Vauxhall’s portfolio gets sportier by the month. With a flurry of mad-max VXR models already incoming, here’s the tamer Astra SRi Turbo 200PS (197bhp). It’s come to something when you can contemplate calling a 143mph car capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in 7.7sec ‘tame’. But Vauxhall has a yet more rapid agenda in store for the Astra next summer that involves the full VXR makeover and 240bhp.But this, as the more muscular of the two SRi Turbos (the lesser 170PS version has 168bhp), is as potent as the five-door Astra gets. It exists chiefly to take on the reinvigorated doyen of hot hatches, the VW Golf GTi, which in Mk5 guise has a 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine developing 197bhp, as does the Vauxhall.
The front-line appeal of the Astra SRi is transparent: an £18,445 sticker (£1500 less than the Golf), sexy wheels, sharp styling, loads of standard kit (leather, sat-nav and AFL xenon headlamps are the only options). Our low-mileage test car had the lot. Without question, this Astra challenges the Golf for swagger and driver appeal as well as power and pace.Inside, the fusion of ‘snazz’ and subtlety is skillfully executed: feel-good leather steering wheel, torso-hugging seats, stubby gearlever, big sporty dials, touchy-feely plastics. What a contrast to the Vectra. There is a sunnier side to Vauxhall’s disposition, and this is it.
Dynamically, the Astra can keep the grins going, too. It was certainly entertaining on the smooth and well-engineered roads where we headed for our first punt. Traditionally, small Vauxhalls haven’t shone quite so brightly when acquainted with the bumps, ruts and less-predictable cambers of more typical British B-roads. But this testosterone-marinated member of the new Astra family unravelled the turns with such an engaging combination of grip, supple composure and crisp, well-weighted helm responses untainted by torquesteer, it’s hard to believe it wouldn’t make a good fist of bumpier B-roads.
The familiar 2.0-litre Ecotec turbo engine is impressively smooth and free from lag. It can tap into oodles of overtaking push anywhere between 2000 and 5000rpm, and delivers it without a hint of strain or fuss. What fuss there is presents itself in beautifully tuned and cultured way: top-end bite is a satisfyingly sharp, the engine note subtly guttural, the short-throw gearshift swift and positive in a well-defined gate.