The two 1.4s, with either 86 or 99bhp, are a bit out of their depth, but the turbocharged version with 138bhp is reasonably punchy. Below that sits a smooth-but-slow 113bhp 1.6. The petrol range is topped by a nippy 1.6 turbo with 178bhp. The diesel range includes a slow 94bhp 1.3, two flexible 1.7-litre units with either 108bhp or 128bhp and a couple of pacy 2.0-litres with either 163bhp or 192bhp.
The Astra's ride is smooth on standard suspension, but although there’s lots of grip in bends, it’s not as sharp to drive as the best cars in the class. There’s too much body roll and the steering feels lethargic. The sports suspension on SRi models gives better body control, but maintains a healthy measure of comfort. The optional Flexride adaptive suspension feels appreciably different in its various modes, but it doesn't make the Astra any better.
You'll barely hear a peep out of the Astra's suspension over a bumpy road, and road noise is also extremely well suppressed. Wind noise can be an issue at high speed, though, and some of the engines, particularly the diesels, can be a rather boomy. You can occasionally feel vibrations through the pedals, too.
The Astra is priced on a par with the Ford Focus, so it’s far from cheap. Big discounts are available, but these have to be weighed against the fact that the Astra won’t hold its value particularly well. The fuel economy, CO2 emissions and leasing rates don’t match the class leaders, either, but insurance costs should be comparatively low.
The Astra's cabin has wow-factor, but once you start poking at the plastics, you'll realise that they aren't quite as sumptuous as they first appear. It's still very smart, though, and the slick switchgear helps the general feeling of high quality. Vauxhall's reliability record is very questionable, though, with poor showings in our reliability survey and the JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
All models get stability control to help you avoid getting into a pickle, but in case you do, there's also front, side and curtain airbags to help keep you safe from harm. Active head restraints should help minimise whiplash injuries in a rear-end shunt as well. All the security measures you'd expect are present and correct, too.
The swooshy dashboard design is interesting to look at, and with all the gadgets on show, it looks quite high-tech. However, that does mean there are lots of buttons on the dash, and most of them are small and poorly marked. Visibility isn’t great at either end of the car, but at least there's plenty of adjustment for the seats and steering wheel to help you get comfortable.
The Astra's sleek shape comes from a roofline that plunges towards the back, but don't go thinking that it means any shortage of passenger space. Head- and legroom are generous in both the front and the back, and the wide cabin means decent shoulder space, too. The boot is big, and split-folding rear seats give extra versatility.
There’s a dizzying array of trims available with the Astra. All versions have air-conditioning, electric front windows and remote locking, while top-end Elite trim comes with niceties like climate control and heated leather seats that move electrically. Tech Line trim is the best, it provides alloys, sat-nav, Bluetooth and a DAB radio, but costs far less than trims with less kit. Go figure.
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