► New hatchback based on Peugeot 308
► Vauxhall Astra priced from £23,805
► Sharp looks, refined drive, on sale now
Flying out of the starting blocks is the all-new Astra. Combining Stellantis’ EMP2 platform in Peugeot 308 flavour with Vauxhall’s striking new style and it would appear to be on a winner. Especially considering its dreary, underperforming predecessor.
Before we get into it being any good, it’s worth talking about the styling. Because it’s a fine-looking thing – the company’s ‘vizor’ panel upfront give it real punch, even if there’s no escaping the fact it’s referencing the Opel Manta A, a car that’s largely forgotten in the UK, and as relevant to Vauxhall’s history as the Panther Lima (Google it, if you don’t know what I’m talking about).
Other details, such as the pronounced ridge running down the bonnet the sculpted flanks, sharp-looking front and rear lights, give it real visual appeal. For those who have fond memories of Vauxhall’s 1980s heyday, the alloy wheels (which clearly refer back to the Cavalier Mk2 in CD form) and that little black panel aft of the rear-side windows (lifted straight from the Astra Mk1) the new Astra is a visual treat.
However, in the bloodbath that is the contemporary hatchback market, does the new Astra stand out? The Ford Focus, Kia Ceed, Hyundai i30, Seat Leon and Volkswagen Golf all put up a strong case for themselves – especially in a market where family car buyers are turning their backs on the format in favour of small SUVs. And then there’s the new Peugeot 308, which shares the same wheelbase and engines as the Astra.
What tech do you get?
The new Astra debuts a new infotainment system to take full advantage of the new Pure Panel screen layout. All the systems work well, and are easy to navigate, with excellent integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto supplementing Vauxhall’s very effective standard-fit sat-nav. Our system glitched a couple of times on our test drive, but we’ll put that down to it being an early production model.
Elsewhere, Vauxhall’s IntelliLux matrix LED headlights are an option, and driver assistance technologies can be specified, too – something Vauxhall calls IntelliDrive. This combines adaptive cruise control with active lane centring and will semi-autonomous lane changing, too. It’s not Tesla levels of driver assistance, but it should help make long journeys a little less tiring.
What’s it like inside?
If you like clean design with a lack of visual gimmicks, the Astra should appeal. There’s a progression of the ‘Pure Panel’ screen layout that first started with the latest Mokka, with two 10.0-inch screens merged together in one solitary design element. It’s bold and we rather like it, even if it’s a design treatment that’s rapidly becoming the default.
The quality and choice of materials is impressive. There are soft touch plastics on the dashboard and front doors, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels great in your hands and its buttons work with precision. With the Volkswagen Golf taking a tumble in interior quality recently, the Astra is now taking a step up the league table. You’ll also find just enough buttons elsewhere to make navigating the touchscreen, and operating the stereo and heater easy enough, reducing the number of times one needs to prod the touchscreen.
It’s easy to get comfortable, there’s plenty of room upfront, and the seats are supportive. Kneeroom is tight behind a six-footer in the front, and headroom is adequate rather than generous. Here, the Ford Focus has the Astra licked. The boot space is rated at 422 litres with the rear seats up, and 1,389 folded. This reduces to 352 and 1,368 for the plug-in hybrid version.
Engines and transmissions
There are 109 and 128bhp petrol options, with a six-speed manual standard and an eight-speed auto optional on the punchier engine. A single 1.5-litre diesel with 128bhp is available with a choice of manual or eight-speed automatic transmission.
There are two plug-in hybrid variants available. First up is a 180hp version which cracks 0-62mph in a respectable 7.9sec with a punchier 222bhp version dropping this to 7.7sec making it the fastest Astra available. Both are cover up to 37 miles on official WLTP tests, giving CO2 emissions from just 24g/km and economy of up to 256.8mpg. That’s not quite Mercedes-Benz A250e good, but still allows the PHEV to attract the lowest rate of BIK tax.
There’s even an all-electric Astra-e due in early 2023. Given it’s lifting pretty much everything else from the 308, it’ll share the e-308’s specs including a 54kWh battery and a 156bhp e-motor. Those are an upgrade on the 50kWh battery and 134bhp motor currently found in Stellantis electric cars including Peugeot’s e-208 and e-2008, and Vauxhall’s Corsa-e and Mokka-e.
What’s it like to drive?
Vauxhall says the new Astra is 4mm longer but with a 13mm increase in its wheelbase and is 14% more torsionally rigid than before for better handling. Compared with the previous Astra this one takes a big leap forward, and is now up there with the best in class. We sampled the 128bhp petrol model in six-speed manual form, and the 177bhp plug-in hybrid, and although both were badged as Opels, they are identical to UK-spec cars.
The first impressions of the plug-in hybrid are that it’s impressively refined and retains its electrical charge very well indeed in give-and-take driving. Choose the hybrid drive mode and it always pulls away super-quietly and retains that near-silence up-to motorway speeds. When the 148bhp four-cylinder petrol engine cuts in, it’s very quiet and unobtrusive. Choose Sport mode and it ramps up in sound, but again is a long way from being intrusive. Those looking for a refined drive will not be disappointed.
You can run it as a pure electric car, too, and we were impressed by how strongly it pulls in zero-emission mode all the way from 30mph in town to quick A-roads, without the need for assistance from the petrol motor. City dwellers and low-mileage drivers should find the PHEV suits their needs perfectly well.
Moving to what promises to be the biggest seller, the 128bhp petrol model also majors on quietness and refinement. Yes, the three-cylinder petrol engine thrums away under acceleration, but it’s a nice sound and the actual noise levels are kept low. The six-speed manual is a pleasure to use – light and accurate action, snicking between ratios delightfully.
Acceleration is competitive, with a 0-62mph time of 9.7 seconds and a maximum speed of 130mph. But what really marks this engine out is how flexible it is – it pulls well in high gears from low speeds, and steep inclined rarely trouble it if you want to leave it sat in sixth. Very impressive.
Handling and ride
The 128bhp petrol Astra feels nimble on the road, with quick steering, lots of grip and impressive body control. It’s not particularly sporting, but very capable, and is capable of entertaining on the right roads. The hybrid isn’t quite as good, feeling heavier, less responsive and not-so eager to turn-in to bends.
Ride quality is good, though, and considering we were testing it on some fairly rough roads, it never really put a foot wrong. it managed to shrug off potholes without complaint on back roads, while handling motorways in a poised and smooth manner.
Models, trims and pricing
There are now just three basic models. Entry-level is the Design version. It comes with 16-inch alloys, LED lights front and rear, the Pure Panel with smartphone mirroring, rear parking sensors, voice recognition and a range of safety and driver assistance features such as Driver Drowsiness Alert, automated emergency braking with a pedestrian detection function and cruise control with intelligent speed adaption.
Mid-range GS Line models get a sportier contrasting black roof and black 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as a blacked-out Vizor panel and Vauxhall badge. On top of Design models, some of the key features of the GS Line include Forward Collision Alert, a 360-degree parking camera, a heated steering wheel and heated front seats.
Ultimate spec gets all of the driver assistance features as standard. You get adaptive headlights, a head-up display and wireless phone charging. There’s an expanded array of driver assistance and semi-autonomous functions such as lane change assistance, a blind spot alert, Lane Positioning Assist, a rear cross traffic alert system and semi-automated lane-changing capability.
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Vauxhal Astra: verdict
Based on looks alone, it’s a much better bet than the old Astra – and dare we say it, quite desirable. Beyond that, it’s well-priced, packed with equipment, and proves to be an impressively refined steer. Vauxhall is on a bit of a roll with its latest models, and the Astra continues the upward trend.
Based on early impressions, it’s a strong challenger to the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, although the former will be a sportier drive for enthusiasts and the latter still has brand values Vauxhall would kill for. As for how it compares with the impressive SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia, we’ll need to compare them on UK roads.
Specs for plug-in hybrid version