Vauxhall Astra: A model of efficiency thanks to Astral tweaks
Vauxhall has given the Astra a range of improvements, including efficient new engines and slippier aerodynamics, which should keep it at the top of the family car sales charts, says William Scholes
YOUR friendly Vauxhall dealer has had a busy 2019, thanks mainly to them being able to take orders for some eagerly awaited new models, writes William Scholes.
The most important of these is the all-new Corsa. The little hatchback is traditionally Vauxhall’s best-selling model and the new car, developed alongside the new Peugeot 208, should start to filter out of showrooms and on to our roads in January.
Also arriving early next year is the much-needed hybrid version of the Grandland X SUV as well as the company’s first battery-electric car, the Corsa-E.
Other upheavals include the demise of the lovely estate version of the Insignia. This is a blow to fans, like myself, of sleek wagons, and further confirmation that the SUV may be unbeatable.
Amid all this activity, Vauxhall has also found time to give its stalwart family car, the Astra, its first comprehensive overhaul since it debuted in 2015.
And it really is comprehensive; it is worth emphasising that Vauxhall has gone far beyond the sort of half-hearted efforts we usually see when a manufacturer carries out one of these mid-life facelifts.
These generally consist of some new paint colours, different alloy wheel designs and the application of some shiny trim strips to the bumpers and an updated infotainment system.
The updated Astra does indeed benefit from all of these, but the real meat of the changes lies under the skin.
There, Vauxhall has plumbed in new lightweight turbocharged three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, as well as a new nine-speed automatic gearbox.
It has also paid considerable attention to finessing the Astra’s aerodynamics, to the extent that it now cuts through the air with more efficiency than any other car in its class.
The net effect of these changes is lower CO2 emissions and fuel consumption compared to the outgoing Astra. It means the new car is at least 20 per cent more efficient.
That’s the sort of improvement that makes a difference to your wallet. Indeed, in a real-world fuel economy contest organised by Fleet World magazine, the Astra recorded 85mpg.
This was 40 per cent better than the 104bhp 1.5-litre diesel’s already strong official WLTP figure of 60.1mpg, and means that even heavier-footed drivers should be able to see 60-plus mpg.
The net effect of these changes is lower CO2 emissions and fuel consumption compared to the outgoing Astra. It means the new car is at least 20 per cent more efficient. That’s the sort of improvement that makes a difference to your wallet
That car also has very low CO2 emissions of 90g/km, and the diesels are RDE2-compliant, meaning they avoid a 4 per cent surcharge otherwise applied to company user’s benefit in kind tax rates.
The 1.5-litre diesel is also available in 120bhp/221lb.ft tune, and can be paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox (92g/km) or the new nine-speed automatic (109g/km). The 104bhp/192lb.ft engine is six-speed manual only.
Petrol duties are taken care of by a 1.2-litre unit, offered in 109bhp/144lb.ft, 128bhp/166lb.ft and 143bhp/166lb.ft outputs. All achieve 99g/km.
The 1.2-litre can only be had with a six-speed manual. If you want a self-shifting petrol Astra, your only choice is a new 143bhp/174lb.ft 1.4-litre model (112g/km) with a continuously variable transmission capable of mimicking seven ratios.
Opting for the Sports Tourer estate bodywork sees CO2 emissions rise 3g/km model-for-model in the petrol-engined cars, while diesel hatch and estate Astras post identical figures.
The new engines themselves obviously play a huge part in making the Astra so frugal, but the honed aerodynamics also contribute greatly.
Vauxhall says it took the Astra back to the wind tunnel for “meticulous development”. This resulted in a new engine compartment cover and reshaping the rear axle to better deflect airflow.
The radiator grille’s upper and lower portions also automatically open and close independently of each other, allowing the car to juggle cooling and airflow requirements to maximise aerodynamic efficiency. The underbody of the car has also been smoothed out
I always rather liked how the Astra handled, and Vauxhall has now improved things further by fitting new dampers with the aim of providing greater bump control and recalibrating the electric power steering system.
The qualities that have made generations of Astra perennially popular for 40 years - Vauxhall reckons that a quarter of motorists have either owned or driven one - continue to shine through on this newly refreshed model
Driver assistance steps up a notch, with the automatic emergency braking system now able to detect pedestrians as well as vehicles.
There are new multimedia infotainment systems, all fully loaded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
Wireless phone charging, a high-end Bose sound system and a heated windscreen are among the options.
Trim levels start at SE and rise, in typically thorough and Byzantine Vauxhall fashion, through (deep breath) Business Edition Nav, SRi, SRi Nav, SRi VX Line Nav, Elite Nav until you eventually arrive (breathless) at Ultimate Nav.
Prices start at £18,885 for a 1.2-litre 109bhp SE hatchback. The cheapest Sports Tourer is also a 1.2-litre 109bhp SE, starting at £20,355.
SRi seems to offer the best-judged balance of price and equipment; 17-inch alloys, touchscreen, Bluetooth, USB and DAB radio, air conditioning, a front camera system, LED headlamps and sports seats are part of the package here, with prices starting at £21,895 for a 1.2-litre 109bhp car.
The qualities that have made generations of Astra perennially popular for 40 years - Vauxhall reckons that a quarter of motorists have either owned or driven one - continue to shine through on this newly refreshed model.
The back seat is one of the roomiest in the class, for example, and there’s an ease-of-use to the whole car that tells you that Vauxhall has been at the top of the family car game for decades.
Vauxhall is to be praised for the depth of the changes it has wrought to the Astra, not least because they will save drivers money, both at the fuel pumps and on their tax bills.
The super-efficient engines will help stave off demand for hybrid and electric versions, though such is the appetite for these that one imagines these will be needed sooner rather than later.
Faced with a bunch of new models from its traditional rivals - especially the Ford Focus, but also the likes of the Mazda 3 - and with a new Volkswagen Golf imminent, Vauxhall was wise to update its own family car.
The result is a car of broad appeal - a thoroughly accomplished contender and conspicuously strong value for money.