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 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.
Even compared with the most driver-oriented cars in the class, such as the 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.