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So a little ahead of schedule comes Vauxhall’s latest salvo in the ongoing mid-size hatchback wars. It’s the brand new Astra!

It might not be a Lambo Aventador SV, but this is not a sector to be sniffed. It accounts for a significant wedge of Vauxhall’s income: the Luton firm has sold more than 2.9 million Astras in 36 years, and shifted 50,000 in 2014 alone.

First drive: Vauxhall’s prototype new Astra

As such, this seventh-gen version sits on an entirely new lightweight platform, some 130kg lighter on average than its predecessor. Take, for example, the bodyshell, which drops from 357kg to just 280kg.

The chassis, too, gets high-strength, low-weight steels added to the mix, and there are weight reductions along the front and rear axles.

Which goes a long way in amplifying the brand-new engine introduced for this new Astra: a 1.4-litre, direct injection turbocharged four-pot petrol.

The lightweight, aluminium-block engine produces 143bhp and 184lb ft of torque, which, as TG’s Paul Horrell reported on a prototype test drive, helps the car “squirt ahead with notable conviction at all parts of the rev dial”.

First drive: Vauxhall’s prototype new Astra

There’s also the Corsa’s three-pot 1.0-litre turbo with 103bhp, and a 1.6-litre ‘whisper diesel’, um, diesel engine, with outputs ranging from 109bhp to 158bhp.

You’ll notice the sharper lines of the new car, too, with hints of the excellent Monza concept we saw in 2013. British designer Mark Adams was the man in charge of evolving the Astra’s design, and it’s a clean, smart result.

It’s not just cleaner looking, but more space-efficient too. The new Astra is 5cm shorter and 3cm lower than its predecessor, but features more rear legroom, and - says Vauxhall - a better quality cockpit and instrument panel.

There’s plenty of tech on board, including new LED matrix headlights, ‘OnStar’ (a sort of personal assistant which includes roadside assistance and an ‘advisor’ on hand), along with lots of connectivity including Google Maps, Skype, WhatsApp and Apple CarPlay.

All looks promising, and - judging by our first drive of that prototype - sounds promising too. Will this finally be the Astra to properly stick it to the Focus and Volkswagen Golf?

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