That’s the big news for the fleets that buy around 80% of Astras, the 103bhp diesel dropping six BIK bands to 23 percent – usefully lower than for the equivalent Focus and Golf – as the result of a 107g/km to 95g/km CO2 drop. Because these new diesels are RDE2 compliant, the four percent BIK surcharge is avoided too. The engine itself is lighter than the outgoing version – the plastic inlet manifold helps – and has an electrically controlled variable-vane turbo to more swiftly build boost. According to Vauxhall the lower powered hatch is actually quicker to 60mph than its predecessor, at 10.0sec rather than 10.7sec, but the 122bhp version is unsurprisingly slower, needing 9.6sec rather than the previous 9.0sec for the sprint. That’s the price of improved fuel economy.
Upgrades in other areas are less substantial but include revised spring, damper and bush rates and recalibrated steering, the aim being to sharpen agility and smooth the ride, and a range of aerodynamic improvements aimed at improving economy; there’s more in the tech panel on those. There are also changes to the front bumper moulding noticeable only to the design department that sculpted it, the more useful option of LED matrix headlights and several interior fettlings.
These include upgraded infotainment, each of the three systems offered being compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and the high-level Navi Pro providing an eight inch screen over the standard seven inches, plus voice command. Improved rear-view and forward vision cameras, the latter capable of detecting pedestrians, are available, as is an ergonomically designed driver’s seat with massage and ventilation options – good news for high milers. These pounders of motorways may also tick the new heated windscreen option box, something Ford buyers have been able to do for well over a decade. A new centre console, an optional wireless phone charger dock and slightly more soft-feel trim complete the package.
How does the refreshed Astra perform on the road?
So, although it looks virtually identical, there’s a lot more substance to this mid-life refresh than you often get these days, most of it under the bonnet. It’s best realised in the previously mentioned 143bhp 1.2 petrol triple that might interest Mr. Stroll. This engine is lively, feels light in the Astra’s nose, enables you to get along at a satisfyingly effective pace and with a fair slice of enjoyment, too. It’s an agile car, this particular Astra, the lighter petrol triple powertrain apparently enabling surprising front-end bite and back-road fluency of a kind that Vauxhall has long striven for and rarely achieved.
This pleasing mix of grip, poise and athleticism is spoiled only by steering that could use more weight with speed, and a little more feedback too. It’s certainly accurate, though. That shortfall may be enough to edge the Focus ahead, but this version of the Astra is undoubtedly an entertainer when required. It’s also pretty brisk, the triple’s smooth appetite for revs scoring 8.8sec to 60mph, and, more importantly, it has decent throttle response backed by 165lb ft of torque between 2000 and 3500rpm.
The good news continues with improvements to the Astra’s ride, the heightened compliance in its bushings enabling it to swallow short, sharp shocks with a calm absorbency that sometimes deserted the previous version. For the petrol versions at least, the result is a pleasingly civilized car, and one with a sophistication of rolling comfort not usually achieved with semi-independent twist beam rear axles.
Switching to the 120bhp, nine-speed automatic diesel sees the ride quality preserved, but the loss of some of that fleetness of foot. This version simply doesn’t feel as deft, and for that reason isn’t as satisfying. Nor is the new transmission a total success. Vauxhall’s aim of achieving smooth shifts has certainly been achieved, aided by the relatively small ratio steps in each of those many gears, and the diesel’s torque allows it to flow very unobtrusively in the ebb and flow of brisk-moving traffic.