Vauxhall's Astra gets its most potent engine yet; a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo, giving it near-Focus ST pace. Its chassis is good enough to cope, too

What is it?

We like the new Vauxhall Astra. It’s the first in GM’s stable to use the all-new D2XX chassis, which has moved it on hugely from the previous generation car. There's a lot more room inside, and the use of high-strength steel has helped it shed weight and in doing so improved its handling and ride.

Until now we’ve tested more mainstream diesels and efficient petrol versions, so the 1.6i Turbo 200 is something a little different. For now, it’s the fastest model in the range, using a new 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 197bhp and 221lb ft of torque to give proper pace: 0-60mph flashes past in 6.6sec, and its top speed is close to 150mph.

The 1.6i Turbo 200 costs a very reasonable £21,855 in top-spec Elite Nav trim - it offers ballpark Ford Focus ST and Skoda Octavia vRS levels of performance, but for considerably less money. It comes with luxury trinkets, such as an 8.0in touchscreen, a sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB, leather, heated seats front and rear and a heated steering wheel as standard.

Read our review of the latest Vauxhall Astra hatch here./car-review/vauxhall/Vauxhall Astra

What's it like?

The new motor is a fine thing. There’s a touch of lag while you wait for the turbo to start filling its pipes and helping it breathe, but from 1500rpm it picks up willingly. It’s a little staged thereafter, feeling livelier still at 2500rpm before getting fully into its stride at 4000rpm. Rather than being a negative, this just encourages you to rev it out.

As we know, it’s quick, but it’s also pretty smooth. You can stretch it to the red line and release all the performance with no fear of bursting an eardrum, even if there is a little extra boom past 5000rpm.

Elsewhere the refinement is similarly good, with wind and road noise evident but not earsplitting at 70mph. The only issue is the suspension, which can get a bit boisterous on really bumpy sections of road.

Previously we’ve commented that Astras ride on the firm side, but this is easily the smoothest of the current model I've driven. Whether that’s down to the lighter petrol engine – I’ve spent more time in diesels – or it's a consequence of a particularly flattering stretch of French road, I can’t be absolutely sure. We’ll have to wait until we try one over some familiar UK roads to be definitive on that.

What we can say is that it handles tight, twisty, Alpine roads with ease. The steering is a bit numb, but other than that the body stays well controlled through turns, even when a mid-bend bump tries to catch it out.

Astras seem to have a fair degree of variance when it comes to the way the brake pedal feels, although they always stop effectively. This one had less unwanted travel, then built pressure more progressively as you pressed harder, making it much easier to judge your braking. We quizzed Vauxhall about reasons for this, and the answer was that how they've been bled could cause it to differ. 

Beyond the new engine, the Astra still works as a proper family hack. There’s loads of space front and rear, and the boot is large enough to rival all but the class-leading Skoda Octavia when it comes to carrying pushchairs and shopping.

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The driving position is also fine, with lots of adjustment to cater for most body shapes; having driven from Monte Carlo to Geneva in various versions, I can tell you it’s a pretty comfortable cross-country tourer.

It’s nicely finished inside, too, and compared with the old car much better thought through in terms of ergonomics. Even the infotainment system – the downfall of many a car without a BMW badge – is perfectly usable, if you excuse the odd menu foible here and there.

Should I buy one?

What a difference a year makes; the Astra has gone from way off the pace to a real contender in the last 12 months. While there have been plenty of engine options for those that want to keep running costs low, until now there’s been nothing for those who want to live in the fast lane a little.

This Astra 1.6i Turbo 200 has sorted that anomaly, and that’s before Vauxhall has wheeled out the VXR branding. By the way, we have reason to believe those letters will be appearing on an Astra model soon too.

The only criticism is that it doesn’t stand out from the rest of the range, particularly the SRi model; you’ll certainly stand out more in a Focus ST or Octavia vRS. However, if you prefer to leave the flashiness to others, pop along to a Vauxhall dealer and try one.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6i Turbo 200 Elite Nav

Location France; Price £21,855; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Power 197bhp at 4700-5500rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 1700-4700rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1350kg; Top speed 146mph; 0-60mph 6.6sec; Economy 46.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 141g/km, 25%

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5wheels 9 March 2016

better looking ass

Maybe a liverpool waddle (if you consider the suspension issue) but at least it is the most attractive between Focus/Golf/Polo/Octavia - quite sexy. Interiors have been improving considerably and sounds this has upped the stage more. Whilst it might not be the outright racer that the Focus RS is - if I was daft enough to buy one in this bracket I would probably chose this
winniethewoo 4 March 2016

Its cheap for a reason.

My, my, what ever will they think of next... who would have thought it worthwhile to stick a turbo in a turd? Wouldnt it just disintigrate the turd and fling bits of poo everywhere?
toria1963 13 December 2018

winniethewoo wrote:

winniethewoo wrote:

My, my, what ever will they think of next... who would have thought it worthwhile to stick a turbo in a turd? Wouldnt it just disintigrate the turd and fling bits of poo everywhere?

This post is rather old BUT just on the off-chance anyone is still reading this review, your comment is a load of poo and you've clearly never driven one of the 'new' style Astras.  I have one (the SRI) and it's a peach - smooth, comfortable, very nippy, loads of tech and, I think, a lovely car to look at - why don't you try one of the newer ones and perhaps you will change your mind - though all of these opinions of course are subjective ....  I'm just about to order an Elite Nav 1.4 and cannot wait to get it.

Andrew 61 4 March 2016

Good engine.

"use of high-strength steel has helped it shed weight " You quote 1550 kg which I am assuming is a typo as the 1.4t 150 is a lot lighter at 1278 kg. Still not a fan of the heavily raked screen and A post blind spot design. The new Leon moved away from this idea and, I think, is better for it.