Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
So far, we’ve only tried two of the Astra’s six engines: the 120bhp 1.5-litre diesel and 143bhp 1.2-litre petrol.
The former delivers adequate acceleration, although the comparable 1.6 TDI Skoda Scala feels stronger. There is a noticeable pause, too, between you squeezing your right foot and the Astra surging forward, especially at low revs, and it's quite easy to stall in stop-start traffic. The optional nine-speed automatic gearbox that's available with this engine only compounds this lethargy, although not quite to the point where the Astra feels frustratingly sluggish.
Meanwhile, the 1.2-litre petrol engine responds more urgently when you ask for a burst of acceleration. It'll get you up to speed a lot quicker than the diesel; 0-62mph takes 8.8sec. In fact, its outright performance isn’t far behind that of the Volkswagen Golf 1.5 TSI Evo 150.
Suspension and ride comfort
While you’d never call the Astra uncomfortable, it doesn’t isolate you from road imperfections as effectively as its Volkswagen Golf and Skoda Scala rivals. Its suspension is a bit firmer, too, so you notice yourself being jostled around more than you would in those cars, particularly at low speeds.
As with any car, ride smoothness isn’t helped by increasing the size of the wheels – something to remember when selecting a trim level and optional extras. Go no bigger than 17in for comfort to remain acceptable.
The Astra feels reasonably nimble in isolation, but it can't match the Ford Focus for driver involvement. Not only does the Focus lean over less noticeably in bends, but it also has much more front end bite and feels far more agile. Even the more comfortable Scala can outhandle the Astra.
Unfortunately, the Astra is let down by steering that's too light to give a real sense of connection with the front wheels, although this lightness is useful when parking. All things considered, though, the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf are more fun to drive.
Noise and vibration
The three-cylinder, 120bhp 1.5-litre diesel engine chunters noticeably when you fire it up, and you'll feel a few vibrations filtering up through the steering wheel and clutch pedal. Once on the move, though, it soon fades into the background and becomes noticeably smoother, if not as quiet as the four-cylinder engines of rivals.
Unsurprisingly, the 143bhp 1.2-litre petrol is more refined, although rivals such as the Focus and Golf have even smoother, quieter petrol engines. In other respects, the Astra is reasonable for wind and road noise, but the Focus is far quieter on the motorway.
The Astra’s standard six-speed manual gearbox is light and easy to use. Just don’t expect a satisfying, snickety shift like that offered by the Focus or Honda Civic.