First Drive : Vauxhall Astra (2015)

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Lighter, faster, more efficient and better value than before – on paper, it looks like Vauxhall has a class-leader on its hands. There’s a lot riding on the new British-built midliner – can it see off the opposition and live up to its promise?

Words: Mike Humble

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Our old friend, the Astra, has been with us for 36 years – the first generation was born in 1979, a year before the MkIII Escort. Despite models such as the GTE and GSi being regarded as legends, the ‘cooking’ Astras have been also-rans in the volume hatchback sector – but Vauxhall is looking to change all that.

The new Astra is due to hit the showrooms in October, and it offers an impressive mix of style, substance, safety and technology. What the on-paper specs don’t tell you is there’s a genuinely premium feel that oozes from every nook and cranny of this all-new car. And it’s more than skin deep – Vauxhall’s latest offering has a deep-rooted and satisfyingly upmarket approach.

On the outside, it has a generic GM look – it’s instantly recognisable as an Astra. But, look closer, and you’ll notice some very clever detailing: the swooping rear 3/4 effect towards the back doors, the new nose and a very clean and uncluttered tailgate and rear lights. It’s the same inside – all the switchgear, controls and any other area the driver comes into contact has a lovely tactile quality, and it all feels very thoroughly engineered.

Petrol and diesels – Vauxhall to the top of the class

2015 Vauxhall Astra review

We drove the 1.4 Turbo petrol and 1.6 CDTi diesel – both hugely important in terms of sales. In 1.4 petrol form, the new Astra is astonishingly refined, and in heavy traffic, it feels nicely isolated. It’s quick, too – squirting from the line with vigour, but even to the redline, it’s smooth and boom-free. It’s torque-laden, feeling more like a 1.8 in terms of flexibility. On to the open eager roads, and the wide power band, combined with its slick-shifting six-speed manual, deliver more than enough performance. Other notables are the effortless clutch action and nigh on perfectly-chosen ratios.

The 134bhp 1.6-litre ‘Whisper’ diesel is impressive, too. It delivers eager and gutsy performance, and only if you really push hard is there any notable noise or vibration – even then it’s up there with the best of the competition. In daily running, or when idling, it’s as quiet and refined as the Honda i-DTEC, the current class-leader.

On the road – refined, grown-up and a winner

2015 Vauxhall Astra review

On the move, and refinement is first class – there’s no wind noise, and there are no rattles or shakes from the. Show it a bend or two and it never fails to impress. The EPAS has been tuned to give the right amount of feel at the rim, the turn-in is almost dodgem-car quick, with only the merest hint of understeer – and the damping is fantastic.

And when travelling quickly on back roads, it feels utterly settled. It might be resolved, but driven enthusiastically, it’s also laugh out loud entertaining. In short, it’s a most adaptable, talented, well-mannered, entertaining family hatchback, with superbly refined suspension and steering.

In terms of tech, the stand outs are the OnStar package and iLux Matrix headlamps. With OnStar, at the push of a button, you can talk directly with an adviser in the event of an accident, a breakdown or any other emergency. No matter where you, the system will put you in touch to an English-speaking adviser, too. In an airbag-deploying accident, OnStar automatically informs the emergency services, where you are and how much damage there is. It works with a minimal 2G signal, so the system works even without mobile data backup. The potential to save lives is very impressive.

Cars with iLux headlights offer adaptive control by having strategically placed high intensity LED beams. This sends pools of light at different angles independently of side. The windscreen sensor detects oncoming traffic and the high beams change their position and angles to avoid dazzle. The power and beam trajectory of the light are quite simply brilliant – it’s far more than a gimmick, it just works.

Conclusion – Vauxhall’s on to a winner

2015 Vauxhall Astra review

So here we have a British-made car that has the minerals and goes to the top of the class for refinement, quality, technology and driver appeal. Despite the fact this new car is up to 200Kg lighter than the outgoing model, it feels light yet planted on the road with a body shell that feels taught.

Is it perfect? Not quite. Niggles include reflections from the instrument backlighting on dark roads and at night, and if you dim the instrument panel to compensate, that makes the heater/climate panel graphics difficult to see (strangely, this was also a fault with the last model, and its over-bright satnav screen). There’s also no glovebox lamp fitted, and the single-tone horn sounds feeble. But we’re nitpicking here.

However, the cars tested were pre-production models and, taking this into account, these is room to tweak and refine equipment levels. Both petrol and diesel models are good to drive, offer new standards of technology and safety, and promise to be cheaper to run than the outgoing model. Vauxhall has a genuine winner on its hands, so let’s hope the dealer network can capitalise on its talents, and get the message out to those all-important retail buyers.

Prices start at £15,295 for the 1.0 Design, rising to £22,815 for the 1.6 Bi-Turbo Elite, and goes on sale in October.

2015 Vauxhall Astra review

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

24 Comments

  1. 200kg saving – that’s pretty impressive without compromising perceived quality. IMO the styling has a hint of Hyundai – their prices are on the rise so how does the Astra compare?

  2. Good news- the old Astra was by no means a bad car in any way whatsoever- but seemed like a typical GM offering that did not stand out in any way. At least that car had better build quality than other new Vauxhalls I drove last year- and I drove dozens (nothing wrong with the Insignia’s build though).

    I just wish their accountants could be sent out into the woods to ‘smoke something’- and allow some funky interior colours instead of the usual conservatively drab GM greys- which always seem that much more greyer than VW greys, for example. Go on, Vauxhall- I dare you- do something interesting for a change!

    • Mind I remember some of Vauxhalls rather psychedelic interiors from the 80s and 90s – Red heater knobs on sporty Novas for example. I think I’ll stick with the generic grey to be honest.

  3. Astonishing to think that when the first Astra hit the roads the Allegro was in production. That Mark 1 Astra walked all over the Escort for refinement and general driveability and was in a different league to the Allegro. When you look at the sales figures back in the day it was the superiority of the Astra and Cavalier that saw off BL as a mass market manufacturer.

    • Not only that, the FWD Kadett D (i.e. Astra) was launched in 1979 slightly before the Allegro 3 was launched!
      And was then replaced after 5 years…

  4. Looks & sounds promising, especially with those new smaller more powerful engines. The infotainment systems don’t really interest me (but they don’t on any other make either). Yes it does have a Hyundai / Toyota look about it, but not off-putting.

    Have to say, the full frontal view looks pretty similar to the outgoing Astra. Pricing seems equivalent to Ford’s, so the Focus + Golf will be main competitors.

  5. Good enough until you realise in Cumbria we have two of the county’s worst dealerships, Dobies and Bristol Street Motors, selling them. This is always one reason I never consider Vauxhall.

  6. “The new Astra by Vauxhall. Unlike some of our competitors we do not need a defeat software device. If only everything in life was as honest as a Vauxhall.”

    • I can’t believe it’s taken until today for the media to point out (what I’ve been shouting at the radio for the last week) that exactly the same engines are used in Seats Audis And Skodas as the controversial VW units. Most people wouldn’t appreciate that these marques are equally implicated in the environmental fraud.

  7. @Pigten, this scandal is going to hit Volkswagen as Switzerland has already banned sales of new diesel models and America is likely to boycott them. I’ve always found their cars to be OK, but rather overpriced and poor value for money, like most German cars. Sad thing is this scandal could also hit SEAT and Skoda, whose products I really do rate over the parent company.
    While the software scam won’t affect how the cars drive, or their fuel consumption, it’s likely you could be driving a car with £ 20 a year road tax, but which could be reassesed at £ 140 due to this scam. I do think this could hit Volkswagen as hard as the quality issue really damaged Leyland in the seventies.

  8. GM do seem to have done a good job, it shocks me the number of people who tell me that we don’t make good “affordable” cars in the UK anymore.

    They are surprised when i tell them about Honda, Mini, Nissan, Toyota and GM along with the lower ends of Land Rover and now Jaguars ranges.

    Hard to see a good reason following “Vorsprung durch Schwindel” why you would not be buying a British built car today.

  9. I’m no fan of GM, (or VAG come to that) but it looks alright – but I’ve already read elsewhere that although this new Astra is improved it’s ‘Still
    not a good a drive as a Focus nor an all-rounder as the Golf’

    This will mean same-again levels of sales here if all the mags follow suit –
    which they no-doubt will, no matter what the truth for real world UK owners.

    Also mentioned were weird/unsuitable gear ratios – which I can well believe, as GM often screw that aspect up.

  10. Probably couldn’t have come at a better time for Vauxhall. VW/Audi’s premium reputation in the gutter, the One Ford Global Focus now optimised for its primary roll as a cheap and nasty US hire car and Jeremy Clarkson banished to some obscure on-line subscription channel. If this car is as good as this and all the other reviews I have read it could do the same for Vauxhall as the 1981 Cavalier Mk2 did.

    • The last Astra was the ‘reasonably priced car’ on Top Gear, and actually got very good publicity. They mentioned that it was British built and was a decent car.

      • I seem to recall them always referring to the reasonably priced Astra in mocking tones – as they did with all the reasonably priced cars. Not great publicity I would think for a mainstream manufacturer to have one of their core products presented like that. By the sound of it this new car deserves far better.

    • I agree VW’s reputation will undoubtedly be damaged be it short or longer term, but wouldn’t put me off buying a petrol one. Maybe an opportunity for the new Astra to gain sales though.

      Can’t quite agree that the current UK market Focus is “cheap & nasty”. I own one and its quality is comparable with anything else in the same sector. Maybe the US versions are not as good?

  11. The “kick” at the back of the rear doors is very Kia Optima… With VW in tatters this might be a chance for the Astra to gain some recognition, at last. They also always seem to be “also ran” for the last 25 years. Good luck, if only to keep employees with a job.

  12. I owned 1 Mk2 and 2 Mk3 Astra, the last being a 1997 Arctic 16V…Great engines I recall (1.4 and 1.6 16V) and I had great service from Murketts in Huntingdon. Styling on the Mk4 was so insipid, and performance was also not as good as the Mk3 so I migrated onto the Vectra (SRi 140).. 2 cars later I still have a GM2900 car – a Saab 9-5 Aero…

    I always recall reviews of the Astra in the mid-90’s. Didn’t stand out for one particular feature (except performance but not the 1.4 Hi Torq) but wasn’t bad in one area either, unlike other comparable cars – so always ended up doing well in the group tests.

    • It’s GM’s 2nd attempt at the currently on-trend ‘floating roof’ look, (their first was with the Adam) – which the likes of Volvo, Hyundai and Toyota have already done with varying degrees of success.

      As to Astras past, the worst I tried was a then-GF’s newish 1996 1.6 petrol Estate. It’s gutless nature was a surprise, give the liveliness of early 1.6 Astras using basicly the same ‘Family’ series engine – compounded by the not so surprising overly-tall gearing….

  13. Just read Chris Evans test of a new Astra SRi in yesterday’s Sunday EVENT mag. He states the car comes off the “legendary production lines at Luton”! Fact check needed!

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