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Star pupil: the all new Vauxhall Astra is a contender for top of its class

David Roy

 


WITH petrolheads of a certain vintage currently mourning the imminent demise of the Ford Fiesta – let's hope it's just some sort of New Coke-esque marketing ruse to revive interest in a taken-for-granted product – it's high time we took a spin in the latest incarnation of another stalwart hatchback.

An immediate hit when it was launched in 1979 as a replacement for the by then truly venerable Vauxhall Viva, the Vauxhall Astra became such a familiar sight on our roads over the next four decades that it was pretty much invisible.

However, Vauxhall's workhorse hatchback has recently benefited from a serious make-over, with its eighth regeneration the best looking version of the Astra since the mk2 appeared in the early 1980s.

The 2022 design includes some nice little homages to the early Astras in its triangular 'shark-fin' plastic louvres at the C-pillar, the three-spoke steering wheel (a nod to the classic Astra GTE) and even the old school slider-operated air vents on its dash.

However, with Vauxhall's aggressive 'Vizor' front-end styling in place, the new Astra evokes the shark-nosed visage of the original Opel Manta A and even its American cousin the Dodge Challenger more than any of its direct antecedents, which of course is a Very Good Thing Indeed.

And, in a somewhat unexpected tribute to another German favourite, the Mk8 Astra's curved flat panel dash is very Knight Rider in appearance, incorporating both a digital driver display and 10-inch Pure Panel infotainment touch screen. However, while KITT's interior plastics benefited from a soothing satin black sheen, there's a lot of shiny scratch-prone piano black trim inside the new Astra which would surely have got right on the Hoff's männerbusen after just a few journeys.

Happily, other than that niggle and the car's slightly primitive and mildly sluggish touchscreen interface, there's really not a lot else to complain about inside the new Astra, which is available in Design (from £25,240 OTR), GS Line (£28,135) and Ultimate (£31,250) trim.

The model we test drove, a 1.2l petrol-powered and turbo-charged Ultimate with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and clad in eye-catching Electric Yellow metallic paint (a £700 option), was equipped with heated and ASG-approved alcantara-trimmed seats (heated, ventilated and massaging versions in leather are a £2,100 option) and lots of squidgy soft touch material covering most (but not all) dash surfaces.

 

 

Comfort and style wise, this interior is pretty much on a par with its direct competitors the Ford Focus (from £27,060) and the Volkswagen Golf (£25,610) – Vauxhall have learned from VW's error by retaining tactile switches and knobs for the radio and climate controls – though it's not quite as exotically styled as its PSA group sister, the Peugoet 308 (from £27,130 OTR), with which it shares chassis and oily bits.

An opening glass pano-roof is exclusive to Ultimate cars – a pity, as it would be a desirable option across the range, allowing plenty of natural light into the dark-hued cabin. There's a reasonable amount of head and leg room for three decent sized humans in the back, and the boot capacity is positively vast for a car of its size – 422l, second only to the Skoda Octavia saloon.

 

 

 

If even that's not enough room in the back for your load lugging needs, the new Astra is also available as the Astra Sports Tourer, a handsome estate which comes as a pure petrol/diesel (from £26,440 OTR) or hybrid (£36,935).

Standard equipment on all Astra models includes wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic LED headlights and rear lights, high beam assist, front and rear parking sensors, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist, speed sign recognition, driver drowsiness alert, cruise control with automatic emergency braking, climate control, automatic wipers, all-round electric windows and electrically adjustable heated mirrors.

In addition to the aforementioned seats and pano-roof, Ultimate trim adds snazzy honeycomb-style 18-inch bi-colour alloys, blacked-out Vauxhall badging, IntelliLux LED Pixel Light-enhanced front and rear lights, a very cool Intelli-HUD which displays essential info at windscreen level, a wireless mobile charging tray, a heated leather-covered steering wheel, 360-degree panoramic parking camera (handy, as un-assisted rear visibility isn't great), a heated, soundproofed and insulated windscreen, dual zone climate control with air-quality detecting Intelli-Air, lane change assist with side blind spot alert, lane positioning assist and rear cross traffic alert.

 

 

TEST DRIVE

There's no doubt that this is first Astra in years to excite in terms of aesthetics, equipment and comfort: but what's it like to drive?

On the whole, not bad at all. With a firm yet forgiving ride quality, the new Astra is a comfy, composed small car which will get you from A to B without fuss. Perhaps the steering feels a tad heavier than I'd like it to be and there's definitely a touch of body roll creeping in when cornering (perhaps another intentional tribute to original Astra?) but you quickly learn to trust that the car always has plenty of grip.

In terms of performance, though, sadly the new Astra doesn't quite live up to the promise of its sports-informed looks – at least not when powered by Vauxhall's 130hp 1.2l petrol lump (an even tamer 110hp varient of this three-cylinder unit is also available on Design trims). It wasn't exactly underpowered, but it definitely didn't set my pulse racing, especially in autobox form: put your foot down and the car seems to take a beat, Jack Reacher style, before getting on with the business of not exactly rapid acceleration.

 

 

Vauxhall claim a 0-62mph time of 9.7 seconds, but it certainly feels a lot slower in practice, even when selecting 'Sport' mode: supposedly, this enhances throttle response, but in practice it's largely indistinguishable from Normal and Eco modes besides the red graphics on the driver's display and a louder exhaust note. One for the McDonald's car park crowd, then.

To be honest, this engine actually sounds a wee bit diesel-y at times, especially at low speeds and when accelerating hard: an actual turbo-diesel engine is also available if desired, a 130hp 1.5l unit offering slightly more torque (221 lb ft vs 170 lb ft) but even slower acceleration (0-60mph in 10.6 secs) than the 130hp petrol lump.

However, there is hope on this front: the new Astra is also available as a plug-in hybrid (from £35,735 OTR), mating a 150hp 1.6l four-cylinder petrol engine with an 81kW electric motor for a combined output of 180hp, 267 lb ft of torque and a livelier 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds.

You also get regenerative braking with one-pedal driving capability and selectable Electric-only mode with a range of 43 miles (WLTP). It's a chunk more money, but I reckon this is the version to go for if you need an Astra that's as desirable to drive as it is to look at – well, for right now, anyway.

 

The sporty hybrid Astra GSE will arrive in 2023

 

A 223hp Astra GSe (as in 'Grand Sport Electric') with tuned suspension is due next year for those who want a proper 'hot hatch' or a Sports Tourer which lives up to its name, while a pure EV version of both body styles is also due in 2023.

The fact that people are actually looking forward to these cars shows you just how revolutionary the Mk8 has been for this staple of British motoring that's long been in need of serious re-invention.

Now stylishly revamped and better than ever, the Astra is once again a star pupil in its class.

2022 VAUXHALL ASTRA: AT A GLANCE

  • Price OTR: £32,215, as tested £32,915 (options fitted: two-coat premium metallic paint £700)
  • Powertrain: 11,99cc 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol, 8-speed automatic
  • Max power: 130hp @ 5,500rpm, 169lb/ft @ 1,750rpm
  • 0-60mph: 9.7 secs
  • Max speed: 130mph
  • Performance & Emissions: 48.7-50.4mpg (WLTP), Co2 125-131g/km
  • Ownership: BiK 31 per cent (2022/2023), VED Band H £230 (Year 1)/£165 (Year 2-)
  • Insurance rating: 21P
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