One in four of us has either owned an Astra or run one as a company car. That, at least, is the astonishing claim made by Vauxhall as it puts the finishing touches to the new seventh-generation version of its VW Golf rival.
The all-new Astra bucks the trend of cars in this fiercely competitive class by being slightly smaller than the model it replaces. It’s built from lighter materials, too, so in total it weighs around 10% less.
A range of new engines gives efficiency a further boost. A 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol – which recently had its debut in the smaller Corsa – will be the cheapest option, but there’s also a new four-cylinder 1.4-litre petrol with 143bhp.
Vauxhall’s Whisper diesel engines are carried over from the outgoing Astra but promise even lower CO2 emissions; the cleanest version is likely to emit less than 90g/km, although Vauxhall has yet to confirm this.
What’s the 2015 Vauxhall Astra like to drive?
A reduction in weight does wonders for fuel economy and CO2 emissions but it should also make the new Astra better to drive by improving agility and giving the suspension less work to do over bumps.
Thankfully, this theory stands up in the real word because, compared with the outgoing model Vauxhall brought along for comparison, the new Astra feels incredibly light on its toes. It turns in eagerly and stays neatly balanced through corners, where the old car felt heavy and fairly reluctant to change direction.
The steering is quick and precise, which only adds to the Astra’s new-found sense of agility. There isn’t quite as much feedback as you get from steering a VW Golf, but Vauxhall says there’s still work to be done in this area; particularly with the Sport setting, which makes the steering wheel keener to self centre but not in a particularly natural way.
Despite the new Astra’s slightly sporty character, ride comfort is remarkably good. The suspension is firmer than in the old car, which helped prevent undesirable body bounce along the undulating B-roads that made up most of our test route. However, this hasn’t come at the expense of low-speed comfort, where effective damping takes the sting out of potholes and expansion joints.
Our prototype was powered by the new 144bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine. Compared with the old 138bhp 1.4 it replaces, it’s impressively quiet and you feel far less engine vibration coursing up through the steering wheel and pedals. In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s at least as refined as the 148bhp 1.4 TSI engine in the rival VW Golf.
What’s the 2015 Vauxhall Astra like inside?
The interior of our prototype was draped in black cloth to hide it from prying paparazzi, so we can’t tell you much about the layout of the dashboard or the quality of the materials.
However, what we can tell you is that the driving position is tough to fault – something that’s crucial to the sort of high-mileage fleet drivers that make up a large chunk of the Astra’s customer base. The steering wheel has a good range of adjustment and the pedals line up neatly with the driver’s seat.
The new Astra might be slightly smaller than its predecessor, but thanks to clever packaging there’s actually slightly more space in the back. Four six-footers won’t feel at all squeezed, and even taller rear passengers won’t have to cower to keep their head from hitting the ceiling.
We weren’t given access to the boot, but Vauxhall says the amount of space inside is unchanged over the outgoing model if you want a spare wheel. That means there’s slightly more luggage room than in a Ford Focus, but less than you get in a VW Golf.
However, opting for tyre repair foam instead of a spare brings a slightly deeper load area and a bit more room for baggage.
Should I buy one?
The new Astra has the makings of a very fine family car. Dynamically, it shows enough promise to worry the class leaders, and the 1.4 petrol we tried is punchy, smooth and – according to Vauxhall, at least – one of the most efficient engines of its type.
That’s only half of the battle, though, because just as crucial to the new Astra’s success is how well it stacks up financially – particularly for company car drivers. Before we can tell you if Vauxhall has been successful here we’ll need to know not only the price of the new Astra, but also its CO2 emissions, fuel economy and how much kit comes as standard.
Assuming it’s at least competitive on all these fronts, Vauxhall’s rivals should indeed be worried.