Vauxhall Astra SRI Nav 1.6CDTi 136ps.
When I drove the Vauxhall Astra 12 months ago, it was about as much fun as swimming in custard, with a slow take off & dull handling it really did feel like life in slow-motion. Fast-forward a year & Vauxhall have got a new Astra, designed in Germany but put together in Cheshire at Ellesmere Port. This new model could not be further away from it’s heavy, cumbersome predecessor. Not only does it look slimmer & more svelte, it drives brilliantly putting it right up at the top of the class, somewhere the Vauxhall Astra hasn’t been for quite sometime.
When I looked back at the Astras history, it was launched in 1979 to replace the Chevette & Viva, it’s amazing to think that through six generations, 2.9 million have found homes in the UK & along with the Focus & Escort before it, has dominated the annual sales charts in it’s class ever since.
Very much like Peugeot with the 307, recent Astras got heavier & more cumbersome with a combination of safety & technology weighing them down. Vauxhall like Peugeot with their 308 looked at how they could shed some pounds & the new Astra range is on average 130 kg lighter than the model it replaces or in some instances as much as 200kg, the weight of New Zealand rugby stars Richie McCaw & Dan Carter combined. If you were ever in any doubt as to how much of difference this makes to the drive-ability of a car you need look no further than the new Astra, which is light-years better than the model it replaces out on the road.
As far as looks go, the Astra is not going to make your heart skip a beat. In fact it’s pretty conservatively designed especially from the front & sides, with just a hint of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta in it’s rear sweeping light clusters lifting it above the bland.
As a fleet publication, we would like to have tested the 1.6TDCi 110ps diesel version, reckoning that this would be the model of choice for business users, but this was not available. Instead, we climbed aboard the 1.6CDTi 136ps Astra, in SRI Nav spec. (£21,480) With a top speed of 127 mph & a 0-60 mph time of just 9 seconds, this Astra does not hang around. But don’t worry, it’s still good enough to come with emissions of just 103g/km & returns a remarkable 72.4 mpg on the combined cycle. I know for a fact, that having collected my test car which showed an average economy of 55.6 mpg on the screen, that try as hard as I could, this figure would not fall lower than 55.1 mpg during my time in it. Impressive.
What makes this figure even better, is that the new Astra is just so much fun to drive, with it’s precise handling, especially into corners the stand out. Furthermore, with it’s light but responsive steering linked to a well set up six-speed manual gearbox, it is equally at home on B roads, in town or on the motorway, making it a true all-rounder. The suspension is perfect as well, taking small pot-holes with aplomb & offering the front seat passengers a comfortable ride whatever the state of the roads underneath.
Although it’s smaller on the outside than the Astra it’s replaced, it’s bigger on the inside with more leg & headroom across the board, notably more than the Focus or 308 & as much believe it or not as the famously cavernous Skoda Octavia. The boot is generous too at 370 litres & with the rear seats folded down there’s plenty of room for your odds & sods. There is though a highish lip to the boot which could make it slightly awkward getting things in & out.
Cabin quality is also much improved, with a neat selection of black & chrome finishes used throughout. There’s a half circle display binnacle above the steering wheel with the rev counter on the left, fuel & temperature gauges in the centre top, driving info underneath these & the speedo on the right. Steering wheel controls are simple to understand with the cruise control on the left & infotainment on the right. There’s the usual storage on offer, which is found found in the doors, centre console & glove box. The stand out though is the new infotainment system located in the middle of the dashboard which fits into it’s surroundings really neatly. The colour touchscreen has pinch & zoom functions like a smartphone & really is simple to set up & to use. If technology is your thing, or you just need to communicate on the go, with SRi trim & above, Vauxhall’s On-Star concierge/emergency call/in-car WiFi/on-board diagnostics system is standard.
Technology is driving many a new car design forward & the Astra is no different. For Vauxhall, the important inclusion here is the OnStar system, which is made its UK debut in the Astra. This offers a range of advantages, not least the ability to speak to an OnStar advisor 365 days a year for assistance. The system’s other main benefit is a 4G LTE mobile Wi-fi hotspot , which offers fast internet access for up to seven devices using the car’s own SIM card. This is free to use for the first 12 months then £79 a year from then on & is a selling point currently unrivalled by any competitor. Also on offer to appeal to ‘Generation Y,’ is the latest IntelliLink infotainment system which includes both Apple CarPlay & Android Auto, making smartphone integration a great selling point for this car. I allowed my teenage children aged 15 & 18 to try out OnStar on a journey we made whilst the Astra was with me. To their surprise, having had disappointing results with similar systems, both of their 4G iPhones connected to the mobile wi-fi hotspot, which can work for up to 7 devices & neither had any complaints about the reception either.
The Astra is well equipped across the range. Standard features fitted to my test model included 17” alloys, front fog lights a rear spoiler, a heated leather steering wheel, an adjustable front arm rest, two rear USB points, cruise control with speed limiter, Navi 900 Intellilink system, all round electric windows, dual zone climate control, LED daytime running lights, hill start assist & leather seat trim.
If you compare the new Astra with the car it replaces & also with the cars it’s competing with, undoubtedly it’s a winner & a model well worth seeking out to test or to add to your fleet drivers list of possibles. It may not shout too loudly about the way it looks, which for many is a good thing, but underneath the shell, Vauxhall have worked wonders in making this new Astra good enough to be right up there with the best-in-class. Standouts are the way it handles & it’s on-trend technology which is sure to appeal to all & not just to the under 35’s.
The Best Astra Ever 4.5/5