The radically restyled and mechanically reinvented eighth-generation Vauxhall Astra will be available for the first time as a battery electric Astra-e. It’s the most exciting thing to happen to the Astra since, well, ever. That will come in 2023, but the conventional new Astra will arrive in early 2022.
Actually, that’s rather unfair, because contrary to the car’s lacklustre image, there’s no shortage of interesting models in the Astra’s back catalogue. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a selection of 20 of our favourite Vauxhall Astras.
Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk2 (from £6000)
Kicking things off with the Mk2 Vauxhall Astra GTE is like starting a list of the Beatles greatest hits with “A Day in the Life”. The Astra GTE, particularly in 16-valve guise, was one of the greatest performance cars of the era. In terms of outright performance, no other non-turbo hot hatch could touch it.
“The king of the hot hatches” was how we described it in May 1988 in a three-way comparison with the VW Golf GTI 16v and Peugeot 309 GTi. Its 1998cc fuel-injection engine developed 156bhp at 6000rpm, giving the Astra GTE 16v a power to weight ratio of 155bhp per tonne – better than a Porsche 944S.
Vauxhall Astra GTE Mk1 (from £8500)
Here’s a hot hatch Vauxhall made earlier, but not that early. The GTE version arrived just a year before the arrival of the Mk2 Astra, making it one of the forgotten hot hatches of the 1980s. It was a fittingswansong for an already accomplished family hatchback.
Its 1796cc four-cylinder engine produced 115bhp at 5800rpm, making the Astra GTE morepowerful than the contemporary VW Golf GTI and Ford Escort XR3i. In many ways, it was the Golf GTI’s closest rival, which is why it’s such a shame that so few are left. ‘Nought to naughty, naughty in 8.5sec’ proclaimed the press ad. Great.
Vauxhall Astramax and Astravan (from £1000)
‘Nothing handles better than a rented car,’ once said by the American humourist P.J. O’Rourke. But he was slightly wide of the mark. The fact is, nothing handles better than a Vauxhall Astramax or Astravan. They’re also the quickest vehicles in the UK. No matter how fast you’re driving, there will always be an Astramax filling your rear-view mirror.
Vauxhall Astra GSi Mk3 (from £5000)
Look closely at the nearside edge of the front bumper and you’ll spot the GSi16v badge. This was the era of the 16-valve hot hatch, and few looked better than the Vauxhall Astra GSi. The ‘pear drop’ styling of the Mk3 Astra provided a terrific canvas for a performance-led makeover.
In truth, it wasn’t the greatest hot hatch of the era, but the 1998cc ‘red top’ engine was a fantastic unit, developing 150bhp at 6000rpm. The engine, styling and interior were its strongest attributes, because the steering, suspension and brakes were left wanting.
Vauxhall Astra VXR (£4500)
You can put a Vauxhall Astra VXR in your garage for as little as £4500. That’s a small price to pay for a hot hatch pushing 237bhp through the front wheels. Granted, you’ll have to put up with muscle-building torque-steer, but a workout is good for your health.
What do you get for your £4500? Lotus-developed suspension, an in-yer-face bodykit to rival a Focus ST, Recaro seats and a unique steering wheel for starters. Special editions included the excellent Nürburgring Edition of 2008, the VXRacing Edition and the run-out Arctic.
Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi Mk5 (from £500)
The Mk5 Vauxhall Astra was an excellent family hatchback. There, we’ve said it. While it might be fashionable to dismiss the Mk5 Astra as the kind of car you hate to be given the keys for at an airport rental desk, its biggest crime is that it wasn’t a Ford Focus. Why buy an Astra when you can own the class leader?
You can buy an early Mk5 Astra for as little as £500, and while it will deliver nothing in the way of excitement, not everybody is after the pinpoint precision of a Focus. Besides, the 1.9-litre CDTi is both torquey and economical, making it easy to recommend. Just watch out for low-emission zones. And dare we suggest that the three-door Sport Hatch looks almost desirable?
Vauxhall Astra convertible Mk4 (from £1000)
Vauxhall offered a droptop version of the Mk2 and Mk3 Astras, but to our eyes the Mk4 is the prettiest of the lot. It was based on the Bertone-penned Astra Coupé – early versions were marketed as the Astra Coupé Cabriolet – which means it looks good with the roof up or down.
You get four seats for four adults, a roof that opens or closes automatically in just 30sec, plenty of equipment as standard and, if you opt for the 2.0-litre Turbo, decent performance.
Vauxhall Astra Coupe (from £1000)
Okay, so it’s not as pretty as the Vauxhall Calibra, but Bertone did a fine job of transforming the Mk4 Astra into a handsome coupé. In common with the Mk2 and Mk3 Astra convertibles, the Astra Coupé, which arrived in the summer of 2000, was built by the famous styling house in Italy.
The styling has aged beautifully, but the Astra Coupé was always hamstrung by the Vauxhall corporate grille. No matter, because the rear haunches and frameless doors deliver the kind of glamour demanded by punters in the coupé market. Again, the 190bhp 2.0-litre Turbo is the one you want.
Vauxhall Astra Coupe 888 (from £10,000)
It may have been overshadowed by the excellent Ford Racing Puma, but the Vauxhall Astra Coupé 888 deserves a lot of respect. Built to celebrate Vauxhall’s overall victory in the 2001 British Touring Car Championship, the 888 was the result of a marriage between Vauxhall and the Triple Eight racing team.
Highlights included the underrated 2.0-litre Turbo engine (yes, that one again), Eibach springs and dampers, 17in OZ Racing wheels, wider tyres and a BTCC-inspired bodykit. Just 100 cars were built, each one finished in Europa Blue.
Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi 888
You’ll have to excuse the grainy photo – things were a little different when we tested the Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi 888 in 2006. Thurlby Motors set out to prove that there was potential for a VXR-style diesel hot hatch, so it asked Triple Eight to produce 100 examples of a specially tuned 1.9-litre CDTi Astra.
A two-stage engine management system upped the power from 149bhp to 160bhp in normal mode, and to 195bhp in Sport mode. We called it a “very fast hatchback”. Lowered suspension and uprated brakes were part of the package, as was a fair dollop of torque-steer.
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 Turbo (from £10,000)
The seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra is facing its curtain call, but the 1.6 Turbo deserves an encore. It’s no longer available to buy new but it was, at the time, the most powerful Astra you could buy. Remember our old favourite, the old 2.0-litre Turbo? With 197bhp on tap, the 1.6 Turbo is more powerful.
That’s progress for you. The Astra 1.6 Turbo will sprint to 60mph in just 6.6sec, which is a decent time for a hatchback with no sporting pretence. Opt for the SRi model and you even get a Sport button. It’s not a Q-car, but the Astra 1.6 Turbo has stealth-like qualities.
Vauxhall Astra VXR Extreme
We’ve deliberately steered clear of concept and race cars, but we’ll make an exception for the Vauxhall Astra VXR Extreme. Unveiled at the 2014 Geneva motor show, Vauxhall went as far as to confirm that sales would begin in 2015, albeit in low volumes.
“Fastest front-wheel-drive Vauxhall ever gets 300bhp from 2.0-litre turbo engine and can reach 60mph in 5.9sec, coming to the UK in 2015,” we said. Only it didn’t. Which is a shame, as an extreme Astra VXR would have been a riot.
Vauxhall Belmont (from £1500)
The Vauxhall Belmont, also known as the Vauxhall Astra Belmont, was at one point, Britain’s most stolen car. With the industry cracking down on car crime, criminals turned to cars they could steal armed with nothing other than a screwdriver and a coat hanger. The Belmont was a prime target.
Vauxhall tried to position the Belmont as a luxury alternative to the Astra hatchback, promoting the four-door saloon as ‘Belmont Class’. There was even a sporty SRi model – a kind of Astra GTE in a frumpy suit.
Vauxhall Astra police car
Few things are more British than a Vauxhall Astra police car. No action film set in Britain would be complete without an Astra police car in pursuit of a crim, blues and twos in action, wheel trim flying off mid-corner. There are ex-police Astras out there to buy, but sadly now without the features you want.
Vauxhall Astra GTC (from £2500)
Don’t be too quick to dismiss the Astra GTC as little more than a three-door Astra. It shared no body panels with the other Astra models and was the first Astra to get GM’s HiPerStrut suspension system. It was also longer, wider and lower than the regular Astra hatchback. In many ways, it was Vauxhall’s rival to the VW Scirocco.
Designer Mark Adams deserves credit for transforming an otherwise humdrum family car into a genuinely desirable coupé. The only real drawbacks were the badge and the rather plain interior, but it’s worth remembering that the GTC was available as a VXR model. Nice.
Vauxhall Astra SRi Turbo (from £5000)
To satisfy UK buyers who felt the Astra SRi 2.2 16v wasn’t quick enough, Vauxhall launched the SRi Turbo. Launched in May 2002, just 500 were built ahead of the launch of the Astra GSi at the end of the year. The wheels, brakes and tyres were all lifted from the Astra Coupé.
Highlights included a UK-specific bodykit, 17in alloy wheels, sports seats, white dials and xenon headlights. The hot Astra could hit 60mph in a respectable 7.0sec. Three colours were available: Flame Red, Star Silver and Sapphire Black.
Vauxhall Astra GSi Turbo (from £5000)
The SRi Turbo was a prelude to this, the Vauxhall Astra GSi Turbo. Developed by engineers at the OPC performance centre in Germany, the GSi Turbo was as hot as things got before the days of the Astra VXR.
It looked especially good in Arden Blue, a colour exclusive to the GSi. Production took place in Antwerp, before the car was shipped to Opel in Germany for final assembly. You’ll struggle to find an unmodified example, but this handsome hot hatch is well worth seeking out.
Vauxhall Astra Ultimate (from £15,000)
Again, we’re going to hail the outgoing Vauxhall Astra as an unsung hero. We appreciate that you might prefer a VW Golf or Ford Focus, but the Mk7 Astra warrants a closer look, especially if you can find one in Ultimate trim.
Short of going mad with the options catalogue, this is pretty much the, ahem, ultimate Astra. Two-coat metallic paint, fully electric heated seats, automatic everything, 8in touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual-zone climate control are just some of the highlights.
Vauxhall Astra TwinTop (from £1500)
Remember when coupé-cabriolets were all the rage? The Astra TwinTop was Vauxhall’s attempt at wrestling control of the four-seat convertible market away from Renault and Peugeot. VW had the Eos and Ford had the Focus CC.
The TwinTop’s three-piece electrically operated metal folding roof could fold away in 26sec to reveal enough interior space for four adults. It was one of the most practical cars in its class, with a boot large enough for the luggage you’d need for a weekend away in the sun.
Vauxhall Astra Mk8
We’re confident that the eighth-generation Vauxhall Astra will be one of the best of the breed. It’s the penultimate car in the range to move across to a platform developed by Stellantis, so it will share a platform with the near-mechanically identical third-generation Peugeot 308.
Along with the all-electric Astra-e, the new car will be available with a choice of two plug-in hybrid powertrains alongside a range of conventional petrol and diesel engines. The best-looking Astra to date? It could be. First deliveries are due in early 2022.