Vauxhall’s parent company now gearing up for electric commercial vehicle production at Ellesmere instead. Like the Vauxhall Corsa before it, the Astra switches from an old General Motors model architecture to a new one that makes it a technical relation of the current Peugeot 308 and 408, and the Citroën C5 Aircross and Citroën C5 X. But, unlike any Astra before, this one adopts both electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains in a bid to remain a relevant, responsible choice for the many thousands who will drive one.

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Range at a glance

With the addition of hybrids and an electric version, the Astra’s UK model range has become slightly complicated. The Astra Electric and the standard petrol and plug-in hybrid versions come in a three-tier trim structure that starts with a Design-spec car and rises up through GS Line (as tested) to Ultimate. Individual options are few, so if you want IntelliLux adaptive headlights, a head-up display, wireless phone charging or a panoramic sunroof, you have to stump up for a top-spec model.

There is also a separate range-topper, the Astra GSe, which comes only with a more powerful plug-in hybrid powertrain and a level of equipment that is roughly equivalent to Ultimate.

The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer estate has just joined the range and sells for a £1200 premium over the hatchback.

A diesel engine was available from launch but remained on sale for less than a year before being discontinued.

Engine Power
1.2T 110PS 109bhp
1.2T 130PS* 129bhp
Turbo D† 129bhp
Hybrid 178bhp
GSe 224bhp
Vauxhall Astra Electric 153bhp

*Version tested  †Discontinued

02 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 rear pan

It’s both interesting and revealing to see what has been made of this car’s brand-new model architecture. Having been, for so many model generations before this, one of the hatchback class’s champions of space and versatility, the new Vauxhall Astra strikes out in a different direction, aiming for greater desirability and style than any of its predecessors.

Its roofline looks notably lower than that of the last Astra, having been lowered by more than 40mm. The car is 54mm longer than the old one, too, and 51mm wider across the body. As such, it’s a notably more squat- and planted-looking Astra than the last one, and has a more purposeful, eye-catching stance.

Vauxhall can’t have done much to add practicality to this car. According to our tape measure, it has only 10mm more second-row leg room than a Peugeot 308, which has never been a roomy hatchback. A Seat Leon offers 20mm more.

In terms of styling, the sleek-looking ‘Vizor’ radiator grille that we have seen on other recent Vauxhall introductions has been adopted, as have the ‘compass’ styling features at both the front and rear that the Vauxhall Mokka in particular pioneered. The overall impression is quite restrained, and certainly has visual presence. But this is also undoubtedly a retro-themed design, clearly taking inspiration from the bold straight lines and geometric proportions of the cars of the 1970s and early 1980s. If you’re a fan of a more progressive modern look, it might not be to your liking.

Under those retro panels lies Stellantis’s latest EMP2 V3 model architecture, which has underpinned three road test subjects already this year (Peugeot 308, DS 4 and Citroën C5 X). The car’s chassis is made of high-strength steel and houses a choice of three- and four-cylinder engines mounted transversely under the bonnet, with suspension made up of class-typical MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear.

For our instrumented testing, we elected to use Vauxhall’s conventional petrol option – the three-cylinder 1199cc turbocharged Puretech motor – which is coupled exclusively to automatic gearboxes in the equivalent Peugeot 308 but can be had alongside a six-speed manual in the Astra (which is how we tested it). It is offered in two states of tune: 109bhp and 129bhp.

However, we’ve also spent plenty of time with the other powertrain options. For our verdict on the Vauxhall Astra Electric, read our separate review.

A 129bhp 1.5-litre turbo diesel Astra was only offered for a short time. But while the oil-burner looks increasingly like yesterday’s choice, there are now two plug-in hybrid versions to consider. Both have the same 109bhp electric motor and a 12.4kWh battery. The difference is that in the normal Astra Hybrid, the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine produces 148bhp for a system power of 178bhp, while in the Astra GSe, it produces 178bhp for a system power of 224bhp.

09 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 dashboard

Vauxhall/Opel’s product planners freely admit that, in today’s SUV- and crossover-dominated era, traditional hatchbacks need to be designed differently. Those who want a more spacious, versatile and convenient compact car than the new Vauxhall Astra aren’t short of options in 2022, after all.

For that reason, Astra designers will tell you that they gave aesthetic appeal higher priority over cabin packaging this time round than their previous equivalents probably did.

The instruments and infotainment system are integrated into this glossy black Pure Panel. The visual effect isn’t quite seamless, but an upgraded version is due in 2023. The cubby at the base of the centre stack is handy for your phone, but you only get wireless charging on top-trim cars. The sliding cover looks and feels cheap.

And while the success of that philosophy must be judged from the outside of the car, the inevitable consequences are to be found within the cabin. The Astra is a lower-slung car than it used to be, and has a lower driving position as well. But while occupant space is fairly generous for the driver and front passenger, it offers less second-row space than its predecessor did. Our tape measure indicated 680mm of typical rear leg room, 20mm less than we recorded in the Mk7 Astra we tested in 2015. Rear head room is also a little short of the standard needed for taller adults to travel comfortably, even though good-sized rear doors make access easy enough.

Despite a 57mm-longer wheelbase, the estate version doesn’t seem to have gained much rear occupant space, as we measured an identical amount of rear leg room. Head room, on the other hand, is more generous. As you’d expect, the estate’s boot is much more capacious, at 597 litres for the petrol version (versus 422 litres in the hatchback) and 516 in the hybrids (352 in the hatch).

Up front, you see evidence of the ‘digital detox’ that the Astra, with its traditionally button-busy dashboard, has been on – though, thankfully, not too much of it. Having integrated a digital instrument screen as part of the ‘Pure Panel’ flight console that extends from the driver’s side of the fascia right across to span the centre console, Vauxhall clearly wants us now to think of the Astra as a fully up-to-date, technologically sophisticated operator. To give it due credit, it isn’t missing that definition by much.

In addition to those driver-customisable digital clocks, you get a 10.0in infotainment system with wireless smartphone mirroring and a fully networked factory navigation by TomTom both as standard, plus wireless device charging and a head-up display on top trims (our mid-level GS Line car didn’t have them).

The desired design effect of the plasticky-looking Pure Panel is a bit underwhelming on the eye but Vauxhall’s decision to stick with physical controls for things like heater temperature, audio volume control and demist is unquestionably the right one.

Overall, then, the Astra’s dashboard layout is intelligent, and it has welcome flashes of colour in places. Material quality standards are a little below class standards elsewhere, though, while cabin storage is quite generous in places (the glovebox and armrest cubby) but frustratingly slight elsewhere (try getting a bottle out of one of those obstructed door pockets without taking your eyes off the road).

Multimedia system

13 Vauxhall opel astra rt 2022 infotainment 0

The Astra’s 10.0in PureConnect infotainment system has TomTom navigation as standard, but also offers wireless device mirroring for both Apple and Android devices. You get a year’s data connectivity subscription with the car but have to pay to extend it thereafter.

It’s a system with a configurable modular layout of the main touchscreen itself, so you can choose which information is displayed on the home screen and customise the instrument screen similarly. It takes a few stationary minutes to figure out how, but it’s time well spent.

Responsiveness and usability are generally quite good. The TomTom navigation system has a few irritating habits – for example, making junction auto-zoom frustratingly difficult to disable – but your phone’s own navigation tech will be a fine back-up.

Meanwhile, Vauxhall’s physical ventilation and audio buttons make quick one-touch adjustments easy.

19 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 performance track

Opting for a 1.2-litre petrol engine in your new Vauxhall Astra is likely to mean you’re spending your own money; you’re responding to the car’s traditional value-oriented positioning in the hatchback segment; and you foresee for your car a mix of predominantly shorter-range trips with occasional longer-range journeys. Even in 2023, this will probably remain the car’s biggest-selling powerplant, and it’s ready to do versatile, well-mannered and fairly efficient service – and also perhaps keep those behind the wheel more interested and engaged in the driving experience than an electrified alternative might.

The engine’s power delivery is one of a boosty, torque-rich mid range, and it amounts to all the real-world punch the car needs. Unlike some three-cylinder units, the 1.2-litre Puretech doesn’t rev especially keenly above 5000rpm, though it will certainly operate up there pleasantly enough when you’re overtaking or climbing hard. And so, being that bit more mentally engaged with shift timing as the driver of a manual car usually is, you tend to let the tachometer spin between 3000rpm and 5000rpm even when accelerating hard, leaning on as much of its 170lb ft of torque as you continually can.

Despite the fairly sizeable difference in on-paper power output between the standard Hybrid and the GSe, the latter isn't much quicker, and nor is there a big difference in feel or character.

As many modern manuals do, the Astra’s engine electronics limit engine output while the clutch is disengaged, declining to let you spin the motor beyond 3500rpm, and reining in torque, to protect the driveline. Producing a fast start is therefore all about feeding the clutch in smoothly, and preventing crank speed from falling too far or turbo boost from dropping off, until the clutch is fully out. Do it right and you will just about get this Astra to 60mph from rest in less than 10 seconds. In our dry test conditions, torque was never in sufficient supply to break traction under the front wheels (traction and stability control can only be temporarily deactivated under 30mph in any case).

That’s an adequate performance level, then; nothing remarkable, but more than acceptable for the price, and modestly swifter-looking when you consider that 30-70mph through the gears takes only 9.2sec (1.3sec slower than the Volkswagen Golf 1.5 eTSI 150 we tested in 2020).

If you like thinking about when to shift gear, and like choosing gears for corners as you row up and down the ratios of this car’s medium-weighted, fairly nondescript but at least adequately well-defined six-speed gearbox, you will find it pleasant enough, but lacking in any engagement to speak of. The automatic isn’t much better, being rather clunky and dim-witted. However, it works better in the ligher Astra than in a heavier car like the Citroën C5 X, where the engine has to be worked much harder.

If your Astra is going to be a company car and you’re not ready to go fully electric, you are likely to choose the plug-in hybrid. The official figures say this is a 7.6sec 0-62mph car (7.7sec for the estate), and full throttle from rest can trouble the front wheels. It’s very quiet and pretty slick when you take it easy but not dynamic in the slightest. Floor the accelerator and, as long as the battery has a decent amount of charge, it will do the numbers, but it never actually feels like it does. The GSe is only marginally quicker on paper and you’d be hard-pressed to actually tell the difference on the road.

Finally, while you can no longer buy one new, a brief word on the diesel. The 1.5-litre four is a faithful and long-running unit, and while it’s short on outright power and sounds predictably like a diesel, it has enough easily accessible torque to make for relaxed progress. The eight-speed automatic works better in this application than with the triple and you should be able to get more than 60mpg out of it.

20 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 front corner

The Vauxhall Astra’s chassis is firmer sprung and more direct in its dynamic mission than the related Peugeot 308 we tested earlier this year. It feels fairly nimble and light on its feet, although – only moderate in its handling response and fairly light through its steering – it’s not an obvious choice for anyone who wants a better-handling, sporty-feeling hatchback.

It’s most likely that those who tuned the car wanted a more precise, steady and assured flavour for the chassis than its softer and more fluent-handling Gallic cousins have. The car doesn’t bother with driving modes – with this particular powertrain, at least – and it doesn’t feel like it needs any. It’s a pretty simple mode of transport at heart to just get on with driving, and that it’s so easy to get on with, intuitive to operate and secure can be considered quiet successes.

Suspension is via struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. Weight on our 1.2-litre hatchback was distributed 62:38, similar to the Peugeot 308 1.2T we tested earlier this year.

That firm springing makes for plenty of body control at speed – more than the car’s medium-light grip level (owing to its Michelin Primacy economy tyres) can test. The Astra’s not fazed by carrying speed through compressions and over long-wave bumps, and doesn’t heave or wallow on testing surfaces. It corners neatly and quite flat, communicating little in the way of tyre load through the steering but providing enough information to tell you when you’ve ultimately run out of grip at the front.  

The electronic stability control does an effective job of keeping your right foot from cueing up traction-related understeer through harder-charged corners, although it’s always on above 30mph, and it does begin to feel a little nannyish when you’re working the chassis hard. A less efficiency-biased set of tyres would be likely to mitigate that background intrusiveness, which only begins to erode the car’s dynamic appeal when you’re in the mood to stretch it along a little.

Comfort and isolation

21 Vauxhall opel astra rt 2022 rear corner 0

If the Astra suddenly looks like a more sophisticated car than it used to be, it feels like one too in as much as it’s pleasingly mechanically refined. That three-cylinder engine runs at a smooth and quiet level of background noise when cruising; it doesn’t fuss or fidget in the engine bay when stopping and starting, as three-cylinder engines can; and it raises its voice a little at revs, but not harshly. So if you thought a humble Astra might be a slightly rough and ready operator, you would have cause to think again.

Ride comfort is good where the road is well surfaced, but the firmness of Vauxhall’s chosen spring rates does cause the car to fidget a little at higher speeds, particularly on the motorway, and it can also ride in slightly brittle fashion over sharper intrusions. Smaller wheel rims can be had on other trim levels, of course, which might cure or mitigate some of the problem. But the supple gait of a Peugeot 308, or the soft ride of a DS 4, is notable by its absence here; the Astra is a more restive-riding car.

The longer wheelbase of the estate improves things slightly, but if you want the best-riding Astra, you need to opt for one of the hybrids. The tweaks to cope with the higher mass have made it slightly more compliant. On top of that, the GSe gains frequency-selective dampers from Koni, and despite its sportier suspension tune, the added control makes it more comfortable than the standard 1.2.

Even our GS Line test car came with multi-adjustable front seats approved by the German Aktion Gesunder Rücken (Campaign for Healthier Backs), and they were worth the billing. Motorised lumbar support, a multi-adjustable headrest, and a seat cushion that could be both extended and inclined for extra thigh support all impressed.

Assisted driving notes

22 Vauxhall opel astra rt 2022 assisted driving 0

Vauxhall’s suite of IntelliDrive driver assistance technologies gives every Astra an active lane keeping system as standard, as well as an autonomous emergency braking system with pedestrian detection and a traffic sign detection system (which tended to recognise posted limits consistently and accurately during our testing). Mid-spec cars come with enhanced functionality for the crash mitigation system, and adaptive cruise control to boot, while top-level Ultimate cars add blindspot monitoring, as well as a rear cross traffic alert system to stop you from reversing out of a parking bay and into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Our test car’s lane keeping system worked well on the motorway but was a little intrusive on winding country roads and wasn’t the easiest to disable. The adaptive cruise control, meanwhile, seemed a little slow to respond when the motorway lane ahead became either blocked or clear.

01 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 lead track

Anyone expecting segment-leading value from the new Vauxhall Astra might be surprised at how Vauxhall has priced the car. Our mid-spec model offered decent standard equipment and good on-board technology but not every connectivity feature you might look for on a family hatchback in 2023. Though class-competitive on both price and retained value, it was also made to look more expensive than equivalents in the Seat Leon and Ford Focus ranges.

A good finance offer with a deposit contribution from your dealer might make the difference, of course, and our research suggests you would be likely to find one right now. But this is no longer a car that Vauxhall will be looking to sell in the sort of volumes that generate bigger buying incentives, so bargains may be harder to come by than in years gone by.

The AGR-certified seats make a mid-spec Astra GS Line worth having, even if you’re not enamoured with the blacked-out styling. Stick with a 129bhp 1.2T manual if you’re buying privately, or go for a 1.6-litre Hybrid if you’re paying company car tax.

Our 1.2 hatchback car recorded a commendable 55.3mpg on our touring economy test: exactly what the equivalent-engined Peugeot 308 achieved a few months ago, and a figure it would probably take a full-hybrid rival or an economy diesel to beat.

The hybrid’s economy will of course depend heavily on how much you can plug it in. When we ran one as a long-term test car, we got around 55mpg out of it. That this figure isn’t higher was likely due to the electric range struggling to breach 30 miles in real-world use. That doesn’t matter for the company car tax: all hybrid Astras apart from the GSe Sports Tourer are rated for over 40 miles and are therefore in the 8% BIK band.

If you want a consistent 60mpg out of your Vauxhall Astra, you’ll need to find an example of the now-axed diesel model on the used market.

23 Vauxhall Opel Astra RT 2022 static

It can’t have been an easy task trying to make the Vauxhall Astra, one of the most recognisable and ordinary cars on UK roads, that bit more desirable. That was clearly Vauxhall’s intention with this eighth-generation version, as is obvious by its retro-cool styling, by an interior big on digital technology and by a driving experience with notes of sophistication to match the everyday usability.

The brand has delivered on that ambition. Better looking, more inviting and more pleasant to drive than the Astra’s well-established standard, this new car is a better complementary product to the crossover hatchbacks with which it will share a showroom than its predecessors were. Like the Vauxhall Mokka, it shows that Vauxhall isn’t content to make servile but invisible cars any more, and it is a willing, competent, easy car to drive.

It isn’t a particularly well-priced hatchback; it isn’t an especially practical one either; and it wouldn’t figure among the cars we would recommend to an interested driver - which leaves the way it now looks as the main reason to seek one out. The truth is, underneath the new clothes, there’s a strong chance this car will still seem like Mr Average.

Vauxhall Astra First drives