The new Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi is the third car to get the company’s new 134bhp diesel. The same engine has already impressed in the seven-seat Zafira Tourer.
Unlike the Zafira Tourer, though, the Astra gets this new diesel engine in two states of tune. Here we're driving it in 134bhp guise here (with CO2 emissions of 104g/km), but you can also get a 108bhp version that emits just 97g/km.
The two 1.6 CDTi units effectively replace the old 1.7 diesels in the Astra line-up, although the latter will still be available for around six months.
What’s the Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 like to drive?
The 1.6 CDTi 136 we tested offers gains of 6bhp and 15lb ft of torque over the old 1.7, but the most significant improvement is to the engine’s refinement. Vauxhall has dubbed this engine its ‘Whisper Diesel’, and while it’s not quite as hushed as an equivalent Audi A3 at low revs, it never gets too boomy when revved, and it fades nicely into the background at motorway speeds.
In fact, the engine is so much quieter than the old 1.7 that wind and road noise are now what you notice the most. Wind fllutter whips up around the A-pillars and door mirrors at higher speeds, and the 19-inch alloys or our SRi-spec test car created plenty of road noise, too. Our experience of other Astras suggests such road noise is less of an issue with 16- or 17-inch wheels.
Even the biggest alloys don’t spoil the Astra’s comfortable ride, though. It’s smooth and well-controlled over almost most road surfaces, with only severe expansion joints causing any sort of noticeable thunk though the cabin.
The power delivery is impressive, too; the new 1.6 diesel engine revs smoothly and there’s impressive flexibility across the rev range, but it’s a shame that the gearshift remains just as disappointing as in any other Astra; it's too notchy.
The Astra handles securely enough, but its steering disappoints. It’s not as light as it should be when manoeuvring at low speeds, and even though it weights up when you turn into a corner, that weight doesn’t always build up consistently, which can be disconcerting when you're cornering quickly.
What’s the Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 like inside?
The Astra's cabin looks smart and is solidly built – even if some of the plastics don’t feel as classy as they look. Some of the dashboard switchgear is rather cluttered, too; there are lots of buttons that aren't especially well marked.
All-round visibility is only adequate, but at least drivers of all sizes should be able to get comfortable. The seats are supportive (although it's worth adding lumbar support for £170) and the steering wheel has a good range of height and reach adjustment.
Passengers in the back have plenty of space, too. Head- and legroom are generous, and decent shoulder room means three adults won't be too uncomfortable across the rear bench on shorter journeys.
The Astra’s 351-litre boot is only average for the class, but it is at least a usefully square shape with a wide opening. Adding the optional adjustable boot floor (Flex Floor) for £55 seems is a no-brainer: it gives you a flat load bay when the rear seats are folded, and means you can divide up the load area.
This higher-powered version of the 1.6 CDTi is available in Design, Tech Line, Tech Line GT, SRi and Elite trims. Design gets air-conditioning, electric front windows, cruise control, 16-inch alloys and a CD player.
Tech Line is our favourite trim, because it adds sat-nav, a USB socket, Bluetooth, a DAB radio and 17-inch alloys, yet confusingly costs less than some trims with less kit. Tech Line GT adds 18-inch wheels, a bodykit, lowered suspension and sport seats.
SRi costs nearly £2000 more than Tech Line GT but, oddly, comes with less equipment, while the Elite trim model comes with climate control, automatic lights and wipers, electric rear windows and heated leather seats - but pushes the Astra's price up into territory the car really can't compete in.
Should I buy one?
If you want a comfortable family hatch with low running costs, the petrol Ford Focus 1.0 125 Ecoboost is a better bet; it's not only more fun to drive, it's also cheaper to buy and run as a company car, more refined and comes with more kit for your money.
If you do the miles to justify a diesel car, consider a Skoda Octavia 1.6 TDI 105. On paper, it lacks the punch of the Astra’s 1.6 CDTi, but in the real world it’s barely any slower and the Octavia is better to drive, has a more spacious cabin and a much bigger boot.
The Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 isn't without merit, then, but its much improved engine isn’t enough to make it worth recommending over rivals.
What Car? says…
Vauxhall Astra1.6 CDTi 136
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £18,330
Torque 236lb ft
0-60mph 10.3 seconds
Top speed 125mph
Fuel economy 72.4mpg