Vauxhall/Opel Astra (2009): the first official photos

Published: 12 May 2009

Vauxhall and Opel today whisk the covers off the new Astra family hatchback. It’s the sixth-generation Astra and these first photographs suggest it’s adopting a slew of Insignia styling cues – but squashed down into a smaller, 4.4-metre long footprint. It might be shorter than the Insignia, but the new Astra is 10cm longer than today’s hatch.

It’s not just a new face; the new Astra also packs Vauxhall/Opel’s new Delta platform under the skin. That’s the box of tricks that underpins the Chevrolet Cruze, so the Astra gets front-wheel drive, a notably stiffer chassis with the latest electronic networks and a non-independent rear suspension.

New Vauxhall Astra: the key changes

The new Astra has been pummelled and stretched on the designers’ easel, resulting in a 71mm hike between the front and rear axles. The track is wider, too. Vauxhall/Opel claim the new dimensions expands the interior space available for five passengers and addresses the pinched boot that restricts practicality of today’s Astra.

The five-door pictured will be launched first, followed by a Sport Tourer estate in 2010, then the sporty, low-slung three-door Sport Hatch revealed in the official GM sketch of the red car above. CAR can reveal that the coupe-cab CC model is on hold for now.

‘We’re continuing with the same premium design cues as the Insignia, inside and out of the car,’ said Mark Adams, GM Europe’s vice president of design. ‘However, the main design themes, like the wing-shaped light signatures and the blade, needed an individual execution to avoid “cloning” the model ranges. That’s why you see twin wings in the rear lights and a reversed blade on its flanks.

‘I asked my team to design a five-door Astra that was somewhere between the outgoing three- and five-door in visual drama – but with more space than today’s five-door.’

What's the new Astra like inside?

No formal photos have been issued yet, but we know it'll get the wraparound 'wing' effect seen inside the Insignia. Our crafty spies have previously poked their lenses inside a test car – proving the mini-me Insignia cabin bound for the Astra, and pictured above.

What will the new Astra be like to drive?

The new Cruze platform is neat enough, though lacking the independent rear suspension of the Golf and Focus class leaders. But GM argues its FlexRide adaptive dampers will make the Astra as comfy as the class best: owners can pick between Standard, Sport and Tour settings depending on the security of their dentures and size of their trousers.

Most of the engines are carryover items, but the big news under the bonnet is the arrival of the new 138bhp 1.4-litre turbo. It’s not long since 100bhp per litre was a very special output restricted to race cars, but in this downsizing age even the humble Astra now boasts a pretty high specific output.

Three other petrol engines range from 99bhp to 178bhp, while diesel lovers can pick from four derv units spanning 94bhp to 158bhp. Don’t forget the new Delta platform – related to the hardware of the Chevrolet Volt and Opel Ampera – can also accommodate GM’s new Voltec plug-in hybrid system. The prospect of the electric Astra looms large.

And the VXR?

Waiting in the wings. We hear a madcap, wheelspinning VXR producing some 270bhp is expected around 2010. Bread and butter models land in UK showrooms in December 2009, carrying a price tag around £14,000 in today’s money.

Officials at GM Europe will be anxiously noting reaction to the new Astra, as they desperately seek new owners now the teetering American parent has been forced to spin off its continental business. Fiat chief exec Sergio Marchionne is trying his damnest to form an alliance to shake up the global car manufacturing map to its very core.

Which reminds us of the industrial significance of this five-door Astra. It is scheduled to be built at Ellesmere Port – one of the plants at risk if a new streamlined Fiat-Opel-Vauxhall-Chrysler deal comes off.

>> Has Vauxhall/Opel hit the bullseye with the new Astra? Click ‘Add your comment’ and sound off

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet