More than just economy will make this engine a worthy mainstay for Vauxhall

What is it?

The 1.8-litre family car isn’t dead yet, but the prognosis doesn’t look good. Pressure to improve economy and the CO2 being pumped out means that downsizing is the new mantra.

GM is proving the point with this 1.4-litre turbocharged Astra. Although still a prototype engine, it is highly likely to be replacing the current 1.8-litre next year. So you can expect it to be a mainstay in the 2008’s all-new Vectra too.

What's it like?

The figures seem to add up. With assistance from a blower the 1.4-litre is good for 140bhp, compared to 120bhp from the current 1.8.

Torque is the trump card however: 170lb ft, optimised all the way from 1500 to 4300rpm plays just 125lb ft. And while economy figures aren’t finalised, engineers are also expecting 10 per cent improvements in economy and CO2.

On the move that hefty slug of torque gives you diesel-like shove from low down the rev range. But unlike a TD it doesn’t run out of steam when you extend it.

The car we drove had a six-speed auto ‘box which is a good match but we came away with the suspicion that it may feel even sprightlier with a manual. Either way, there always seems to be grunt to spare when you need it. Something you can’t really say about the current 1.8.

Downsides? There’s no disguising that a larger capacity is inherently more refined and the 1.4T certainly feels gruffer under full throttle than the 1.8. That said, engineers admit that they are working on making it quieter before customers get their hands on it.

Should I buy one?

Yes, although it won't be on sale until late 2008. When it does arrive the Astra 1.4 Turbo should prove irrevocably that downsizing is the way to go.

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