By Wayne Gorrett
Update @ 29.02.2016:
Vauxhall’s Brit-built Astra is named European Car of the Year 2016 at the 86th Geneva Motor Show.
SEVEN…now there’s a famous number; the Seven Seas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the Seven Wonders of the World, seventeen, the seven dwarfs, seven deadly sins…
Throughout international automotive markets, the achievement of a seventh generation model is a significant milestone. To be honest, there aren’t many ‘living’ members in the current ‘7G Club’; the Golf, Corolla, Corvette, Civic, Fiesta are a few of its members still in production.
This year, that small and elite club opens its doors to its newest member – Vauxhall’s all-new Astra hatchback, launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show, in September 2015. It couldn’t be more British if it tried – designed by Brit Mark Adams, built at the company’s Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire, England and fine-tuned on British roads for several months prior to release.
The initial UK Vauxhall Astras were sold in 1979 and for its first two generations, the nameplate was applied to right-hand drive versions of Germany’s Opel Kadett. Germany subsequently adopted the Astra nameplate in 1991, when the third-generation was introduced.
Having escaped from the jaws of financial defeat in 2010, Vauxhall’s parent company General Motors unfettered its subsequently stable coffers and began overhauling its global model range; it evidently appears to be making up for lost time – and market share.
At first glance, the new Astra may appear familiar, but it’s completely new from the ground up. Underneath the visually sharper styling is an all-new D2XX platform announced in 2012, which – depending on variant – is around 200kg lighter than that of the outgoing model.
The new Astra is 200kg lighter – imagine if you can that heavyweight boxers Wladimir Klitschko (107kg) and David Haye (96kg) both climb out of your Mk6 Astra. You can almost hear the air rushing into the wheel arches.
Combine that significant weight loss with slippery aerodynamics and a new range of efficient and lightweight engines and you begin to understand the huge amount of effort Vauxhall designers and engineers have put into this significantly important car. None of which goes unnoticed.
Out goes the previous, rather plump model, and in comes the new one which is actually smaller in external size yet offers more interior space.
Rather than tamper with an already winning package and give the new Astra a complete overhaul of exterior design features, Vauxhall tightened up the look of the previous Astra, with a few subtle extras that give a higher quality feel. The new model is 5cm shorter and 2.6cm lower, making it more aerodynamic and delivering much improved on-road manners. The new lines make the car appear wider and more hunkered down to the road, giving it a sportier profile.
The grille has been restyled with the addition of dual chrome bars that frame the classic griffin badge. The rear has also been under the sculptor’s knife with crisp angular panelling. Best of all is the blacked-out C-pillar section that makes the roof appear to be floating unsupported – as seen on the Adam. That, I really like.
The slight decrease in external dimension has meant some small sacrifices, mainly noticeable in the reduction in wheel size, with 18-inches now the maximum wheel size limit across the range. The integrated front headlights with standard LED daytime running lights give visibility at all hours, while the new wing taillights are a very nice design feature.
The aforementioned 200kg weight loss directly benefits the Astra’s agility, making it feel much more nimble both around town and through B-road twisty bits. Revised suspension settings and a suite of electronic systems are designed to make the Vauxhall Astra more enjoyable to drive than before.
Inside, there’s more space for passengers, allowing four six-foot adults to sit comfortably, while there’s also been an overdue revamp of the dashboard. It is a huge advance over the previous model in terms of aesthetics, ergonomics and quality of materials.
The interior takes many styling cues from the recently revised Corsa and Adam, employs higher quality plastics. On the Sri Nav as tested, there is a sleek new seven-inch touchscreen panel, which links Apple and Android devices to enable users to control navigational functions, make calls and use a whole range of apps including Spotify, Skype and WhatsApp.
It’s important to mention that while significant advances have been made to the new Astra, particularly the interior, it costs a little over £900 LESS than the previous SRi Nav grade, but it comes with loads of extra toys including Vauxhall’s excellent OnStar system.
OnStar is essentially a telematics customer support and monitoring system that has been around a while in the USA, but makes its UK debut in the Astra. It offers a range of advantages including the ability to speak to a human OnStar advisor 24/7 for assistance such as directions to the nearest Café Nero, that can be sent directly to the car’s satnav system for you.
It also offers a 4G LTE mobile wi-fi hotspot with its fast internet access for up to seven devices using the car’s own SIM card. The card is free to use for the first 12 months, costing £79 a year thereafter. It’s a unique selling point without current rival in its class.
The car has good boot space, with 351-litres standard capacity that can be increased through some clever rear-seat adjustments.
Trims, Prices and Specifications
The new Astra is available in five trim grades, plus two additional ‘Nav’ models; Design, Tech Line, Energy, SRi, SRi Nav, Elite and Elite Nav. Prices start at £15,295 for the Design with the Elite Nav capping the range at £20,015.
Standard kit on the new Astra is very impressive for the class and includes dual front airbags, front seat side-impact bags and full curtain bags, ESP and ABS, hill start assist, 16-inch alloys wheels (205/55R16 tyres), emergency tyre inflation kit, cruise control with speed limiter, tyre pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, electrically adjustable and heated rear view mirrors, electric windows throughout, auto lights and wipers, LED daytime running lights, rear spoiler, steering wheel mounted audio controls and IntelliLink infotainment system via a 7-inch colour touch-screen, DAB radio, USB connection with iPod control, Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming and phone connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The SRi Nav as tested adds 17-inch alloys, front fog lights, leather steering wheel, front arm rests, six premium speakers, Navi 900 IntelliLink system, ‘Sport’ switch, OnStar telematics and driving assistance pack one with forward camera system. Optional extras fitted to the test car were the pricey but good Intellilux LED matrix headlights (£995.00), parking pack (£595.00) and electronic climate control (£395.00).
Engine, Drivetrain & Performance
I drove the 1.6-litre 134 bhp ‘whisper’ diesel which is already leading the new Astra pack in sales volumes, particularly fleets sales where Vauxhall expected 70% of the new Astra’s sales will come from. There are two other whispering diesels as well with 109 bhp and 158 bhp. The Astra’s engine is surprisingly refined – hence the adoption of ‘whisper’ terminology – something you would certainly not expect from any diesel with their chatty characters.
Response from the 1.6 diesel is pretty impressive, too. The 134bhp engine delivers 320Nm of torque from just 2,000 rpm and claims 0-62mph in 9.0 seconds – seven-tenths quicker than the previous model (there’s that weight loss benefit again). That also helps with the 103g/km and 72.4mpg claims.
Over 449 mixed miles during our week together, the Astra returned a credible 68.3 mpg at an average speed 33.2 mph.
On the Road
The 200kg weight loss re-awakens the Astra’s enthusiasm for meandering backroads and excels through tight twisty bits. The ride and handling is very well balanced with excellent grip levels. Frankly, it is as good as you’ll find anywhere else in the class – including long-time foes the VW Golf and Ford’s evergreen Focus.
The overly-light but precise electric steering isn’t blessed with much feel. The ride has a discernible edge to it – it’s communicative rather than unforgiving – rounding off the sharper edges of the nastiest bumps and potholes.
To help keep the new Astra safely on the black ribbon ahead, underneath the front end are MacPherson struts and at the rear a neoteric torsion-beam rear axle with a clever Watt’s link. Vauxhall chose not to go with an independent multi-link rear set-up, claiming that its chosen route is inherently better suited for the overall ride and handling equation. Having sat in both the front and the back of the car, I’d say that decision is a good one.
The new Astra is a credible front runner in the family compact hatchback class and is the brightest star in Vauxhall’s increasingly stellar line-up. It looks sharp, drives better than any others before it and the cabin execution is top notch. There’s plenty of interior space, tangibly improved quality, hi-tech equipment and style.
With a range of frugal and efficient engines – particularly the 1.6-litre ‘whisper’ diesel as tested here – plus a five-star Euro-NCAP safety rating wedged firmly in its pocket – it would be socially unreasonable – indeed, some would say rude – to expect more for your money.
Quick specs : Vauxhall Astra 1.6CDTi SRi Nav s/s
Price : £21,480 (£23,465 as driven)
Engine: 1598 cc, 4 cylinder stop/start turbodiesel
Power: 134 bhp @ 3500-4000 rpm
Torque: 320 Nm @ 2000-2250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-62 mph: 9.0 seconds / Top speed: 127 mph
Fuel consumption: 72.4 mpg (combined cycle)
Fuel tank: 48 litres (10.5 gallons) / Theoretical range: 764 miles
CO2: 103 g/km
Standard luggage capacity: 370 litres
Insurance group: 16E / Annual VED: Nil for first year, £20 per annum thereafter
Release date: On sale now.