- Car Reviews
Agreeable looks and interior, decent chassis, refinement, low costs, good economy
Rear seats are a bit cramped, not the quickest hatch, doesn’t particularly excel anywhere
What is it?
An Astra comes to us all. If you don't buy one, someone in your family might. Or you'll be given one for work, or take a holiday renter. Mid-size hatchbacks are a staple part of wheeled life, the Astra one of the most prevalent among them. It's just… there.
And yet this review isn't a forgone conclusion. This is the eighth Astra generation. Some have been pretty good cars for their eras, others absolute donkeys. So past form is no guide to future performance.
Besides, this is the first Astra to have been developed in Vauxhall-Opel's post-GM era. That means it has a lot in common with the new Peugeot 308 and the DS 4, while also facing stiff competition from the likes of the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Ford Focus, Merc A-Class and VW Golf.
Doesn't look like a Peugeot though…
Its silhouette might be two-box banal, but the Astra looks really good in the metal. That dark visor front is distinctive, and there's some attractive creasework: a sharp bone down the middle of the bonnet, and horizontal lines to mark the wheelarch bulges.
A little fluted black triangle aft of the rear door harks back to the Mk1 Astra (one of the good ones). Most versions have a black roof, which visually lowers the car. It's truthfully lower than before anyway, and wider too. But only a bit. And it isn't needlessly bulky. So far so good.
What are the choices?
It's petrol (1.2-litre three-cylinder), diesel (1.5 four-cylinder) or plug-in hybrid (1.6-litre four-cylinder, plus e-motor). There's a full, battery-electric one coming in 2023. All part of Vauxhall's push to be EV only by 2028. More on that another time.
Petrols are manual (six-speed) or auto (eight-speed), diesels the latter only. Conceptually then a wide choice, even if the range of power outputs is fairly limited, and modest. Top pure-combustion is 128bhp, though the PHEV is 178bhp. No 4WD on the menu.
Vauxhall has also announced a 223bhp version of the PHEV, badged GSe. It's not mad enough to be a VXR, but it does get a bit of warm-hatch identity, including recalibrated steering, a tweaked chassis including 10mm lower ride height, and special dampers. Full specs will be revealed in due course.
An estate (ahem, sorry, Sports Tourer) is on sale now. It has a longer wheelbase, so people as well as luggage get more space. And it'll come with all powertrains, including electric (eventually). Thus it dives into the yawning EV-wagon gap between MG 5 and Taycan Sports Turismo, alongside the recently announced all-electric 308 estate. Click these blue words for our full review.
What about the tech?
Given the Astra GTE had a hilariously primitive digital dash in the mid-1980s, it's no surprise this has returned, suitably modernised. Double 10-inch screens and all-round LED lighting are standard.
As you ascend the range a big and detailed HUD enters the mix, and the headlamps turn into matrix jobs. High-end driver assist pack, massage electric seats, and air purifying are also standard at the top end.
How are the dynamics?
Very good, actually. It handles well (even if it doesn't encourage you to take corners with gusto) and runs true on the motorway. As a mainstream hatch, it walks the tightrope between agility and stability. If we're comparing, it's a bit more tautly sprung and stiffer in roll than the mainstream-model Golfs or the 308. That means a ride that's busy but not jarring.
The 1.2 engine can get noisy if you ask too much of it, though we've heard less pleasurable tunes before now, and it’s not quite as chattery as the diesel. The hybrid gets along well enough, although real-world, electric-only range doesn't live up to the 43 miles promised on paper.
So what, who wants Astra-type cars these days anyway?
Mainstream family hatches keep getting squeezed – by crossovers, by premium stuff, by electrics. Astra sales suffered with the rest. Astras used to pour out of several factories all over Europe including the Ellesmere Port plant in Liverpool, but now every one is made in Russelsheim, Germany. Ellesmere Port's workers, after a period peering over the edge of a cliff, have now switched to making electric vans.
But just because sales fell, doesn't mean these sorts of cars have gone away entirely. The right hatchback can still do worthwhile business, and Vauxhall has put in the hard yards to make sure the Astra stays relevant.
Good news. How much does it cost?
Prices start at £25,240 for the petrol, £28,340 for the diesel, and £35,735 for the plug-in hybrid, which puts it in the lower price bracket compared to rivals. Head over to the buying section for more.
What's the verdict?
There's nothing eccentric about the Astra formula. It competes in one of the most rigidly defined parts of the car market, and it pretty much matches all the benchmarks, even if it busts through none.
It's decent to drive, smart looking and finished to a high standard. Besides, Vauxhall has clamped down on ownership costs, so it's accessible too. The Astra's not a car to set your heart on fire, or your pants, but it feels satisfyingly well sorted.