Step inside the Astra and you'll find that interior hasn't suffered with the new attitude.
Materials and their finish are largely good. To my mind, the Astra has the measure of a Focus but not a Volkswagen Golf in terms of perceived material quality. Ditto ergonomically, although Vauxhall’s new central multimedia screen is quite slick. You can also have OnStar, which offers lots of things your smartphone already does and a few it doesn’t.
The driving position is generally good, although a couple of test cars had a rather spongy brake pedal and a vague clutch. And while exterior dimensions have shrunk, inside it hasn’t; rear leg room is up by 3.5cm and the boot is large.
If the Astra is smaller outside and bigger inside and weighs less than before, though, does that mean something has to give? Presumably, yes; there’s reduced material use in general, including soundproofing ones, so the focus has switched to reducing noise at source.
That’s no bad thing; the drag coefficient is just 0.285 (it was 0.325 before), while the new 1.4 turbo petrol engine has been designed with resonance and weight reduction front of mind. Its block alone is 10kg lighter than the old 1.4 Turbo’s.
It’s quiet, then, so road noise, rather than wind or engine noise, is the major source of cabin NVH. More than before? Probably, but it’s hard to tell without a back-to-back test, and a reduction in other noise means the Astra is refined enough.
There’s little point in asking the engine to be noisy anyway. Although this feels like the 7.8sec-to-60mph car it’s claimed to be, peak torque (180lb ft) arrives at 2000rpm and peak power from 5000rpm, so it pays to stroke it along - the gearshift is sweet – in the mid-range. Precisely what buyers will do, I imagine. The 104bhp 1.0 sounds thrummier than I remember it in a Corsa, but it’s appealing and pulls the Astra around strongly enough (0-60mph is a claimed 10.5sec), given its output.
In the ride and body control trade-off, body control wins out by a whisker. Our test car rode on 225/45 R17 tyres and the ride occasionally thumped if already loaded when a bump arrived. But over crests and dips it’s good, and agility is – unsurprisingly – very strong. It’s that which makes the Astra enjoyable to drive rather than any particular engagement through the controls. To my mind, a Focus feels more adjustable, while a Golf is more sophisticated and solid.