New Vauxhall Astra driven

* Clever suspension * Quiet on the motorway * There's fun to be had...

09 July 2009
New Vauxhall Astra driven

The all-new Vauxhall Astra will reach UK showrooms by December, but we've managed to get behind the wheel of a pre-production model for an early drive.

Let's start with what's underneath: as well as being longer and wider than the outgoing model, the new Astra's body is also considerably stiffer.

There's also a broader wheel track and a clever new suspension set-up known as a Watts linkage. It's essentially a pair of rods attached to ball joints that are bolted to the body just ahead of the rear wheels. Vauxhall claims that this set-up helps resist sideways cornering forces and, in the process, improves comfort and handling, while also reducing noise, vibration and harshness.

Quiet and nimble

The Astra is certainly extremely quiet on the motorway and pretty tidy when the roads turn twisty. With plenty of grip and very little body roll, theres decent fun to be had when pushing hard down swift B-roads.

It's just a shame that the steering is such a letdown. Being light is a virtue around town, but the amount of slack around the straight-ahead position and a strong self-centring action means you spend too much time making adjustments.

Wide range of engines

With the exception of an all-new 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine and the inclusion of Vauxhal's latest 2.0-litre diesel engines, the new Astra's powerplants should be similar to the outgoing car's.

Our test car had a 1.6-litre turbo petrol and, although it's not the quietest of engines, it's brisk away from the mark.

Plenty of mid-range pull means it's also pretty flexible. Even though sixth gear is extremely high (to reduce revs and fuel consumption), there's still plenty of grunt, so theres no reason to change down a gear when you want to accelerate on the motorway.

Our verdict

Good to drive, although the steering is a letdown

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 TurboPrice from: £14,500
On sale: December
You'll like: Nimble; quiet on the motorway
You won't: Steering is a disappointment