Vauxhall Astra Driving, Engines & Performance | Top Gear
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BBC TopGear
Car Review

Vauxhall Astra

£ 18,700 - £ 29,085
Published: 29 Aug 2019


What is it like to drive?

First things first: the Astra is much better to drive than you might think. It has light, perky steering which makes it feel nimble in your hands and the new dampers have improved long range comfort and chassis composure. It’s by no means a bad car. In fact I’m not sure that, faced with a long journey, I can think of a better £25k hatchback to do it in than the new 1.5 diesel auto.

I know: diesel. Does it still have a life? Technically, yes: the advances that have been made to clean up the particulate emissions are impressive. This 1.5, available with either 105 or 122bhp, features not only a variable geometry turbo to improve flexibility and efficiency, but also Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). You know what this is – it’s having to add Diesel Exhaust Fluid to a separate tank every once in a while. What you might not know is that this drops Nitrogen Oxide exhaust emissions by up to 90 per cent, and emissions of Carbon Monoxide, particulates and hydrocarbons by around 50 per cent.

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But from a legislative point of view, diesel is seen as Bad News. Newspaper stories about diesels being banned from cities fan the flames and unsurprisingly residual values suffer. Should you be concerned? Not too much. Drive a lot in London, Birmingham or Manchester? Have a petrol, it makes a nicer noise, is smoother and quieter. Have diesel if you rack up a high mileage – it’ll cost you less.

The Astra’s new 1.5 diesel is impressive. OK, it’s noisy listened to outside, but inside it’s remarkably smooth running and hushed. There’s not even much vibration if you run it around to the 5,000rpm limiter. In the real world it’s very efficient and although it’s not as torquey as the 2.0-litre diesels boasted by some rivals, only demon over-takers will complain about the lack of mid-range grunt. As far as these things go, this is a good engine.

And, for £1,660, you can have it with a nine-speed automatic. It’s a very good gearbox, really takes the sting out of driving, but two things to be aware of: the manual is allowed to handle more torque (221lb ft plays 210), and is considerably more efficient on the test cycle (64.2mpg plays 57.6). Given the new WLTP test procedures seem to be pretty true to life, you should expect 55 from the auto, but over 60mpg from the manual.

Other powertrain options consist of a trio of 1.2 turbos with 110, 130 and 145bhp, and a 1.4-litre 145bhp turbo mated to a CVT automatic – a first for the Astra. All are three-cylinder units, of which the 1.2 130, with 166lb ft and claimed economy around the 54mpg mark, looks the sweet spot.

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As we said before, the Astra is not a bad car to drive at all. But add the caveat: for the undemanding driver. Around 95 per cent of the target audience, then. It operates crisply, steers faithfully, is easy to see out of and easy to position. The steering really is quite direct. The ride really is quite mature. What it lacks is the chassis polish of the Ford Focus, the sense that, when you tip it into a corner, you come out the other side smiling a little bit. Not fussed about that? Just want transport for you and yours? Then the Astra isn’t far off the pace at all.

Highlights from the range

the fastest

Vauxhall Astra 1.2 Turbo 130 Ultimate 5dr
  • 0-629.4s
  • CO2
  • BHP130
  • MPG
  • Price£ N/A
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