First Drive Review: Vauxhall Astra 2016

Image of Alisdair Suttie
Author: | Updated: 25 Sep 2015 21:23

What’s the most important car of 2015? The Ferrari 488 perhaps, or the McLaren 675S? Or maybe the Land Rover Discovery Sport? While all of these cars are, of course, very interesting and exciting, the most important new car launch of 2015 in the UK is, without doubt, the Vauxhall Astra.

The Astra has been a top seller for Vauxhall for years and the new car shows every sign of continuing that. Just as importantly, it is also in a position to move further up the rankings in the small family hatch segment, where it competes with the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.

Vauxhall Astra 2016 Red Front Static

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Fleet of foot

To improve the Astra and bring it up to the high standards of its rivals, Vauxhall has shed up to 200kg from the kerb weight, depending on the model you choose. That is a very significant chunk of weight to lose from a mid-size hatch and it shows immediately in the way the Astra drives. Where once it was more of a plodder, the Astra is now fleet of foot and has a deftness only a Honda Civic can match.

While Ford has moved the Focus’ dynamics more towards the Golf’s and put comfort at the head of the agenda, the Astra has edged a little further into the fun, dynamic camp. It’s doesn’t have quite that last degree of handling balance a Focus has, but the Vauxhall more than makes up for this with its superb ability over bumpy roads. It shows very clearly that Vauxhall and Opel have covered many development miles in the UK with this car.

With handling and ride comfort sorted, Vauxhall has also greatly improved the steering feel of the new Astra. Again, starting with a brand new platform rather than adapting one from a previous model helps here. The steering is relaxed on the motorway, light when parking and delivers more than enough feedback when pushing along a country road.

Vauxhall Astra 2016 Red Rear Dynamic

The upper level models come with a Sport button to sharpen steering and throttle response. Normally, we’d regard this as more of a marketing gimmick but in this case there is a distinct character to each mode and which is best depends on the driver’s mood and type of road. For most driving situations, it’s best in normal mode, but back road driving is improved by the Sport mode.

Smooth and quiet

So, the Astra drives very well, but the best bit is the refinement. Vauxhall states it did not want to fill the car with more sound proofing than was necessary, so every element of the drivetrain has been honed to be as smooth and quiet as possible. The result is a car where only some distant tyre noise and a bit of engine roar when they are pressed hard are audible.

The engines offer everything from 100- to 200bhp, but the highlights are the 1.0- and 1.4-litre turbo petrols and 1.6-litre turbodiesel. The 105bhp 1.0-litre is a new three-cylinder motor that delivers 99g/km carbon dioxide emissions and 65.7mpg average economy, so should be popular with private and fleet buyers.

Vauxhall Astra 2016 Red Front Dynamic

Choose the 1.4 Turbo petrol and you get 150bhp, 51.4mpg and 128g/km coupled to strong performance and the option of a smooth six-speed auto in place of the manual six-speeder. However, business drivers will err towards the 136bhp 1.6-litre turbodiesel in Ecoflex specification that gives 99g/km and 76.3mpg consumption. It’s also a very flexible, hushed engine in daily driving that amply demonstrates the efforts Vauxhall has gone to improve the Astra’s appeal.

The attention to detail is also evident in details such as the door mirrors that are positioned lower on the door to avoid wind rustle making its way into the cabin, which also has the side benefit of keeping the door windows cleaner thanks to the unhindered air flow.

As good as any in the class

Looking inside the Astra, the dash is a much classier and clear-cut affair than before. Gone is the confusing centre console, replaced by buttons and controls grouped logically together. The dials are easy to read and the driving position is as good as any in the class.

Vauxhall has eked out more rear leg and head space for passengers, even though the new Astra is shorter than its predecessor. There’s also a larger boot, though the rear seats leave quite a marked step in the load floor when tipped forward to extend load capacity.

Vauxhall Astra 2016 Interior

Trim levels are covered by entry-point Design, then fleet-friendly Tech Line, Energy, SRi and top level Elite. All come with air conditioning, cruise control, electric windows all round and the 7-inch colour touchscreen. You can also opt for Vauxhall’s OnStar system, which connects you to a call centre operator for you to ask directions or help with anything you need. OnStar will also help in the event of a collision by calling you to check whether you need the emergency services. If you don’t respond, the system will automatically guide help to your location.

OnStar is free for the first year’s subscription and then £75 per annum after that, which is good value and yet another strong suit for the Astra.

The verdict

Why is the Astra likely to move ahead of its competitors? Well, there’s no one outstanding area that screams class leader for the Astra, it’s more the car’s all-round ability and absence of any chinks in its armour. And with prices starting from £15,295, the Vauxhall makes itself too important a car to ignore in this sector.

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