What Car? says...
The Vauxhall Astra has long been one of the go-to hatchbacks for value-for-money motoring in the family car class – and that's made it a big seller over the four decades it's been around.
Will this new eighth-generation Astra continue that success? Well, Vauxhall will certainly be hoping so, and has given it sharper looks, electrified engine options and up-to-date tech to help it compete with rivals.
The engine range kicks off with a selection of petrol and diesel engines, ranging from 108bhp to 222bhp for the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) petrol. There's a Vauxhall Astra Electric too, as part of Vauxhall’s push to be 100% electric by 2025.
Unlike previous generations of the model, there’s no VXR version, but there is a sportier PHEV trim named GSe – which is also the name of Vauxhall’s new performance and efficiency sub-brand.
To simplify the range, Vauxhall now offers four trim levels: Design, GS, Ultimate and GSe. Previous generations offered a generous amount of kit and a wide range of engines for a competitive price, but the Astra didn’t really shine in any one area. So does this model have what it takes to mix it with the very best family cars?
Well, we've driven it, and over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you how we rate the Vauxhall Astra for performance, comfort, practicality and safety. We'll also compare it with the rival family cars you might be considering, including the Ford Focus, the Mazda 3, the Seat Leon, the VW Golf and the closely-related Peugeot 308.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
There are four engine options for the Vauxhall Astra: two petrols, one diesel and two petrol PHEVs. We’ve tried the 1.2-litre 130, which is the more powerful of the two petrols. There’s plenty of grunt from low revs, making it effortless to drive around town, but it soon runs out of puff when overtaking or sprinting down a motorway slip road. The 130 is available with a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic but – be warned –the auto is frustratingly slow to downshift. It blunts performance, bringing a 0-60mph time of 9.5sec, which was more than a second slower than the Seat Leon 1.5 TSI Evo 150 in our tests. There is an entry-level 110 petrol with 108bhp, but it’s not as effortless to drive and there’s no gain in fuel savings to be had.
The Plug-in Hybrid-e 180 combines a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric motor to deliver 178bhp and a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec. Its performance is more than brisk enough for most, but if you want more power, you'll want the GSe, which has 222bhp and cuts the 0-62mph to 7.5sec. The PHEVs have an official electric-only range of around 42 miles, which is competitive with the Leon e-Hybrid's, and can do motorways speeds on electricity alone.
The 1.5-litre diesel gets 129bhp, and is plenty for most buyers. It’s not quite as lively as the petrols, but is muscular at low revs and makes for effortless progress. It's a good option for towing or driving with a car full of passengers.
Suspension and ride comfort
If you value comfort more than fun on a country road, the Astra is a good fit. It rides well over most road surfaces and the suspension soaking up bumps well. It’s forgiving enough at low speeds to cushion you over speed bumps, yet there’s enough body control to prevent it wallowing about on undulating roads.
The Skoda Octavia is more comfortable, isolating you against sharper ripples on the road, but the Astra strikes a good balance between comfort and composure, and feels calmer than the Leon and the Honda Civic.
Lower trim levels, which have smaller wheels and tyres that help to absorb bumps, have the plushest ride you’ll get in an Astra. We suspect the larger wheels Vauxhall fits to Ultimate models won’t help with smoothness. The PHEV models are heavier with a firmer ride and will occasionally thump over sharper imperfections on battered urban roads, but we’d stop short of calling them uncomfortable.
The Astra isn’t the best family car in terms of agility, but it handles tidily enough when cornering. The suspension does a fair job of keeping body lean in check while grip levels remain strong, so the car feels composed and safe.
The GSe version comes with lowered suspension, stiffer springs and Koni dampers, which help to improve handling. As a result, it has better body control and is actually quite fun and engaging to drive on a twisty road. It's the version to go for if you want the sportiest Astra, but the Leon is better still.
Sadly, the Astra is held back by its numb steering, which feels too light and is too slow to respond, so it lacks the immediacy and involvement of the Focus and the Leon. As a result, you lose a lot of your connection with the front wheels.
Noise and vibration
The quietest Astras are the PHEVs, and their 1.6-litre petrol engine remains quiet even when worked hard. The 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol isn't the quietest engine in the class when worked hard, but it's muted enough around town and on a cruise. In comparison, the 1.5-litre four-cylinder units in the Leon and the Octavia emit a constant drone. The Astra diesel isn’t as hushed as the equivalent Peugeot 308 at low speeds, with a little bit of clatter, but that fades into the background at a cruise.
Wind and road noise are generally well-contained in the Astra. There's some pulsing through the steering wheel when cruising at higher speeds, and vibrations felt through the gear lever on manual versions, but you’re otherwise well isolated from the outside world. Ultimate trim gets double-glazed front windows, which help too.
On automatic versions, the gearbox changes are occasionally jerky, but the 1.2 petrol's stop-start system and grabby brakes make it almost impossible to drive smoothly in slow traffic. The diesel (which is only available with an automatic gearbox) suffers from that too, but much less.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
Finding a comfortable seating position in the Vauxhall Astra should only take a moment, with plenty of adjustment available from the seat and steering wheel. The pedals aren’t too close together, but some drivers will find that the steering wheel blocks their view of the top of the instrument panel if it’s set low. The seats in GS and Ultimate models are particularly comfy, with firm bolstering and plenty of support for cornering.
If the dashboard layout in the Peugeot 308 doesn't work for you, you might find the Astra better. The standard 10in digital instrument panel is viewed through the steering wheel (rather than over it in the 308), and you get a head-up display on Ultimate and GSe models to help keep your eyes on the road.
The graphics on the screens are sharp and the font is clear enough to read at a glance. In the PHEV, the text of the speedometer readout turns blue when you're running on electric power. It’s a very simple visual indicator that saves you looking at a separate dial or dashboard light.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
While the Astra is generally pretty easy to see out of, it does have some issues. For starters, the front windscreen pillars are quite narrow but are angled in such a way that they can get in the way when you’re trying to see out at junctions.
When you look over your shoulder, you’re greeted by thick rear pillars that restrict your view (the Mazda 3 suffers from this too). Luckily, to help you with parking, all versions come with front and rear parking sensors, while GS, Ultimate and GSe trim add a 360-degree camera.
Seeing at night shouldn’t be an issue thanks to bright standard-fit LED headlights on all trim levels. On Ultimate and GSe trims, you get matrix LEDs that allow you to keep full beam on at all times without blinding other road users.
Sat nav and infotainment
All versions of the Astra come with a 10in infotainment touchscreen. Its responses could be quicker, and while the home screen uses a simple grid layout to help you find the function you want quickly, the fonts used by the sub menus are tiny. All versions get wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, but it’s best to stick with the standard-fit built-in sat-nav if you want to see instructions on the driver display.
The voice control programme is designed to recognise everyday phrases. We tried ‘Hey Vauxhall, it’s too warm in here’ and the system turned down the climate control by one degree.
If you prefer using physical buttons, you'll be pleased to find a bank of them for the climate control. The set-up doesn't look as classy as the touchscreen panel in the Peugeot 308, but it is easier to use. The Drive Mode toggle switch on the centre console means you don’t have to dig through a touchscreen menu to change the setting like you do in the Seat Leon.
Inside the Astra, it doesn’t take long to notice how dark everything is. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics within easy reach and a lot of them are finished in a variety of textures, but they’re almost hidden in various shades of black.
You do get some coloured trim finishers on the doors and dash (they're red on GS and silver on Ultimate), but they don't really lift the sombre mood.
While it all feels solid enough, some of the controls, such as the indicator stalks and the slide adjustments for the driver’s side air vent, don’t have quite the build precision found in the Leon or the VW Golf.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Even if you're over six feet tall, you won’t find yourself having to squeeze into the front of the Vauxhall Astra, thanks to the generous amount of head and legroom. You won’t be bashing your elbows with your passenger or the doors either.
There’s plenty of storage space on the centre console, with two cupholders and a large cubby that has a tray big enough for your phone. On Ultimate and GSe trim models, you also get a wireless phone-charging tray. If you press a button on the centre air vent, a 'secret' sunglasses holder hinges down from below it.
Room in the rear of the Astra isn’t as generous as in some rivals, with less leg room and space for feet under the front seats than in the Ford Focus and the Seat Leon.
What’s more, even without the Ultimate trim’s standard-fit panoramic roof, you’ll find that head room is a little tight if you're more than six feet tall (again, the Focus and Leon are more generous). The relatively small door openings restrict access, whether you’re an adult trying to get in or simply leaning in to secure a child in its car seat.
You get storage nets on the backs of the front seats, and the fold-down centre armrest fitted to GS models and above has built-in cupholders and a tray for pens.
Seat folding and flexibility
The Astra’s rear seats fold in a 60/40 arrangement. That's nothing special in the family car class, but at least the rear fold-down armrest on GS trim and above also acts as a load-through hatch for skis or other long, narrow objects.
If you want a more flexible 40/20/40 folding arrangement and useful handles in the boot so you can drop the seats quickly and easily, have a look at the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer (the estate car variant).
The Astra hatchback has a 422-litre boot that's a useful square shape and has a low lip to lift heavy items over. That volume beats most of the rivals, including the Toyota Corolla and the VW Golf. The PHEV versions lose some boot space, leaving you with 352 litres.
What does that mean in the real world? Well, we managed to fit five carry-on suitcases in the boot of the Astra – matching the number swallowed by the Golf – so it's more than big enough for a week's worth of shopping, a couple of buggies or luggage for a family holiday. Of course, if you plan to fill the boot often, the Sports Tourer is even more practical.
Non-PHEV Astras in GS trim and above come equipped with an adjustable boot floor. That's handy if you need to store and protect items, and can eradicate the otherwise big drop down from the loading lip to the floor of the load bay.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
As a cash buy, the cheapest Vauxhall Astra undercuts the Peugeot 308 and the VW Golf but costs slightly more than the Seat Leon and the Skoda Octavia. The Design, GS and Ultimate trims match the cost of similarly specced rivals quite closely, but the GSe version is much pricier, costing more than the Skoda Octavia vRS.
When it comes to running costs, all the Astra petrol engines have an official fuel economy figure of more than 50mpg. The diesel will achieve even more, with lower CO2 output, but its higher list price means you'll need to do a lot of miles for it to make financial sense.
Company car drivers are likely to be attracted to the PHEVs for their lower benefit-in-kind tax rates. Their list prices are considerably more than for other versions, but if you charge them up regularly, you should be able to make good fuel savings.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level Astra trim – Design – comes with plenty of equipment, including 16in alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control, LED headlights, automatic windscreen wipers, electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors, and keyless start, plus infotainment and parking assist tech.
Mid-range GS, which is expected to be the most popular trim, is the one we’d recommend. It has sportier styling, and adds adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, heated front seats and steering wheel, ambient interior lighting and larger (17in) alloy wheels.
Ultimate will be worth a look if you favour tech over sportiness. It adds a panoramic roof, eight stereo speakers rather than six, wireless phone-charging, a heated windscreen, a head-up display and matrix LED headlights. GSe gets you the same equipment as Ultimate but adds a more powerful engine, upgraded suspension and some styling tweaks.
The Astra is too new to have featured in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey but Vauxhall finished joint 23rd (with Mercedes) out of 32 car makers included.
The Astra – like all Vauxhalls – comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. That's in keeping with cover from most other manufacturers, but can’t beat Hyundai's five-year warranty or Kia's seven-year cover.
Safety and security
When Euro NCAP tested the Astra for safety in 2022, it awarded it a slightly disappointing four out of five stars. The Golf, with its five-star rating, provided better chest protection for the front passenger in a frontal impact.
At least there’s plenty of safety equipment fitted as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assist and speed-limit sign recognition.
You’ll need to opt for Ultimate trim or above if you want lane-change assistance and rear cross-traffic alert, though.
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You can have the Astra in four trims: Design, GS, Ultimate and GSe. Top-spec GSe comes from the new Vauxhall performance and efficiency sub-brand, and has a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) engine plus loads of standard kit.
Our favourite trim for the Astra is mid-spec GS because of its balance of equipment levels and price. It doesn’t cost much more than the entry-level version, but adds luxuries including a heated steering wheel and front seats, 17in alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control.
Our favourite Astra engine is the 1.2-litre 130 petrol. The main reason is that the added power over the entry-level petrol engine makes it more versatile, and as a result, it’s easier to get up to motorway speeds quickly and happier to oblige when you need a sudden burst of power.
|RRP price range||£26,960 - £43,260|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||5|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, electric, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||217 - 52.3|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£75 / £1,984|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£151 / £3,968|