The Vauxhall Astra is no longer the dull, rep-friendly company car it once was. The current car is just as stylish as a Ford Focus and goes some way to challenge the VW Golf in terms of build quality and interior finish. There's a choice of three and five-door hatchbacks and a more practical estate, with a two-door Cascada convertible taking the place of the old Astra TwinTop. All models feel comfortable and secure on the road and if you plump for one of the eco-diesels, you’ll manage impressive mpg, too. Used values are weak, but dealers tend to offer big discounts on both new and pre-owned cars, so try to avoid paying list price on all but the flagship VXR hot-hatchback versions. All-in, the Astra is a practical, durable and dependable, well-rounded family car.
The Vauxhall Astra has come on leaps and bounds since its 2009 overhaul. It continues to trail the sporty Ford Focus for outright driver enjoyment, but thanks to well-weighted steering and plenty of grip, the new model is much better than its predecessor. Entry-level 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol engines tend to struggle with the car's bulk, but the turbocharged units fare much better both in and out of town. The diesel cars are strong and pack plenty of power, though even the range topping 1.7 CDTi engine can feel noisy at higher speeds. Providing you avoid the optional sports suspension on SRi models, the ride is firm but not uncomfortable, meaning the Astra soaks up lumps and bumps while feeling stable and surefooted. The optional Flexride system improves this further to provide added composure over rougher roads, but it is expensive so try the standard setup before you tick this box.
The current Vauxhall Astra could be criticised for valuing style over substance. The new car looks great, but the sloping roofline eats into rear headroom, leaving back-seat passengers feeling slightly claustrophobic. The small rear windows don’t do a lot to help this, but opt for the more practical estate version and the large areas of glass make the Vauxhall feel much bigger than its hatchback counterpart. Up front, the dash design is rather fussy, with a multitude of buttons that at first glance can be quite fiddly. However, over long distances little can beat the Astra in terms of driver and front-passenger comfort, with a soft yet controlled suspension setup that makes light work of Britain's rutted roads. Opt for one of the turbocharged petrol engines and you’ll notice how hushed the Astra is at speed, too.
The current Vauxhall Astra is better than the model it replaces in near enough every area. Not only is it more comfortable and better to drive, but it should prove more reliable, too. You only need to look at the results for the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey for proof of this, with the previous generation car languishing in a lowly 93rd place. In contrast, the higher quality new model finished an impressive 39th thanks to improved build quality and a wide range of economical engines. Vauxhall's comprehensive lifetime warranty should help, too, giving the car's first owner total peace of mind for 100,000 miles. Safety is another plus point, with every car getting a host of airbags and a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.
Thanks to decent dimensions, the five-door Vauxhall Astra offers a reasonable 351-litre boot – more than a Ford Focus but less than a VW Golf. However, the more stylish three-door Astra GTC actually has a bigger boot, and at 380 litres is marginally larger than the VW. That said, the sloping roofline and lack of rear doors means it does sacrifice some back-seat practicality, while taller passengers will struggle on longer journeys. With the rear-bench folded, the five-door car takes the crown, with a larger and more useable load area expanding to a healthy 1,216 litres. Aside from the fussy dashboard, the interior feels well designed, while a plentiful supply of deep cubbyholes make it an easy car to live with.
Value for money
It's worth noting that Vauxhall is famous for offering significant discounts on its new cars. So while list prices may seem high, there is still value to be had, buying a car from a main dealer. Equipment levels are generous, with all cars getting air-con, iPod connectivity and electric front windows. Mid-spec SE cars gain alloy wheels, automatic lights and wipers and a trip computer, while flagship Elite models come with dual-zone climate control and heated front seats. A comprehensive warranty for the first owner that lasts for the lifetime of the car or until it hit 100,000 miles, should keep a lid on unexpected bills for a long time to come.
One downside of the Astra is that although dealers will offer big discounts on its new cars, residual values fall some way short of the class best. Used prices are low and there are plenty for sale thanks to the car's popularity on rental and company car fleets. Fuel economy and emissions are much improved over its predecessor, and there is even a tax-free ecoFLEX model capable of 76.3mpg and 99g/km of CO2. Unfortunately the petrol models are slightly off the pace, and can’t compete with the frugal Ford EcoBoost engines. However, the handy lifetime warranty should keep costs down, eliminating the worry of big bills for the car's first owner.