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.
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.