What is it?
Vauxhall’s Focus-rivalling Astra is a far better car nowadays than it used to be. To ensure it remains on the ball, Vauxhall has facelifted it, with a hard-to-notice front and rear end refresh, plus a new diesel engine option that gives it unique class appeal. The 195bhp BiTurbo is the most powerful diesel in this class and will help the Astra hatchback further capitalise on the sporty halo effect of the Astra GTC three-door.
The big problem remains the Volkswagen Golf. It’s always beaten the Astra in a straight fight and, now the new one’s here, the gap looks set to widen. However, Vauxhall’s focus is on the, er, Focus: in a straight fight, the Astra may just edge it.
The Astra has real agility and excellent levels of mechanical grip. The steering is short on feel, but is at least sharp and accurate: Astra is still an easy car to point perfectly into fast corners and it displays plenty of natural poise and composure. Part of what makes this possible, however, is a firm ride. Keeping the Astra free from excessive body roll has meant that, on all but the smoothest of surfaces, there’s a bit too much bump-thump entering the cabin.
Engines are largely impressive, particularly the turbo petrols and the 2.0-litre diesels. The winner is that new BiTurbo, which uses a small and a large turbocharger, BMW-style, to minimise lag and give the Astra real thrust on the road. With 195bhp and 295lb ft of torque, it’s a genuine powerhouse, which Vauxhall enhances with a bespoke chassis tune that gives it real Golf GT-rivalling ability.
On the inside
Definitely the area where most people are taken aback, the Astra’s interior is a seismic leap forward from the cut-price efforts of Vauxhall’s past. It feels genuinely premium in here, with acres of high-quality, soft-touch plastics and meaty, stitched leather on pricier trim levels. The dash on the new car is boldly styled too, enveloping the driver in an uncharacteristically sporty cockpit, but the centre console, while complementing this futuristic bent, is a bit fussy for easy navigation on the move.
For all this the Astra remains a practical, small family car, with plenty of head and legroom both front and rear and a decent, easily accessed boot space.
Vauxhall offers a huge choice of engine variants and trim. Keep it simple, keep it diesel: save most money with the 1.7-litre CDTi EcoFlex diesels – in both 110bhp and 130bhp stop-start guise, these now come in at under 100g/km CO2, so get free road tax status. And while that BiTurbo is expensive, it does average over 55mpg, despite its searing surge.