Smaller, lighter, quieter, more spacious and better equipped; the on-paper credentials of the all-new Vauxhall Astra suggest that it could really bother the VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and Ford Focus that make up its core rivals.
Engine options include 1.0-litre, 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre turbocharged petrols (a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre petrol joins the range later this year), but the 1.6-litre diesels in 109bhp and 134bhp will be the biggest sellers.
Trim levels start at Design, and range up through Tech Line, Energy, SRi and Elite, and with entry-level cars getting a 7.0in colour touchscreen, air-con, cruise control, automatic lights and a healthy amount of safety and connectivity functions, it's safe to say that no new Astra is poorly equipped.
We're testing the 1.6 CDTi 136 model on UK roads, to find out if it's really worth your money in a class brimming with talented competition.
What's the 2015 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 like to drive?
The engine is a real strong point. Introduced by Vauxhall in the last couple of years, in this installation it’s one of the best four-cylinder diesels you'll find in a family hatchback. It pulls keenly from low revs, without too much of a surge in acceleration as the turbo kicks in, and delivers satisfying pace and response across a broad range of revs. It's more than capable of keeping up with fast-moving traffic, or it can potter around at low revs without any need for overly frequent changes through the six-speed gearbox.
You can tell that Vauxhall wasn’t kidding about the weight saving in the Astra, too. Compared to the old Astra, and compared to some of the current car's competition, this new model handles with deft composure, keeping body roll to a minimum and remaining balanced and unflustered even through fast direction changes. It’s a shame the steering on low-end models is a bit light, and doesn’t weight up quite fast enough. The Sport button (which brings heavier steering and a sharper throttle response) that you get on SRi models goes some way to solving this, and the lighter steering does work well for muddling through awkward roads and car parks.
Ride comfort is a little firm on 17in wheels. It shimmies and thumps a bit over very broken patches, but while you’re aware of what’s going on at the road surface, the ride never feels harsh or overly choppy.
Refinement is adequate, too, particularly in terms of the well-suppressed wind noise, while tyre noise is kept to a distant background rush. There’s a bit of the traditional diesel din when you accelerate, but nothing too bothersome and the noise dies down at a steady cruise.
What’s the 2015 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 like inside?
We’ve driven Tech Line and SRi trim cars, both of which get the larger 8.0in colour touchscreen, which is a great focal point for the dash, and is generally a logical and quick-responding interface for your main functions. The materials do feel a little cheap in some areas, but it’s not far behind rivals like the Skoda Octavia and VW Golf for perceived quality, 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 a little less ideal, having a fairly high load lip and a big drop down to the boot floor, but the load area is a conveniently square shape and it’s big enough to fulfil the needs of most family motorists.
Forwards visibility is good, although rear visibility and the view to the rear three-quarters is slightly less ideal – you’ll need to be aware of a bit of a blind spot, and it’s a shame that parking sensors are only available with both front and rear sensors as a £450 option on all trims (or for £595 you can have the sensors, blind-spot monitoring and an automatic parking system as a bundle).
Company car driver will be best off going for Tech Line trim, which gets sat-nav, air-con, a front armrest and six speakers, on top of the 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, which gets the same generous equipment, and adds auto wipers, OnStar connectivity for wireless control of locking and various other functions, plus immediate call centre support at the push of a button, lane-departure warning and traffic sign recognition. More importantly, SRi will be available with more tempting PCP finance deals than Tech Line, which will appeal to private buyers.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. The new Astra is one of the best cars in its class, particularly for company car users when bought in keenly priced Tech Line trim. Retail buyers might want to be a little careful in making sure they’re getting the best value, since the higher trims aren't quite so keenly priced, but by any standards the Astra is a good bet. Sprightly and good to drive, spacious inside, and in this spec it’s economical (we got 55mpg in our real-world economy tests).
A Ford Focus still goes round corners with more gusto, and a Skoda Octavia is bigger and has a more upmarket interior, but as an overall proposition the new Vauxhall Astra is a really compelling option.
What Car? says...
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 Design
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
Price from £18,180
Torque 236lb ft
0-62mph 9.0 seconds
Top speed 127mph
Fuel economy 76.3mpg