From £15,6208
Vauxhall's all-new Astra arrives, in what might well be the most important new car launch this year
Matt Prior
21 September 2015

What is it?

It’s the new Vauxhall Astra, which means it’s quite important. Small family cars are writ so large into the fortunes of mainstream car companies that none of them dares to be without one.

Even Nissan, which successfully hung its fortunes on crossovers and SUVs, was told by fleets it needed a conventional hatch and therefore ponied up the Pulsar. If you want to sell lots of cars in Europe – as Vauxhall/Opel already does – you have to offer a small family car, which is why now even Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW sell them, as if the mid-market wasn’t having a hard enough time already. 

There is probably no more important car to be launched this year, then, than the new Astra. And here it is, tested near Vauxhall’s Luton HQ, cars with right-sided steering wheels adorned with Griffin badges, rather than as Opel-badged left-hookers driven in the south of France or Spain.

For why? Because Britons buy Astras in greater numbers than anybody else, because it is ‘Brit-built’, says Vauxhall like a red-top headline, and because we get an Astra whose driving characteristics are tuned specifically for our roads. Vauxhall and Opel have, no question, put the hours in on this one.

First, then, the oily parts. The Astra sits on a new platform that is lighter than the one that preceded it, partly because it’s shorter (by 5cm), but mostly because it is more cleverly designed.

The Astra’s body-in-white now weighs 280kg, down from 357kg. It’s only one part of a weight loss regime that means the Astra – like for like, not some kind of fudge where you swap a 2.0 for a 1.6 and a torque converter for a dual-clutch automatic gearbox – is at least 120kg lighter than it was before. Fudge things through downsizing and so on and you can make a new Astra appear 200kg lighter than the old one.

It’s one of those virtuous circles; a lighter body and suspension means wheel sizes are smaller (18in is now the biggest), as are the brakes that sit within them.

There’s still MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam with Watt's linkage at the rear, but the front suspension cannot accept the ‘HiPerStrut’, as used by powerful versions such as the previous VXR, and the platform isn’t being asked to underpin a crossover too. It’s leaner and cheaper - shorn of fripperies. In political speak, Vauxhall would have made ‘efficiencies’. From that point of view, it’s a car of our time.


Find an Autocar review

Back to top

My hunch is that the Astra is significant not just as a new Vauxhall but as the most notable among a new generation of family cars, which will place weight reduction at the top of the agenda. We’ve had the fat early 2000s - the 2008 Audi RS6 that weighed 2145kg and averaged 16mpg in our hands – until it all got a bit silly and now motoring is as austere as the rest of the world.

The Astra has no flat underfloor tray, because it would be too expensive and too heavy. Instead, the underbody itself is flattened and suspension parts are hidden in the kind of thinking that will let a 1.6 Ecoflex diesel emit just 82g/km of CO2 when it arrives.

It hasn’t arrived yet, though. For the moment, we’ve tried a 1.6-litre diesel (to be road tested soon) and a 1.4-litre turbo petrol, which I’m majoring on here. As with the latest Ford Focus, there’s a 1.0 petrol triple, too.

What's it like?

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.

Back to top

Should I buy one?

There’s no serious reason not to. This is a light, spacious, refined car with a pretty good grasp of the segment’s priorities.

Okay, put it and its two key rivals in front of me and ask which I’d rather drive, and I’d tell you it was the Ford or the Volkswagen, but those aside I’m fairly confident the Astra is the third-best car in the class. And, if your priorities are a bit more diverse than those of a typical enthusiast, it could even be higher again.

Vauxhall Astra SRi Nav 1.4 150 Turbo; 

Price £19, 995; Engine 4 cyls, 1399cc, turbo, petrol; Power 148bhp at 5000-5600rpm; Torque 180lb ft at 2000-3500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1278kg; Top speed 134mph; 0-60mph 7.8sec; Economy 51.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 128g/km, 20%

Join the debate


22 September 2015
"And if your priorities are a bit more diverse than those of a typical enthusiast, it could even be higher again."
We are all enthusiasts, that's why we're reading the article in the first place. And while we can appreciate the qualities of the Focus, Golf,et al, this class of car does not gain its success from its handling. This was a very predictable conclusion, no matter how good the new car is.

22 September 2015
Two very good reasons not to buy one in the article, and there's a huge choice of other good cars in this sector too. Tough for GM, but good petrol engines will help as market turns against diesel.

22 September 2015
Autocar, loads of paragraphs on engines, suspension etc but only 1 sentence on the multimedia?! It's 2015. The roads are full, average speed cameras everywhere so please can you do loads more on how your phone connects up, media playback, does it have Spotify etc.

22 September 2015
I thought a car was a means of transport.


22 September 2015
An excellent car. I'd say the interior was miles ahead of the Ford, it will be miles cheaper than a Golf but there again it will depreciate. It looks better than both and drives very well. @ Deputy please no there are thousands of techno sites and magazines ask them to review the ICE.

22 September 2015
The last model was way better place to be than the current focus and this one looks way better inside. As to performance, 7.8 secs to 60 for a 1.4 is right up there. Can't think of a reason to buy the focus or the over rated golf

22 September 2015
The last model was way better place to be than the current focus and this one looks way better inside. As to performance, 7.8 secs to 60 for a 1.4 is right up there. Can't think of a reason to buy the focus or the over rated golf

22 September 2015
The last Astra was/ is a very underrated car. I think Opel/ Vauxhall have long edged Ford with cabin design and quality, not that Ford are bad at all but this seems to be another level. Looks a very nice place to be.


22 September 2015
Spec looks good: lighter, turbo petrol, ... but then look at the rear shot. Looks like an early Focus (behind rear doors) morphing into BMW 1-series (rear lights). Obviously a serious disagreement between the tailgate designer and the side body designer - and neither won!

22 September 2015
What a miserable car. Would pony up the 3k extra for a Golf or go for a Korean instead.


Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review