The British-built Vauxhall Astra reaches its seventh generation, but faces strong competition from recently-updated hatchbacks like the Ford Focus

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Pick four British motorists at random, seat them in a Vauxhall Astra and at least one should feel instantly at home. Such has been the success of this hatchback in the UK – fuelled by its unpretentious versatility and value for money for 36 years and six model generations now – that a quarter of all licence holders in this country have owned or regularly driven one, says Vauxhall.

Underneath the revised styling of the seventh-generation Astra, there’s a great deal that’s brand new about this car, from its platform to its engines, suspension tuning and more besides.

Vauxhall parent GM appears to have gathered together all of its latest and greatest technology and thrown it at this car – as you’d imagine it might when replacing a model crucial to its European fortunes

That’s something we haven’t been able to report about every ‘new’ Vauxhall recently. Perhaps most enticing, the car is up to 200kg lighter and £2200 cheaper than the outgoing one, depending on which model you’re looking at.

Vauxhall parent General Motors appears to have gathered together all of its latest and greatest technology and thrown it at this car – as you’d imagine it might when replacing a model so crucial to its European fortunes. This is the first Vauxhall or Opel developed on GM’s D2XX platform, announced in 2012. As you’ll read, that platform has allowed space to be made inside while also eliminating weight and outward size.

The Astra's engine line-up starts with a 99bhp 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, followed by a 103bhp three-cylinder, one-litre unit ahead of a couple of turbocharged 1.4-litre blocks producing 123bhp and 148bhp respectively. The petrol range is rounded off with a 198bhp turbo-boosted 1.6-litre engine. The diesel range consists of an 1.6-litre unit in numerous outputs - 108bhp, 134bhp and 158bhp - which is also twin-turbocharged.

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Meanwhile, from active LED matrix headlights, through automatic crash mitigation and avoidance systems, to Vauxhall’s latest IntelliLink infotainment set-up, Vauxhall hasn’t held back on convenience or safety features, either. Stand by to find out what rivals have to fear from this leaner, cheaper, better-equipped Vauxhall, then – and exactly how much more it offers the legions of British drivers whom it’ll ultimately serve.


Vauxhall Astra rear
The use of a plastic C-pillar to achieve a floating roof is a fussy complication

The styling of the Interested in buying a sixth-generation Astra is quite a hard act to follow, but Vauxhall’s designers have nonetheless succeeded in following it with something fresh, smart and attractive. The new car’s wider and more impactful front grille and headlight treatment give it the vaguely upmarket air that it’ll need to continue to sell alongside myriad premium-brand rivals.

We’re less convinced by the split C-pillar design, which delivers the impression of a floating roof but looks like more of an afterthought at close quarters.

The styling of the sixth-generation Astra is quite a hard act to follow, but Vauxhall’s designers have nonetheless succeeded in following it with something fresh, smart and attractive

Compactness undeniably contributes to the latest Astra’s new-found visual appeal, with the car having lost an inch or two on both overall length and height. GM’s D2XX platform has allowed a substantial 77kg to be taken out of the all-steel body-in-white, while static torsional rigidity has been increased. And although the wheelbase and front and rear overhangs have been shortened, both passenger and boot space have apparently been improved.

The car’s suspension remains a middle-ground compromise between cost, notional sophistication and packaging efficiency. At the front, MacPherson struts feature, with an aluminium strut carrier, a hollow steel anti-roll bar and a redesigned ‘mass-optimised’ lower control arm all saving weight. At the rear, Vauxhall continues with its torsion beam, which, combined with a Watt’s linkage, allows for more precise wheel control and a softer-bushed, more fluent ride than a standard beam axle would grant, without the necessary complexity and packaging intrusion of a fully independent rear end. The Watt’s link itself is lighter than it was, and progressive-rate springs have been adopted. Altogether, 50kg has been saved from the car’s rolling chassis.

Because fleet sales are expected to account for 70% of Astra sales, we’ve opted to test the mid-range 1.6 CDTi engine – and it looks a very competitive offering. Bringing with it 17in alloy wheels as standard, the SRi trim of our test car tipped CO2 emissions over the 100g/km barrier. Buy this car in a more modest trim level, though, and it’ll combine attractive sub-100g/km CO2 with power, torque and performance levels that you’d need a bigger, less efficient engine to equal in most of the Astra’s rivals.

In a departure from precedent, Vauxhall is declining to offer a sports suspension tune with certain versions of the Astra. Instead, it has opted for one particular spring, damper and torsion beam specification for each engine and bodystyle. The firm’s Flexride adaptive damping system has not migrated downwards from the Vauxhall Insignia, either. But will either factor affect the breadth of the new Astra’s dynamic ability? 

Vauxhall Astra? Our sister title What Car? has taken the stress out of buying one.


Vauxhall Astra dashboard

According to our tape measure, the new Astra is a credit to Vauxhall’s enviable reputation for practicality, having two particularly roomy rows of seats and a sizeable boot.

You’ll find as much rear leg room here as in the revered Skoda Octavia and notably more than in a Ford Focus or a Peugeot 308. The back seats offer only two Isofix child seat anchorage points and there’s none for the front passenger seat, but it’s rare to find a third Isofix point in a compact hatchback. Leg room in the front is generous and the driving position is slightly raised but generally very sound. The boot offers more seats-down loading length and loading height than most of its rivals, too.

Vauxhall’s OnStar connectivity comes with SRi trim and above. Much as I like the 4G wireless access, the most important element of the set-up to me is the privacy button

Vauxhall’s attempt at upping the Astra’s perceived cabin quality seems to have been made largely by applying more flashy and decorative foils and trims to the fascia and door consoles. It’s moderately successful. We’d argue there’s more work to be done before this car’s cabin has the substance, richness and tactility of a Volkswagen Golf or 308, but most who take delivery of a new Astra will be pleasantly surprised by the look and feel of what’s in front of them.

The material quality of the car’s primary switchgear is only slightly improved, but the hierarchy and clarity of the layout of the buttons on the centre stack are significantly better than before. By and large, your fingertip tends to find the function or adjustment it set out for easily. All of that high-gloss black and silver trim may look prone to grubby finger marks, but most of it is placed out of easy reach.

We can also report that the Astra’s seats are comfortable over long distances, its instruments and new colour trip computer are usable and clear, and its cupholders are cleverly sized. Its new IntelliLink infotainment system is also a big step forwards for Vauxhall, though perhaps not for the larger volume hatchback class, which has come further in recent years.

For Vauxhall, the important inclusion here is the OnStar system — a customer support and monitoring system long available in the US but making its UK debut in the Astra. This offers a range of advantages, not least the ability to speak to an OnStar advisor 365 days a year for assistance.

If the thought of contacting a call centre doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy, then the system’s other main benefit — a 4G LTE mobile Wi-fi hotspot — ought to. Offering fast internet access for up to seven devices using the car’s own SIM card (which is free to use for the first 12 months and £79 a year from then on) is a selling point currently unrivalled by any competitor.

To top it all, the latest IntelliLink infotainment system also includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, making smartphone integration that bit more meaningful. Vauxhall’s own menu system isn’t as slick or as intuitive, but the firm’s feature-heavy approach tends to override such niggles.

As for equipment levels, there are six trim levels to choose from - Design, Tech Line, Energy, SRi, SRi VX-Line and Elite. Entry-level models get 16in alloy wheels, electric windows, auto lights, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, LED day-running lights, hill start assist and cruise control on the outside as standard. Inside there is air conditioning, six airbags and Vauxhall's IntelliLink infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity and smartphone integration.

Upgrade to Tech Line and you will find sat nav, an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment display, an adjustable front armrest and a leather clad steering wheel, while Energy models get heated front seats and steering wheel and 17in alloy wheels over Design equipped Astras.

Mid-range SRi models gets 17in alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers, front foglights, sports seats, Vauxhall's OnStar system and a driver assistance pack, which consists of forward collision alert with auto city emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, distance indicator and lane departure warning. The sportier still SRi VX-Line Astras come with 18in alloy wheels, an aggressive bodykit, auto dimming rear view mirror, and a dedicated sport mode across all engine variants available. 

The range-topping Elite trim car gets 17in alloy wheels, electrically folding wing mirrors, a leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, heated front and rear seats, electric lumbar adjustment, two USB charging ports and an electric parking brake included in the package.

Those craving Vauxhall's larger screen IntelliLink infotainment system and European sat nav can opt for SRi Nav, SRi VX-Line Nav or Elite Nav models.

Decided on the right equipped Astra for you, then its time to check out our sister title What Car? new marketplace to buy your new Astra at the right price.


Vauxhall Astra side profile

The likes of Honda and Mazda may have brought welcome punch and a smattering of pace to low-CO2 diesel hatchbacks in the past few years, but most of them still smack of compromise on outright acceleration. This Astra doesn’t.

Its 1.6 CDTi engine trumps most of its rivals by around 20% on maximum power and torque, while still being competitive on fuel economy and emissions – and that’s one of the car’s main selling points.

The manual gearbox’s less than satisfying shift action isn’t helped by a big gearknob, which, if your hands are as modestly sized as mine, leaves you feeling a little like a toddler holding a cooking apple

Against our timing gear, the difference is plain. The Vauxhall needs less than nine seconds to pass 60mph from rest. The equivalent Ford Focus 1.5 TDCi we reviewed took more than two seconds longer for the same sprint, and the Volkswagen Group’s 1.6 TDI offerings suffer a similar disadvantage. For in-gear pulling power, the Astra’s performance is just as impressive, its relative advantage being worth around two seconds from 30-70mph in fourth gear compared with the class norm.

The Astra’s engine isn’t the quietest of its ilk, but it’s smooth and fairly free-revving. The fact that its maximum torque allotment is available over such a slender band of revs doesn’t seem to make much of a dent in the overall impression of vigour with which the car climbs gradients and gets up to speed. Responsiveness to the accelerator pedal is more than respectable. Most of the time, you’d swear this was a modern 2.0-litre diesel.

Braking performance is likewise strong – at least, it is on the 17in wheels and larger brakes that come with this engine. Less powerful models have smaller front discs.

But we’re taking half a star away from the Astra from what might otherwise be a perfect score on the basis that its controls could feel slicker and better matched on weight and positivity. Unlike the car’s steering, which we’ll come to, the Astra’s clutch pedal feels light and a little vague in the way it manages the driveline. The gearlever’s shift quality is likewise a bit springy and inconsistent in its action and feel, and the brake pedal has a small but noticeable dead zone at the top of its travel.

Details like this make a telling difference to an otherwise run-of-the-mill hatchback with genuine driver appeal and blunt the edge of the Astra’s dynamic allure.

Interested in buying a Vauxhall Astra? Our sister title What Car? has taken the stress out of buying one.


Vauxhall Astra cornering

As far as keen drivers are concerned, the Astra’s school report has had ‘must try harder’ written throughout most of its three-decade lifespan. There has been the odd dynamic highlight – the Mk2 GTE and outgoing three-door GTC among them. But overall, driving an Interested in buying a Vauxhall Astra has tended to lead you to conclude over the years, that Vauxhall cares most about comfort, isolation, security and ease of use and hardly at all about precision and driver involvement.

Dispelling that impression may end up being the most significant legacy of this car, because no one could drive the new Astra and think its handling hadn’t been carefully considered and intended to engage.

The styling of the sixth-generation Astra is quite a hard act to follow, but Vauxhall’s designers have nonetheless succeeded in following it with something fresh, smart and attractive

Even compared with the most driver-oriented cars in the class, such as the Ford Focus and Mazda 3, the new Astra feels light on its feet and keen to change direction. It’s sufficiently firmly sprung to resist body roll well, sufficiently grippy at all four corners to encourage you to drive it with plenty of spirit and quick enough on the wheel to dive into corners with minimal effort.

A lack of genuine contact-patch steering feedback hardly seems a relevant criticism of a volume-selling diesel five-door now that there’s hardly a car among the current crop that provides any, but the Astra’s steering still seems oddly weighted at times. It lacks the consistency and natural feel of some of its rivals, feeling light at first and weighting up a bit belatedly as you add lock.

So too, is the new Astra’s slightly hollow and occasionally fidgeting ride a minor shortcoming. Although a certain firmness over bad surfaces may be linked to Vauxhall’s decision to go after a more involving driving experience with this car, and it’s apparent that the Astra’s directness and responsiveness come from those firm springs and fairly hard bushings – and not from the clever damper tuning and close body control that has marked out the very best-handling hatchbacks of recent times.

But the headline news is clear: interested drivers may well like this Astra and be willing to put up with its foibles. Do not adjust your sets.

Vauxhall supplied us with an Astra well prepared for Millbrook’s Alpine Hill Route. On standard 17in alloy wheels, it may have offered a little more lateral grip and slightly crisper steering than most Astra models bought in the real world. That said, there’s more to a fine-handling hatchback than a big set of wheels — and the Astra’s taut suspension and direct helm played their part, too, in what was a very agile and secure showing all round.

The Astra’s firm, flat ride translates into a pleasingly immediate, roll-free turn-in, even when you hustle and harry the car into a tight bend. Mid-corner balance is very respectable but tuned more for stability than playfulness, so it’s hard to engage the rear wheels in the car’s cornering attitude. But as a result, the Vauxhall looks after its driver very well, even when the entry speed for a corner is over-estimated. The car’s ESP feels reasonably mature and unintrusive, too.

Vauxhall Astra? Our sister title What Car? has taken the stress out of buying one.


Seventh generation Vauxhall Astra review hero front

Owning this Astra promises to be both convenient and cost-effective – just as you’d expect of a Vauxhall. Our test car returned an average of 55.1mpg for our True MPG testers, a result that only the most frugal diesel hatchbacks will beat in the real world.

The car’s competitive pricing helps to keep its benefit-in-kind tax liability down, as does its low CO2 output. 

Add residual values that are expected by CAP to match those of the Focus and beat the Seat Leon’s and you end up with a package with which it is hard to find fault

Our SRi Nav test car came relatively well equipped with various active safety systems, sports seats, cruise control, DAB and satellite navigation all fitted as standard. Dressing a Focus ST-Line up to the same equipment level makes it slightly more expensive. In fact, the Astra is available at a price to undercut almost all of its closest rivals – some by thousands of pounds rather than hundreds.

The Tech Line offering gives the best value to fleet drivers and won’t be promoted through retail channels, so the other trim levels of Design, Energy, SRi, SRi VX-Line and Elite will provide better value for private buyers.

It must be noted that the OnStar system is only available on the SRi, SRi VX-Line and Elite trim levels. Worthwhile options include parking sensors (as part of Parking Pack, which includes a rear view camera and blind spot alert), LED headlights and metallic paint.

Add to that residual values that are expected by CAP to match those of the Ford Focus and beat the Seat Leon’s and you end up with a package with which it is hard to find fault.



4 star Vauxhall Astra

The Astra’s strengths are many, varied and, crucially, deserving of the attention of the interested drivers who may have overlooked the car in the past.

Vauxhall deserves as much credit as we can give for grasping the nettle with this car. Although it may be broadly unassuming to look at and remains as relatively practical, unpretentious and well priced as ever, this car isn’t just more of the same.

Vauxhall’s British-built hatchback is a contender once again

In as-tested form, it has an outstanding diesel engine and agile handling, while its infotainment and safety technologies provide selling points you might not expect from an old, mass-market brand. It’s not a surprise that the new Astra was voted 2016 European Car of the Year. 

On refinement, material quality and dynamic maturity, however the ageing Astra’s working-class roots show through a little more compared to fresher-faced rivals like the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and Mazda 3.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Vauxhall Astra 2015-2018 First drives