The Vauxhall Astra is a decent all-rounder, but has never quite been good enough to challenge the Volkswagen Golf or Skoda Octavia for class honours. Vauxhall is hoping that slotting its new, so-called ‘Whisper Diesel’ engines into its hatch will help make the Astra more competitive.
The new diesel is available in 109bhp or 134bhp guises, and we’ve tried the former in our favourite Tech Line trim. We know from our experience with the Zafira Tourer that this new engine is quieter, more efficient and more powerful than its predecessor, but can it transform the Astra in the same way?
What’s the 2014 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 ecoFLEX Tech Line like to drive?
Previous diesel engines fitted to the Astra were grumbly and intrusive most of the time and downright boomy when you really floored them. This new motor is, therefore, an improvement, if not quite as quiet as its ‘Whisper’ moniker would imply.
The clatter from the diesel engine is well suppressed and is now an easily ignored rumble as you accelerate, although it still grows to a noisy dirge high up in the rev range. Around town, it's actually transmission whine and whoosh from the turbo that you're more aware of, although all of this dies down at high speeds, when road noise and a bit of wind noise become the more prominent accompaniments to your journey.
Performance is impressive. The 1.6 has loads of torque at the low end of its rev range, meaning that there’s always enough oomph to keep you rolling, even in a higher gear than normal. it feels relaxed and flexible at motorway speeds, but A-road overtakes require a little longer than would be ideal – largely thanks to the long gearing.
Like other Astras, the new diesel model controls its body movements reasonably well, while also softening the worst of the bumps around town and settling to a comfortable motorway cruise.
These relaxed driving manners are spoiled somewhat by the steering. It’s quite slow, requiring lots of turns to get the car around a corner. The weighting is inconsistent and the response is vague too, so you end up having to make constant corrections at speed to keep it straight. The Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus still hold the edge over the Vauxhall in this regard, and both feel lighter and more agile.
What’s the 2014 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110 ecoFLEX Tech Line like inside?
The interior of the Astra is unchanged so, like the driving experience, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Space is good, with more than enough head-, shoulder- and legroom for four six-footers to get comfortable. The 351-litre boot is usefully big, but there is a bit of a lip to lift your luggage over.
There’s a decent range of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel so it’s quite easy to find the right driving position. Visibility isn’t so good, especially from the back where the small rear windscreen, curved roofline and thick rear pillars obscure the view.
The dashboard layout is well behind the best in class, though. It’s littered with buttons, some of which are poorly marked, meaning it’s very difficult to find them on the move. The infotainment system is also tricky to use, because the combination of several shortcut buttons and a rotary dial aren’t very user-friendly.
Quality inside the Astra is similar to the Ford Focus - with decent, robust-feeling plastics in most areas near the driver and some well-damped buttons and switches, but it still trails the Volkswagen Golf, and it feels a world away from the smart, minimalist design of the Peugeot 308.
Like all Tech line models in the Vauxhall range the Astra is very well equipped, with 17-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch colour screen, sat-nav, DAB digital radio, air-con, cruise control and Bluetooth. It also has CO2 emissions of just 97g/km, making it a tempting choice for company car buyers.
Should I buy one?
This new engine makes the Astra better than ever. The refinement, supple ride and balance between performance and economy are all impressive, but there are still too many niggles for it to challenge the best cars in this fiercely competitive class.
Though its power is more impressive, we think the 134bhp model isn't worth spending the extra £595, nor the higher tax band it sits in, unless you regularly carry more than two people on board.
It undercuts its rivals from Ford and Volkswagen on price and equipment; an equivalent Focus Zetec Navigator is almost £1000 more expensive. The Astra won’t hold its value as well, however.
This is the most convincing Astra we've yet driven, but the family car class has moved on, and the Astra remains just a little short of the best cars on the market.
What Car? says...
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 110
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £18,910
Torque 221lb ft
0-62mph 11.4 seconds
Top speed 115mph
Fuel economy 76.3mpg