The Vauxhall Astra is one of those cars that seems to have always been around.
Like the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf, it’s a name that has been around for more than 40 years as a mainstay of the family hatchback segment.
However, in recent years it seems to have fallen into the shadow of the Golf, as well as the Ford Focus, Seat Leon, Mazda3 and even Kia Ceed as those models modernised and moved on while the Astra was left floundering.
That was partly because the Astra was in the middle of its lifecycle when Vauxhall changed hands from GM to PSA (now Stellantis). It meant that other Vauxhall models - Corsa, Grandland, Mokka - have benefitted from the shared platforms and technology of its parent group first.
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But now it’s the Astra’s turn. So while the last facelift brought the mildest of adjustments and some new GM engines, this eight-generation is all new from the ground up, something that’s apparent from the moment you look at it.
Immediately, the new car is a breath of fresh air compared with the bland blobby seventh generation. It’s the latest model to get Vauxhall’s Vizor front end with its broad gloss black panel and slim LED headlights sitting beneath a wide, flat bonnet. It creates a bold and instantly recognisable “face” for the car. Elsewhere, the rest of the exterior design is clean, simple and modern. There are a couple of sharp creases along the bottom of the doors and top of the arches and the C-pillar is angled forward to create a faux-coupe profile but otherwise it is a fairly conventional five-door design with more than a hint of VW Golf about the rear end.
For now, the Astra is only available as a five-door hatch but a Sports Tourer estate with a 608-litre boot will join the line-up in the summer.
In line with the relatively unfussy exterior styling, the interior has undergone a “visual detox” with emphasis on simplifying and tidying the layout.
That means Vauxhall has removed unnecessary or distracting elements while, thankfully, retaining physical controls for essential functions.
It’s a successful approach, the dashboard and centre console are neat and uncluttered and things like heater controls and menu shortcuts still have well-placed easy to use buttons. Most other functions are controlled via the customisable 10-inch touchscreen, which is a step up in terms of functionality and ease of use. That screen bleeds into the 10-inch digital instrument display as part of the standard fit Pure Panel that first appeared in last year’s Mokka. Higher-spec cars come with the Pure Panel Pro, which is fully glazed and features a metallic surround for a more premium appearance.
Other elements are more of a mixed bag. Some materials, like the dash top and rubber roller lids on the storage have a high-quality look and feel but elsewhere the Astra is comparable to the middling quality of the Ford Focus and lags behind rivals like the Golf, Leon or Mazda3, with a lot of dark, cheap looking plastics.
The new car is wider but only fractionally longer than the old model, meaning passenger legroom is adequate rather than generous but the extra width makes it feel more spacious. Choose a model with a panoramic sunroof and that feeling is enhanced. Most versions can also be specified with seats approved by the German Campaign for Healthier Backs (AGR), which are designed to offer better support and comfort on longer journeys.
Vauxhall aims to be an all-electric brand by 2028 and this new car is the first Astra to be electrified. 2023 will see the introduction of an all-electric model but from launch there is the option of a plug-in hybrid setup.
This uses a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine in partnership with an 80kW motor and 12.4kWh battery. Initial models offer 178bhp and an official WLTP all-electric range of 43 miles, which Vauxhall says should translate to 37 miles in real world driving. Later this year a 222bhp variant will join the line-up, offering the same EV range.
LIke many PHEVs, the Astra works best when you’re ambling along. It can accelerate reasonably rapidly but the transition from EV to petrol gets jerky and a little hesitant under heavy throttle. A slightly lighter right foot allows for a smoother shift between modes and makes the most of the responsive EV function. Official economy is a ridiculous 256mpg but on one 50-mile run along some fairly mountainous roads, I averaged an impressive 120mpg.
Beside the PHEV, a 1.2 petrol with 108 or 128bhp is joined by a 128bhp 1.5-litre diesel promising 64mpg. All models come with a six-speed manual as standard but an eight-speed auto is an option on the 128bhp petrol and the diesel.
The more powerful petrol is expected to be the best seller. It’s the same engine that does service in a huge number of Stellantis cars and, as with most of them, is a decent choice. Power is adequate rather than generous but it feels lively at lower speeds and pretty flexible once you’re in higher gears.
The Astra has always lagged behind its key rival the Focus when it comes to being fun to drive and this new model is no different. Body control and grip are good and the steering is direct and accurate but utterly lacking in feel. If you want driver engagement look to the Focus or Mazda3.
However, the Astra has those and pretty much every other rival beaten for ride comfort and refinement. Every version has a slightly different suspension set up but all offer the kind of composure over lumps and bumps that you normally associate with Citroen. Noise from outside is impressively suppressed, even at motorway speeds and only the occasional engine noise intrudes into a very peaceful cabin.
As with any new model, the Astra squeezes in some shiny new technology to tempt customers away from rivals, including the latest version of Vauhall’s excellent adaptive IntelliLux LED pixel headlights. An updated driver assistance suite brings the usual collision mitigation and lane assistance but also adds semi-autonomous lane changing. Connectivity has been stepped up with a new MyVauxhall mobile app and more infotainment services, while wireless phone mirroring is standard across the range.
Price and specification
The new Astra is the first Vauxhall model to adopt a new range structure aimed at simplifying buying options. There are just three trim lines - Design, GS Line and Ultimate - and two tech packages focused on driver assistance or comfort and connectivity, plus a simplified price progression between drivetrains.
The range starts at £23,275 for a Design, which is the only trim line to get the 108bhp petrol.
All models feature alloy wheels, Pure Panel displays, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, auto-dipping LED lights, cruise control, basic collision detection and lane assist.
GS Line is expected to be the best seller and starts at £26,700 for the 128bhp petrol, rising to £32,200 for the PHEV version.
Extras over the Design include 17-inch alloys, a black Vizor grille surround and roof, dual-zone climate, adaptive cruise control, heated seats and steering wheel and the AGR approved driver’s seat. Traffic sign recognition and high-speed collision alert is also fitted.
Range-topping Ultimate models start at £29,185 for the 128bhp petrol and reach £35,315 for the hybrid. Among key upgrades over GS Line are the full Matrix headlights, semi-autonomous lane changing and lane positioning, 360 degree parking camera and head-up display. A panoramic sunroof, heated windscreen, AGR passenger seat and wireless phone charging are also standard.
The latest generation of Astra is a bit of a jack of all trades. Its ride comfort and refinement are among the best in class, and the new design is bold but not over the top. However, it still occupies a middle ground elsewhere, there are better cars to drive, cars with nicer interiors and cars with better engines. It’s certainly more of a contender than the car that came before but in a packed field it still blends in rather than standing out.
Vauxhall Astra GS Line
Price: £26,700; Engine: 1.2-litre, three-cylinder, turbo, petrol; Power: 128bhp; Torque: 170lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed:130mph; 0-62mph: 9.7 seconds; Economy: 51.3mpg; CO2 emissions: 124g/km