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Early drive of 11th generation best-seller hints at improved steering and ride qualities, while less weight increases this Astra's agility, too
5 May 2015

What is it?

More than a quarter of all British motorists have owned a Vauxhall Astra or have had one as a company car. Okay, you could probably say the same about a Ford Escort/Focus, but it means the next version is a significant car for Vauxhall and one the company would like to get right.

That’s the reason, then, that this new Astra prototype, mostly developed in Germany by Opel, is being driven, disguised, around Bedfordshire. More Astras are sold in the UK than anywhere else and, according to GM Europe’s engineers, if a car’s chassis works here, it’ll work anywhere - at least, up to 60mph; for development above that speed you’ll want Germany. 

No Vauxhall or Opel, then, is signed off without beating the back lanes of Bedfordshire (which is near Vauxhall’s Luton HQ and its small facility within Millbrook Proving Ground) and Wales (which isn’t).

Currently, that Vauxhall is the 11th generation Astra, which we’ll drive in production form this autumn and which is a huge step-change over its predecessor. It sits on GM’s D2 architecture, which places lightness at the heart of everything.

The new Astra is 49mm shorter, 26mm lower and has a 23mm shorter wheelbase than the car it replaces. That helps make the new car at least 120kg lighter than its predecessor. Vauxhall says that’s a genuine like-for-like ‘at least’ claim, too. Fudge the maths, like some car makers, and you’ll find that a next-gen 1.6 diesel auto will be lighter than a current 2.0-litre of the same power by the order of 200kg.

How else has Vauxhall achieved that drastic reduction in weight? By using materials more smartly but improving manufacturing processes, and by optimising everything, everywhere.

For example, there’s no possibility of it being fitted with Vauxhall's advanced HiPer strut front suspension. The front suspension subframe is now attached to the chassis rigidly, rather than via bushes. There’s only room for a range of small engines. Manufacturing processes have been improved and parts on this car won’t have to double up on the next Zafira or other models.


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In short, it’s less over-engineered than before. That the body-in-white is 21% lighter means that wheels, tyres and brakes are all now smaller, too. 

What's it like?

Despite the decrease in exterior size, Vauxhall reckons the new Astra's interior dimensions are up. I reckon so, too, after setting up a standard me-behind-my-driving-position test in the rear. With around four inches of spare kneeroom, and the same above my head, I’d estimate that only a Skoda Octavia matches it in the class.

In the front, things are as heavily disguised as they are on the outside. Covers are draped across all surfaces – even the instrument panel’s obscured from anything other than the driver’s seat – and peeking underneath, you’ll find fit and finish are pretty far removed from production. 

No matter, the driving position is okay, the gearshift action smooth and within 50 metres of setting off you can feel that this Astra – a 1.4 turbo petrol – is much lighter than the last one, an example of which Vauxhall has brought along for a back-to-back. 

Instead of the current Astra’s muted and mature but occasionally heavy ride, which lags before settling over crests, the new car scoots along with much more positivity and agility. A new 1.4-litre turbo, now with direct injection so making 5bhp more than currently, makes light work of it. 

Vauxhall has retained a torsion beam with a Watt’s linkage, which is not a bad thing. Yes, it’s cheaper than four-link rear suspension but tuned well, Vauxhall thinks it can be just as effective. Here, coupled with the bushless front subframe, there’s a little patter to the secondary ride but nothing to get worked up about.

The steering’s lighter and more positive than in the current Astra; well weighted, with good speed and fine accuracy. It feels fairly natural, if lacking the outright engagement that you get from a Ford Focus’s rack. It’s a bit more like a Volkswagen Golf’s, in that respect: smooth and natural, if not aimed at the enthusiast.

Ditto the handling, one suspects. That there’s a clear agility to the Astra makes it entertaining in itself, but it doesn’t feel tuned, as a Focus is, to go out of its way to please you; nor, as a Golf is, to isolate you from the world. 

Should I buy one?

Maybe, though it’ll take a full test of a production one to say just how far up the scale the new Astra is, compared with its rivals. What is certain is that it has a likeable and positive character of its own. And the weight loss can only be a good thing.

2015 Vauxhall Astra 1.4 Turbo

Location Bedfordshire; On sale late 2015; Price £19,000 (est); Engine 4cyls in line, 1364cc, turbo petrol; Power 143bhp; Torque 173lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerbweight 1200kg (est); Top speed 130mph (est); 0-62mph  NA; Economy 55mpg (est); CO2 / tax band 128g/km (est)

Join the debate


6 May 2015 beating heart.

6 May 2015
Millbrook isn't owned by General Motors. They sold it to a private equity company.

6 May 2015

Indeed, and apologies that it gave that impression: Vauxhall has its own small facility within Millbrook. I've amended the copy to be clearer.

6 May 2015
It might be the 11th generation of Opel Kadett, but by my reckoning this will be the 7th version of Astra (11 generations would mean a new one every 3.5 years since 1979).
No matter, it's good to see a new mainstream model that is smaller and lighter (and perhaps a little cheaper?) than the model it replaces. I think Vauxhall Opel has the right philosophy of reducing cost and weight wherever possible, even if it means simpler suspension than some competitors. Most customers for this car will be number driven fleet buyers and not enthusiast Autocar readers - and so long as the dynamics are competent it will no doubt have strengths in other areas. A name change - or even a brand change to Opel - would do no harm though!

6 May 2015
Since the UK is already the biggest European market for the Astra, how would a name change to Opel be of benefit?

Perhaps the new Astra might sell better on mainland Europe if it were badged Vauxhall!

6 May 2015
But there's not much value in the Vauxhall brand in the UK, just as the Opel brand is poorly regarded in Germany. A straight swap might help. Then again, brands can be transformed as VW has shown with Skoda, but this takes a lot of time, effort and budget.

6 May 2015
Contrary to some earlier reports that suggested this would be a comprehensive makeover of the current Astra, similar to the latest Corsa, it now appears to be a completely new car on a new platform. I welcome the significant reduction in weight and dimensions and hope this can be combined no loss of refinement and an improved drive over the current model. That said, GME have over-promised and under-delivered in the past, and nobody has yet managed the trick of combining torsion beam rear suspension with class-leading ride and handling.

6 May 2015
Thank god they're bucking the trend and reducing it's size, regarding the weight, the old one was a bit overweight so a 120 kg weight reduction really needed to be 200kg!
Hard to tell I know but the proportions of the car in the photo look spot on and I think it'll be another sales success which is good news for the Midlands!

6 May 2015
New Vauxhall! Better than the old one! Not quite as good as the best alternatives!

6 May 2015
Incidentally, while the weight reduction is welcome GME are not 'bucking the trend' but following the path led by VW (Golf 7 is lighter than Golf 6), Mazda and others. When did GME ever lead the way on anything?


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