Small petrol engines are becoming ever more relevant in bigger cars, so this new 1.0-litre, turbocharged three-cylinder petrol Vauxhall Astra is no also-ran to be ignored in the range. With prices undercutting the entry-level diesel model by £1000, and emissions only 4g/km higher at 99g/km, this little petrol model has genuine appeal to both private buyers and company car drivers.
A five-speed automatic gearbox is available for £400, but we tried the standard five-speed manual version.
What’s the 2015 Vauxhall Astra 1.0 Turbo Ecoflex like to drive?
The prospect of a tiny engine like this in a family hatchback fills many people with scepticism over whether the performance will be acceptable, but you needn’t worry. The engine is eager to rev, and it endows the Astra with more than enough pace to execute fast junction exits or merge with traffic, and it even feels quite entertaining on a spirited back road jaunt. You do need to work it fairly hard to get the best acceleration from it, but there’s also enough of a broad spread of torque to deliver perfectly decent pace.
The downside to this engine is that it doesn't get the six-speed gearbox that's fitted to the diesels and more powerful petrols. This five speed 'box isn't bad; the shift is a bit vague but is light and easy to use, and revs are still fairly low at motorway speeds. It’s just a shame that you can sometimes feel as if neither third nor fourth are quite right in the ebb and flow of faster urban roads.
As we’ve already commented on in our drive of the diesel Astra, the handling is very good. If anything, the lighter engine means that this 1.0-litre car handles and rides a fraction better than the diesels. By any standards, the Astra 1.0 feels light-footed, maintaining a confident stance even through faster corners with awkward cambers, despite the overly light steering.
Our test car came on 17in alloys which don’t stop you from enjoying a comfortable ride. Speed bumps and the like are no problem at all, while even sharper-edged intrusions are generally softened quite well. There is a bit of fidgeting over very scruffy town roads, and the odd heavy thunk over expansion joints, but the Astra is generally composed and relaxing.
Refinement is very good, too. The light burble from the exhaust escalates to a slightly harsh yell if you work the engine hard, but it’s quiet most of the time, while wind noise is well suppressed, leaving distant tyre noise as the most noticeable background disturbance in the cabin. There is a slight vibration through the pedals and steering wheel at low speeds, or particularly when the engine restarts, but it’s easy to ignore.
What’s the 2015 Vauxhall Astra 1.0 Ecoflex like inside?
All versions but the base Design trim (which gets a 7.0in colour touchscreen) have a large 8.0in colour touchscreen. It's a great focal point, and is generally a logical and quick-responding interface for your main functions. The materials do feel a little cheap in some areas, but quality isn't far behind rivals such as the Skoda Octavia and VW Golf, and a smattering of gloss or metal-effect inserts keeps things from feeling drab.
The driving position is good, although it’s a shame that lower-spec cars don’t get adjustable lumbar support (it’s a £250 option, albeit one that includes adjustable thigh support) and the seat feels a little flat. Otherwise, the breadth of adjustability and space on offer is good enough that even very tall drivers will be able to get comfortable.
Room in the back is just as good, and leg room is on a par with the bigger Skoda Octavia, so four tall adults will be better off in an Astra than in most rivals. The boot is less ideal, having a fairly high load lip and a big drop down to the boot floor, and the seats leave a step in the loadbay when folded, too. Even so, the load area is conveniently square in shape and is big enough to fulfil the needs of most families.
Forward visibility is good, although rear visibility and the view through the rear is slightly less ideal. You’ll need to be aware of a bit of a blind spot, and it’s a shame that reversing sensors are available only as part of a £450 pack that includes front parking sensors (or for £595 you can have the sensors, blind-spot monitoring and an automatic parking system as a bundle).
Company car drivers will be best off going for Tech Line trim which gets sat-nav, a front armrest and six speakers, on top of the cruise control, air-con, DAB, Bluetooth, USB and Apple Carplay and Android Auto (which allows full smart phone integration).
Private buyers are likely to be more tempted by SRi or SRi Nav, which get auto wipers, Onstar connectivity (immediate call centre support at the push of a button plus various other handy features), lane-departure warning and traffic sign recognition. More importantly, SRi trim will likely be available with lower monthly PCP finance repayments than Tech Line, which is often a critical factor for private buyers.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. The money you’re saving at purchase over other Astra models is substantial, and the ownership experience it offers is just as good in most ways. It’s quiet and comfortable, and doesn’t feel out of its depth at a fast pace.
However, the downside is the question mark over the real-world fuel economy, which is likely to be substantially worse than that of the 1.6 diesels. Resale values on the 1.0 Ecoflex could be a bit harder to swallow than those of the bigger-engined Astras, too. But if you can live with those caveats, this could well be the best Astra for you.
What Car? says...
Vauxhall Astra 1.0 Turbo ecoFLEX
Engine size 1.0-litre petrol turbo
Price from £15,995
Torque 125lb ft
0-62mph 10.5 seconds
Top speed 124mph
Fuel economy 65.7mpg