What is it?
This Astra comes with a normally aspirated 1.6-litre engine and is likely to be one of the sales mainstays of the range. The engine is a carry-over unit from the previous Astra and develops 113bhp at 6000rpm and 114lb ft of torque at 4000rpm.
It uses a five-speed gearbox as standard, though a six-speed automatic transmission is available, albeit for a steep-sounding £1175 premium. Fuel consumption is a reasonable 44.8mpg, emissions an equally acceptable 147g/km.
The car we drove also came with the optional FlexRide chassis, which allows the driver to choose between standard, sport and touring settings for the suspension by way of electronically controlled damping, though other parameters like throttle mapping and steering weighting remain unaltered.
In SE specification this Astra looks expensive at £18,850, so it should be said the engine is available in all five grades, from the entry Exclusiv at £16,650 to top-of-the-range Elite at £19,830.
What’s it like?
Really rather unremarkable. Engine performance is sluggish; the car seems slower than even the claimed modest 10.9sec sprint to 60mph suggests. The engine does at least spread its torque evenly through the rev range, but never suggests it has more than the merest enthusiasm for the job. The five-speed gearbox is good enough, with more sensibly spaced ratios than its six-speed sibling found in other, more expensive Astras.
Otherwise its pretty much as you’d expect: a smart and well built hatchback with conspicuous amounts of interior space and a very high-quality driving environment. But like other Astras, it fails to build upon its showroom appeal once out on the open road.
The FlexRide system works well, but how many will choose to spend a further £425 on it remains to be seen. And even so equipped, it cannot cover the fact that regardless of whether you want a car to ride well or have engaging handling, others in the class do it better.
Should I buy one?
It is quite hard to make a case for this Astra. That there’s no great sparkle to it wouldn’t be quite so disappointing had the rest of the car not promised so much.
However, what really undermines its case is the presence in the range of the 1.4-litre turbo model for just an extra £640, or less than the optional premium lighting pack. This engine not only provides another 25bhp and massively better performance as a result, it is also substantially more refined and has by far the more cheerful nature. Most damning of all, the sweeter, more powerful 1.4 turbo also uses quite a lot less fuel and has lower emissions too.
So while the 1.6 can be seen in isolation as a harmless, inoffensive, high-quality family hatch, the moment it is put even into the context of its own range, let alone competitors like the Focus and Golf, its case falls rapidly and irretrievably apart.