From £17,7007
Eye-catching to look at, refined and polished to drive, and well equipped – but notably pricier and less practical than its big-selling predecessors

What is it?

The eighth-generation Vauxhall Astra. It’s a handsome devil, isn’t it? And, lordy, didn’t it need to be. I mean, it’s a hatchback to start with. Fewer and fewer people seem to want one of those, and fewer still when the one in question isn’t great-looking or premium-brand desirable.

But also because this is a car that represents huge technical change for one of Britain’s longest-lived and most successful compact cars. The first Astra of Vauxhall’s Stellantis-owned corporate era, this car effectively switches onto a widely updated version of what, not so long ago, we’d have called a PSA Group model architecture: a Peugeot 308 chassis, basically. It adopts engines and suspension technology that we’d have been happy enough to describe in exactly the same terms. It will also be the first Astra to offer electrified powertrains, and in no small number: in time, there will be two plug-in hybrids and a fully electric version.

So there was always the risk that this new car simply wouldn’t look, feel or drive very much like what we might recognise as a Vauxhall Astra at all. But how well Vauxhall has sidestepped that little problem – with the perfect diversionary tactic. You just look at the new car - with its 1960s Bill Mitchell-inspired ‘sheer’ surfaces, its 'Vauxhall Vizor’ front grille, and all of those retro-cool design references to the early ’80s Astra Mk1 and the ’70s Opel Manta - and somehow you can’t help but say: “Wow, that’s a bit of all right.”

Broadly speaking, this Astra’s a bit of all right to drive as well, although I’m not sure I mean that in quite the same way. It’s more refined and feels more sophisticated than any of its forebears and it's more dynamically competent too. Pretty good; just not particularly memorable.

What's it like?

The Astra L (to use its Opel-brand geek-chic factory model nomenclature) will be built exclusively at Opel’s Rüsselsheim factory, with right-hand-drive versions expected in UK showrooms in May.

If it looks markedly different from the outgoing version, that may be because the junking of the car’s old GM architecture has allowed for both the roofline and driver’s hip point of the new one to be lowered, and for the footprint to be widened and the wheelbase extended by 13mm, without adding much to the car’s overall length. Something similar happened with the current-gen Vauxhall Corsa, you may remember - and, in this tester’s estimation, cabin space took a hit in the process. Guess what, reader: we’ll come back to that.

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A major effort has been made to simplify the Astra’s derivative line-up this time around, in order to present a showroom proposition that’s easier to understand. If you want a conventional combustion engine, you can have a 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol three-pot with either 109bhp or 129bhp, or a 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel with 129bhp. Or you can have a newfangled petrol-electric plug-in hybrid with either 177bhp or 221bhp; or, if you prefer, you can wait until 2023 for the fully electric version. 

Technically, all Astras combine strut-type independent front suspension with a torsion beam rear axle, and all will be front-wheel drive. Not so technically, the car will be offered in just three trim levels: Design, GS Line and Ultimate. 

Just as when looking at the exterior, you know you’re in something different here as you slide into the car’s lower-cradled driving position, and across in front of a widely digitised fascia that seeks to put this car right back into contention with the very best in class for electronic, touchscreen sophistication. 

There’s less good news in the second row, though. Vauxhall may have extended this car’s wheelbase, but the net effect of lowering its roofline and making its seating position more recumbent is definitely to the detriment of second-row passenger space. The outgoing Astra was among the roomier cars in its class for adults travelling in the back, but if you’re taller than six foot, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll feel a bit short-changed for both second-row head room and leg room (latterly depending on who you’re travelling behind) in the new one. From Vauxhall, especially, it would feel like a damning admission to simply argue: “Oh, well. People who need the space will just buy a crossover, won’t they?” Clearly, they shouldn’t have to. Good packaging used to be a Vauxhall strength.

Up front, the impact of Vauxhall’s notable move upmarket with this car is more positive. The instruments and infotainment display are presented side by side within a curved, glossy black console. Vauxhall calls it the ‘Pure Panel’, and although we were able to test the only basic configuration of it (twin 10.0in colour screens combined slightly simplistically in a black plastic surround), we understand that both mid- and upper-spec Astras will get a sleeker-looking take with a continuous surface and a more appealing magnesium frame. For those who want to feel like they’re driving some gigantic, tonne-and-a-half smartphone rather than a car, it should have the desired effect.

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The digital instrument screen is driver configurable to an extent. Its layout is lacking a little for proper flexibility and sensible hierarchy of information (why no ‘classic’ analogue dials display mode?) but it’s bright and clear and readable enough. The head-up display above (optional except on top-trim cars) is a little dim, and particularly hard to see in bright sunlight with sunglasses on. But the central infotainment console has physical shortcut keys to help you navigate the menus, and there are physical air conditioning controls here, too. So when Vauxhall talks up having ‘detoxed’ the Astra’s interior and swept away many of its secondary controls, you can just tune out the marketing speak if you want to.

We tested the car in both 129bhp petrol and 177bhp plug-in hybrid forms but spent longer in a mid-spec GS Line example of the 1.2-litre three-pot, which combined much of the cabin technology mentioned above with a really comfortable, adjustable and supportive driver’s seat. It had a more colourful interior treatment than other versions offer as well; and a fairly affordable, sub-£27,000 asking price of the sort that many will either expect, or require, of an Astra. Vauxhall seeks to justify the loftier pricing of the PHEV models (which cost £4000 more than equivalent petrols, but should still do well as fleet cars) by claiming that an average owner who does 85% of his or her motoring on electric power will recoup most of the typical £80 a month finance premium it takes to buy one on saved fuel costs alone. The theory may seem reasonable, but something tells me home charging may be beyond a significant proportion of Astra owners, even if a £32,000 entry price isn’t.

On the road, the new Astra rides particularly quietly and smoothly, with a rubbery sense of isolation at low speed that’s a great advert for the apparent care taken during its development. It isn’t soft or limp-handling at higher speeds either, retaining good lateral body control and decent grip levels when cornering hard. 

Steering is medium light but consistently paced, and it feels pleasingly precise at speed. This isn’t an especially keen-handling, agile or incisive car to drive, but it’s certainly more accurate and composed than its predecessor, with an occasional bit of jitteriness from the ride the only telltale of any increase in spring rate.

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Meanwhile, the Astra’s new plug-in hybrid powertrain (which demonstrated itself capable of a real-world 25 miles of electric range during testing, against a lab-test claim of 37 miles) is well suited to the strengths of its newly planted, sophisticated chassis, being particularly refined and generally slick in switching between power sources.

If the three-pot petrol’s more in your price range, you can expect strong mid-range drivability here, too, as well as slightly thrummy but decent refinement, and an outright performance level that won’t be found wanting in day-to-day driving. With the way this car is now priced, you’ll find more power and performance for less money elsewhere without looking too hard. Even so, the 1.2-litre engine is a likeable sort, and it runs more quietly here than in other related applications.

Should I buy one?

Clearly there are both gains and losses to report with this car; significant shifts in positioning, too. Weighing them up, it’s easy to confirm that this is a better and more modern Astra than its predecessor - albeit, in some ways, also a less practical one. It's a more desirable one, too - but with a price to match.

The Astra’s moving with the times, and they’re times in which it’s becoming a less and less important car, for both Vauxhall and the UK car market, and has much more to do simply to cut through. It gets off to a good start in that respect, but I’m not sure it backs up that eye-catching design with as complete a package of dynamic, static, rational and emotional qualities as the very best of its rivals.

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If you were picking a car to put the traditional, medium-sized family hatchback back on the map in 2022, this probably wouldn’t quite be it. The Astra’s back in the game, but where it goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
zulaufraheem 20 February 2022

Beautiful inside and out. That's certainly not enough for Autocar. Vauxhall MUST upgrade. The market for traditional family hatches is dwindling. Her predecessor was a gem. From the exterior, it looked terrific – better than any other car in the class, except the Mazda 3. But times have changed, for better or worse. The old car had a mediocre chassis, contrary to what Autocar reported previously. Consider ergonomics. Vauxhall recently has the finest ergonomics. Buttons arranged by function. Seats for osteopaths Vauxhall must make some of these traits more appealing to top the charts. The Golf, a car as well-engineered and thrilling as a German dishwasher, remains Autocar's top pick. Ultimately, this market is about charging more than a Kia.

gagaga 13 February 2022

Interior looks okay/good, but the outside looks like a 306 from a decade ago.  Could quite easily swap the badges for the Pug ones.

A statement crossover would have been a better focus.

rhwilton 13 February 2022
This car does look good, inside and out. Autocar clearly doesn’t think this is enough. Vauxhall HAS to go upmarket. The market for bread and butter family hatches is disappearing to makers from the east. The previous Astra had many virtues. To my eyes, from the outside at least, it looked good — better than any car in the class, regardless of price, except for the Mazda 3. Fashion has moved on, however, for better or worse. Autocar suggests that the old car had a mediocre chassis, which is the opposite of what it said last time it reviewed the car. Let’s mention ergonomics. Recently Vauxhall’s ergonomics have been the best. Real buttons mostly grouped by function. Osteopath-approved seats. None of these virtues were enough to top the charts, so Vauxhall has to make some more appealing. Autocar continues to recommend the Golf, a car as well-engineered and exciting as a German dishwasher. Ultimately, this market is all about justifying a higher price than a Kia.