Our Cars : Keith’s Astra – bigger is better

Size really does matter

Astra long term (3)

Current mileage    12,905
Claimed economy    62.8mpg
Actual economy    47.7mpg

Regular readers will recall me giving my Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer a bit of a kicking for its less-than-impressive fuel returns in my previous report. It’s not as if fuel consumption in the high-forties is actually that bad for a near-4.7m long estate car, but for a car wearing an ‘eco’ badge that supposedly averages a claimed 62.8mpg, I was expecting a little more.

I concluded that this disappointing fuel consumption might be tempered by making an alternative engine choice – and that in real-word driving, an Astra Sports Tourer powered by the far more impressive 2.0 CDTi might well trounce what the 1.7-litre car is achieving. So, I arranged to borrow a facelifted 2.0 SE from Vauxhall, and drive it in exactly the same way – and in the same conditions – as my own car, just to see if it really is true that size matters in this instance.

The first thing I noticed is how just a few minor styling tweaks have really sharpened the appearance of the Astra. The slimmer chrome grille bar and more stylised fog/indicator lamps, as well as larger intake add character to what was already quite an attractive design. Inside, there are very few changes, but the old-fashioned manual handbrake was a bit of a surprise after the electronic item on my SRi – but it transpires that the more traditional type is a no-cost option. The Ecoflex display is more comprehensive on the newer car, also – something I’d come to appreciate during the coming week. As was the stop-start system.

This SE had been well optioned. In addition to the normal climate control system, this car was fitted with a pair of seat heaters and a heated steering wheel. Both of these were much appreciated during the cold snap that we had during the test.

Astra long term (6)

Being an SE (as opposed to my SRI), the 2.0 CDTi has a standard ride height and softer suspension settings. During the week I had it, I noticed no loss of handling, but certainly did appreciate the more compliant ride and less stiff damping. On British roads, the non-sporting Astra is very capable indeed – and it has me wondering again why on earth so many people choose sports suspension and large wheels on cars such as this? They’re far nicer to live with in standard form. Especially as pothole season approaches.

But down to brass tacks. Fuel consumption, performance, and all-round drivability. When you fire-up the 2.0 CDTi it’s a little bit more vocal at idle than the 1.7, but pulling away, throttle reponse is so much better. And unlike the smaller-engined car, you’re not saddled with too much throttle lag or the same marked off/on boost transition. Driving around town, this additional drivability and low-down torque manifests itself into a far more relaxed and pleasurable drive.

Overall gearing seems to be pretty much identical to the 1.7-litre car – so once up to motorway speeds, there’s little difference in terms of engine noise. And to be fair to the smaller car, it doesn’t actually feel any slower in these circumstances either. But get the 2.0 CDTi onto a typical A-Road and the additional torque means you’re changing gear far less regularly, and just enjoying the swift progress that a full-sized diesel gives you.

So the 2.0 CDTi is quicker and drives more nicely, but how about fuel consumption?

The first test was the same 100-mile hypermiling trip. This incorporated 100 miles of mixed A and B-Roads as well as a stretch of clear motorway. The end result was 66.1mpg (compared with 59.8mpg from the 1.7-litre car), which is far more in keeping my expectations. And in the real world, driving it in traffic without paying too much attention to parsimonious use of the accelerator, I saw an average fuel consumption of 54.7mpg. Considering that my own 1.7 CDTi has yet to better 50mpg, and that this 2.0 CDTi isn’t even run-in yet, showing just over 1000 miles on the clock, this is a very good result indeed.

The conclusions are easy to draw here. The Astra’s a fine (and some would say unfairly ignored by too many people) all-rounder, which in Sports Tourer form is actually rather handsome. But whatever you do, if you have some say in the decision, try and make a bee-line for the 2.0 CDTi over the 1.7. If you’re budget limited, trim your options and take the engine over the gadgets. You’ll be rewarded by a car that’s better to drive and quicker, and you’ll be visiting the petrol stations a little less often.

And isn’t that a good thing?

Keith Adams


  1. Excellent blog Keith. I think it brings home the point that a lot of these Blue-whatsit cars have a major flaw, the Power-to-Weight ratio just isn’t there. Try and drive up a decent incline and the mpg plummets because its having to work hard.

  2. Keith – I think the low profile tyres on your car will have a big effect on your fuel consumption. In my experience maybe 10% more fuel consumption might be attributed to the tyres alone. Yet most manufacturers seem to quote the same mpg figures for different trim levels of a car with the same engine no matter what wheels and tyres are fitted. This seems to be a failing of the official mpg ‘rules’.

  3. Sounds more like it- think I’d rather have a more basic 2.0 than an SRi-type car. And as I prefer to drive on the torque to driving on BHP, think this would suit me better.

  4. Vauxhall have a good range at the. moment. I would avoid SRI models thoigh. I rented an Insignia a while ago and it was very impressive in many ways but with 19 inch alloys it shook your fillings out.

    When my wife’s Focus needs replacing we’ll look at the Astra

  5. This has been my complaint since the day we collected our “Stupid Motion” If I could turn back time would of bought the 2.0 instead of the runt of the litter 1.6, we only avoided the bigger engine due to the number of expired examples that sat at our local VW Dealer Parts Dept.

    In theory the 1.6 should work, tall gearing and more torque and Horse power than our old 1.9, But in reality it doesnt. The over tall gearing means the 1.6 struggles in our Hilly area and only comes on song when you rev the Kn*ckers off it, The old 1.9 which cannot be described as a Ball of Fire just gets on with the job in hand without the need to over rev and can usually pull up hills 2 gears higher.

    Ok our Horrid Motion is a bad example which wont pull cleanly from low revs (Newer versions should be better?) but I still think Manufactures can dream up any old sh*te for fuel figures and get away with it.

  6. My wife’s Golf 1.6 tdi 90 reguarly gets in the high 50s mpg driven by her, or over 60mpg driven by me. Although it has adequate power and torque, it is lumpy below 1500rpm and the torque doesn’t come in until 1600 rpm, unlike my Honda 2.2 i-ctdi which will pull from 1100 rpm on the flat without complaint. I reckon that with a remap and a 6 speed box the Golf would be 5-6 mpg better over the range. Torque always wins for economy!

    As for the 2.0 VW diesel, our local garage does a steady trade in replacement cylinder heads due to cracking. This is a well known VAG problem which affects all 2.0tdi variants (try searching google for VW cylinder head cracking). There have been 2 sets of mods that I know about and evidently post-2010 ones have less problems.

    The Astra Tourer looks really good and it’s nice to have the option of a proper handbrake instead of the stupid electronic item. I personelly reckon that there is more useable space in the Astra than the Insignia which has a useless boot.

    The only down side of the SE vs SRi is that the SE doesn’t come with cruise control which I would always want for my long motorway journeys.

  7. Again negative comments about electromechanical handbrakes. Why? On my car you flick the switch to apply and then it auto releases when you drive off. Completely fool proof. You can keep your automatic headlights and wipers, but now I wouldnt buy a car without an electromechanical handbrake.

  8. I’ve never driven a car with an electromechanical handbrake, but, like automatic headlights and wipers (I’m sorry, but who the hell is incapable of selecting an appropriate wiper speed?) it just strikes me as more to go wrong, and a solution in search of a problem.

    I live in the Cotswolds, an area known for its less-than-horizontal roads, and I’ve never had a problem with mechanical handbrakes, even when starting off from some ridiculously angled junctions in the Stroud valleys.

    ABS comes in useful sometimes (although I’ve stopped in some incredibly marginal situations in the many cars I’ve had without it- the sort of situations in which an ABS-equipped driver would swear blind that ABS saved his life), whilst ABS actually caused me to crash an Audi A4 on virgin snow. I prefer cars that you actually drive, rather than ones that hold your hand and constantly ‘nanny’ you, like an overprotective parent.

  9. @8,It does hardly affect the BKD engine,extremely rare,even oil pump/balancer shaft,which thankfully is installed in mine.The 1.9 and 2.0 are both affected by HGF,possibly due to early life water pump failure,who knows.

  10. The X-type 2.2 is more economical than the 2.0, because it can pull a nice, tall sixth gear.
    Automatic wipers come in quite handy when you’re overtaking a 40-tonner and it hits a puddle.
    I don’t get on with electric handbrakes; though they’re not as odd as the push-button pneumatic handbrake on the Mercedes 7-tonner I rented back in 1997.

  11. “My wife’s Golf 1.6 tdi 90 regularly gets in the high 50s mpg driven by her, or over 60mpg driven by me. Although it has adequate power and torque, it is lumpy below 1500rpm and the torque doesn’t come in until 1600 rpm, unlike my Honda 2.2 i-ctdi ”

    I dont doubt you get this sort of mpg, But do you live in a flat part of the world? is it mainly Motorway driving? and also Mr Humble manages decent mpg with His 1.6. Whilst I will be the 1st to agree mine is broken with a Capitol F.

    However after this car I will only buy a car with an abundance of Torque, yr Honda sounds spot on!

    Have never heard of the Cracked Head syndrome (sounds like Hillman Imp Failure !, But plenty B”tching about every item VAG produces.. ) Have just found this on a Vag/Audi site http://www.audi-sport.net/vb/a3-s3-sportback-8p-chassis/76277-%5B2-0-tdi%5D-how-know-if-your-cylinder-head-will-crack-if-hasnt-yet.html .

  12. The ability to choose the handbrake is rather cool! I have no issues with the electric handbrake as long as the automatic actuation can be turned off – I found this (on the few cars I drove with it) so annoying, mainly because it frees off too late for my liking when starting to drive again. But without such a feature it is quite pointless – so manual handbrake wins for me.

  13. Like Keith, I’d be lost now without an electromagnetic handbrake, and while it is more to go wrong, why do most of the new cars now have electric windows as standard? And Chris, I learnt a long time ago to turn off all the ABS and stability stuff when driving in snow – car with stability on won’t go up an icy/snowy hill, with it off, it does – and you modify the car because you modify your driving to cope with the conditions.

  14. i know of two people with last model renault scenics which both had automatic handbrake failures and the repair costs were between £600 AND £800. thinks i’ll stick to manual for the moment !!

  15. I often think you’re better off with a larger capacity diesel but in lower state of tune, best of both worlds. BMW diesels are mostly only 2 litre but vary in tune, all of which seem pretty economical. The added 2.0 torque really helps. I found the VAG 1.6TDI pretty gutless and the fact that the one I drove was only 5 speed didn’t help as 5th was so tall a gear. For most they seem to be poor economy on the real world too, ditto the Ford/PSA 1.6 diesel.

  16. #dontbuybluemotion; I live in a hilly part of Cheshire, on top of a ridge and 3 miles from the nearest A road. As I’m a consultant engineer, I travel a lot on motorways and my Honda FRV 3+3 people carrier averages a real life brim to brim 47 – 49 mpg kept within the 70mph limit on the motorway. Loads of torque and a gentle right foot help as does a slick 6-speed box. BTW, did you know that modern engine management systems cut the fuel supply to the engine completely when you take your foot off and decelerate using engine braking?

    I’ve had great service from the Honda but it is coming up time to change and I’m looking to downsize hence looking at the Astra. Shame that the new Civic is such a total pigs ear of a design [don’t get me started] and they aren’t doing an estate. Having had several Novas, Astras and a Cavalier I am quite tempted by the new Astra and Keith’s comments were very interesting, especially as I had been looking at a 1.7[125bhp] diesel.

    #dolomitefan; the VAG 1.6tdi has to be doing at least 1500rpm before it wakes up, the torque curve is very peaky and the gearing is too high. Sometimes you have to use 3rd around town at 30 whereas my Honda can pull 5th with a gear left to go. That said, the long 5th gear is good on the motorway where we have seen 65+mpg on a long trip.

  17. @16, Julian Mildren,

    How many cars give you the option to turn off the ABS? I suppose its possible if you were to delve into the vehicle’s electrics, or possibly the ECU. And sometimes it is basic weakness in the vehicle’s engineering that prevents you getting traction in marginal situations. I never got stuck anywhere in my Focus- with the traction control left on (generally Ford’s electonic nannies are far less interfering than Audi’s, for instance).

    My Audi A4, the base model 1.8 had no traction control (although it could have done with it- fast getaways either resulted in the engine bogging down, or copious wheelspin), yet failed to negotiate a bone dry Welsh mountain hairpin on a very narrow single-track lane. I ended up reversing for about a quarter of a mile to find a place to turn around. The car had virtually new Continentals at the time so the tyres were unlikely to be at fault.

  18. The electric handbrake in my Astra SE is unpredictable, that’s my biggest criticism of it.
    Sometimes the release is seamless and at other times resistance is felt and it releases with a bang! What’s more the hill hold feature does not always work.

    All things considered I prefer the predictability of a manual handbrake and the reassurance that if should something go wrong with the brakes, I do have a mechanical back up in an emergency.

  19. I think those of you have commented negatively here about the Golf Bluemotion /1.6tdi models must only have experience of examples which are a few years old.
    My 2011 example is nothing like you describe – plenty of power,including in 4th gear around town, plenty of torque even at low revs, good mpg in all types of driving ,not at all ‘lumpy’ (it’s very smooth) – I think it’s a brilliant car in all respects.

  20. Electronic handbrakes? No thanks. Where do they fail if electrical supply is lost? On or off? The whole point of a mechanical handbrake is that it’s a separate system of actuating at least some of the braking power of a car. Not to mention being able to use the handbrake as a “turn assist” on loose surfaces…

  21. Electric handbrakes ‘fail’ in the on position.

    Also a Land Rover electric handbrake lets you use it in any way you choose, even on the move.

    Home servicing is a thing of the past with electic handbrakes however.

  22. Electromechanical handbrakes are great – i’ve had my Tiguan for over 4 years from new and had no problems with it. I had a 1.6TDI Golf as a courtesy car recently (service/MOT time) and to be honest I was impressed with it, pulled well and a nice car to drive. I was surprised when I checked it was the bog basic model which is the lower of the two power outputs available I believe. I’ve had a couple of VW 2.0TDI (Golf with the PD engine and the Tiguan with the CR) and both have been fine. My old Skoda Fabia 1.4TDI keeps clocking up the miles as well (157k so far).

  23. As mentioned My 1.6 is a BAD early version and that “Newer Versions ” should be much better…

    @22 John “My 2011 example is nothing like you describe – plenty of power,including in 4th gear around town, plenty of torque even at low revs, good mpg in all types of driving ,not at all ‘lumpy’ (it’s very smooth) – I think it’s a brilliant car in all respects.”

    Quite commical really But mine is the exact opposite of yours!

    As for electronic Handbrakes, mine does have the mechanical set up but with Hill Hold which depending on how steep the hill is either works fine or not at all, But pulling away sharply can catch out the Brake release as it drags slightly… Nothing too drastic though.

  24. I’d like an electrohydraulic handbrake and pedal-operated E-brake. Rather like foot-operated E-brakes and have done since I first encountered them.

  25. @23 – there is still a separate system of actuating the brakes on the car. It’s just not a big bowden cable anymore.

    Lets face it, if you suffer a brake failure, the parking brake on most cars won’t slow the car down from any sort of speed – down changing will be what shrugs off most of the speed if you have room.

  26. Keith how many miles before the “big” diesel gives you engine heating/demisting. If the single turbo version I had in a Vectra is anything to go by there is a reason for the heated seat and wheel…. try it tomorrow seehow long you last!

  27. The electronic handbrake does seem a solution to a problem that never existed – is it a production line time/labour saving?

  28. A friend of ours has has innumerable issues with the electronic parking brake on his 59 reg Passat. Basically, it is a lottery whether it releases or not which has led to several near accidents when the car stalls pulling out of side streets because the brake hasn’t released in time. He has been told not to use the parking brake at junctions but as he is a member if the IAM his standpoint is that the brake should operate properly at all times.

    He now has a failing DMF and potentially an £800 bill to replace clutch & flywheel. A problem he feels has been at least partly caused by the parking brake issues. Dealers are being unhelpful!

    He has put me right off buying a Passat and any other car with electronic parking brake.

    As stated above – the perfect solution to a problem that never existed.

  29. On the subject of heating /demisting, the Golf takes about 7 miles / 10 minutes for heat to get to your feet – though it will demist the screen well before this. I do miss the heated windscreen of the Focus I had for a few months a couple of years ago.

  30. @21, yes that’s my problem with electromechanical handbrakes too – the unpredictability. I drive a lot of different hired Insignias and Astras for work and have found them to vary considerably in when they release. I’ve also had two Insignias release the brake randomly 30 seconds after applying while I’ve been stopped on a steep hill in traffic. Luckily I was quick with the foot brake on both occasions.

    It was therefore refreshing to see the traditional handbrake in the facelift Astra SE I drove last week. The heated seats and wheel were welcome additions, but my wife was still able to leave the driveway first in her ten year old Mondeo with heated screen, while I was left chipping away at ice on the windscreen!

    On the fuel consumption point, does anyone know how the 1.4 petrol turbo Astra compares with the diesels mpg wise?

  31. @38.

    You ask “does anyone know how the 1.4 petrol turbo Astra compares with the diesels mpg wise?”

    I feel a more valid question would be ‘does anyone know how a 1.4 petrol compares to the diesels on a cost-per-fuel mile basis’?

    From my own experience, I think there would be little or no difference in it.

  32. With the 2.0L diesel (and the older 1.9L), servicing on time is a MUST.

    These engines are very good if looked after but due to the cam belt and water pump arrangement.
    Not servicing or missing a service will kill the engine.

    The 1.7l is an older Isuzu design that is a bit more hardy.
    Shame there’s no fuel pump on them though as changing the fuel filter is a right b***h

  33. @42,And half it again,20k service intervals are far too long,for the oil to carry soot and unburnt fuel,regardless what manufactorers say.

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