Vauxhall Astra: driven
According to the spec sheets, there are no fewer than 138 horses underneath the bonnet of 1.4 turbo model, but in reality it feels like quite a while since any of them felt like breaking into a gallop. The car feels slow to accelerate, and requires constant gearchanges to keep momentum, even on the motorway. Long gearing designed to keep down emissions and fuel consumption mean that the car's whole demeanour is compromised. The engine's a bit gruff, too.
The 113bhp non-turbo 1.6 offers similar pace, but is noticeably smoother and more willing to rev, although it uses a bit more fuel in the process. In truth, both of these engines feel a bit overwhelmed by the Astra's slight portliness.
Our pick under the bonnet
The best engine is undoubtedly the 178bhp 1.6-litre turbo petrol. All of its horses feel positively enthusiastic about life and give the Astra a genuinely lively feel. The fact that the engine's so smooth merely makes it the peach of the range.
Diesel fans aren't forgotten though. The 123bhp 1.7 CDTi is a bit of a grumbly old fellow, and even once the early morning rattles and wheezes are out of the way it thrums along with some vibration through the pedals. It's punchy enough once you've got the rev-counter past the 1700rpm mark, though, and an average of 60.1mpg is hardly to be sniffed at.
This diesel and the 1.6 turbo are roughly the same price, however, so if you enjoy you're driving at all, we'd say go for the petrol car.