New Vauxhall Astra – Full Review

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The last few years have been pivotal for Vauxhall. With the new Corsa and then this all new Astra hitting the production lines – many could argue that’s it’s been a bit ‘make or break’ for the British car manufacturer, in an era of increasing competition in their most prized segments. First impressions suggest that the new Vauxhall Astra for 2016 will look to take the revered family hatchback up more than a notch or two – here’s the full review.


Looks & First Impressions

Make no mistake about this – this is a good looking car – and the common consensus is that it surpasses the likes of Ford, Kia, VW and Hyundai for sleek lines and premium poise. It stands well on the road, has a lovely stance and the lines and contours suggest far more of the BMW or the Audi than I was expecting. From the back it’s almost 1-Series esque, and the lights fit perfectly within the contours of the car. The LED lights are well moulded and shaped.

The interior is really nicely laid out – however on occasion the driving position felt a little cramped. Having said that, the seating and steering wheel adjustments are plentiful in option and the driving position is excellent. In fact, the contours and the position of the dials place this Astra far more within the realms of a driver’s car that in previous incarnations.

New Headlights

This is a pretty well promoted feature of the new Astra – and something they are understandably keen to promote on such a car. Similar systems exist with other manufacturers – but Vauxhall were keen the press in attendance saw what was on offer in the guise of a night drive. I must admit I was pretty impressed but it didn’t seem like a make or break situation – although it does mean you don’t have to worry about dipping main beam – and to see the lights dance around the treelined country roads we were on was pretty impressive. They look great, they don’t look like they dazzle too much and they fit perfectly from a styling point of view. I can’t really see what there is to dislike about them, and if anything they really raise the profile of the new Astra to a premium level.

Weight Saving

Another really important to note about the new Vauxhall Astra is that is has dramatically lost weight – noticeably improving handling, performance on the road and efficiency. Weight distribution has also been thought about – and the car feels and acts well balanced and composed. 200kg has been knocked off the car, and with 200hp and 160hp petrol and diesel engines respectfully being added to the fleet, there should be some excellent performance gains to be had.

Performance

Generally the car feels peppier, more responsive and more alert than I was expecting it to. The 1.4 petrol is an especially good engine. It’s free-revving and wants you to drive and push it – the turbo isn’t intrusive and the power delivery is excellently smooth. It’s also perfectly happy higher up the rev range and this, alongside the weight reduction and distribution makes the car exceptionally good to handle when the pace quickens. It actually feels remarkable sporty. The gearbox is precise and suits the car too, and aside from Vauxhall’s habit of making it slightly too large, it’s a nice action.

The 1.6 diesel was the other car driven, and will be the fleet choice. It certainly felt a little nose-heavier, as you’d expect, but it still was a remarkably precise drive and impressively willing to rev. MPG figures with the diesel engine were excellent, and even driven relatively hard, it was difficult to push the figures below 45/48mpg.

Equipment

Vauxhall has introduced some extras to the specification of each car which pushes the premium focus even further. The new ONSTAR feature means that you’re never more than a push of a button away from talking to a person. Yes, it’s a paid for subscription based service, but there’s an impressive array of features that include an iOS (Android coming soon) app where you can lock the vehicle from anywhere in the world and automatic crash detection which can direct emergency services and relay information about the crash. Of course, this isn’t necessarily Vauxhall specific, as many brands are adopting features such as this, but it’s reassuring to see it on such a recognisable marque.

There is also a new screen, infotainment system and NAV that is really very impressive. I was never too convinced by the old system, but this is sleek, responsive and easy to use. It really does feel very much like a tablet or smartphone, and that’s a real credit to the designer and to the car. It pairs with your phone easily, too.

Summary

The new Vauxhall Astra is a brilliant car. It performed hugely well on the twisty roads of North Wales, and would be equally at home navigating its way round the towns and village of the country.

I enjoyed it more than the Focus and the Golf – the Golf by comparison obviously appearing as the class winner – but in normal guise it doesn’t feel as alive to drive, as engaging and certainly not as attractive or seemingly well designed or thought about.

The new Astra feels like it’s made for the 21st century – if nothing else it definitely feels ‘all new.’ This felt very welcome, and is a great credit to the design team.

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