Vauxhall Astra 1.6T review

We drive the new Vauxhall Astra on a secret, late-night test in Germany and meet its British chief designer, Mark Adams.

"Astra noticeably quieter and more compliant on washboard surfaces"

What is it?The new Vauxhall Astra is key to the continued survival of this once profitable part of General Motors. Built in European plants, including Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port, the new Astra is ready to roll, but is General Motors's legacy to Opel/Vauxhall's new owners a silk purse or a sow's ear?

The chassis is the second appearance of GM's Delta II platform although the Astra differs quite significantly from the Chevrolet Cruze. The Astra takes its MacPherson-strut front suspension straight from the Insignia and the rear torsion-beam suspension has a number of changes to improve ride and cabin noise which were weak points of the outgoing model. Most notable of these is the inclusion of a Watt's Linkage to the rear axle. This 220-year-old design dates back to the earliest days of the steam engine, but has been used since to reduce the rear-steer effect of side loadings when cornering. Vauxhall engineers have updated the linkage to reduce the unwanted movement of the torsion beam and in the process have replaced the hard, noise-transmitting mountings with much softer hydraulic units. What does it look like?While the outgoing five-door Astra is far from ugly, it is a staid and practical design that shouts 'sensible shoes' from the rooftops. Fresh from designing this year's Car of the Year, the Vauxhall Insignia, Adams and his team have penned a new Astra that visually links with its predecessor and the Insignia, but which is a highly desirable car in its own right. Out go slabby panels and in comes an organic, curvaceous design that hides bulk, cheats the wind and looks terrific. The Insignia's hockey-stick lamp style is used, but inverted, as is that car's distinctive concave door pressing. On the Astra this L-shaped pressing also moves from the front to the rear doors where it tricks the eye by visually reducing the length. The new Astra is 18cm longer than its predecessor, with a 7cm longer wheelbase to accommodate new pedestrian protection structures. It is also 1cm taller, about 3cm wider, with a front track that is 6cm wider and a 7cm wider rear track. The boot has the same 375-litre capacity, but with no clutter from the rear dampers thanks to a wider track. The result is, we estimate, about 60kg heavier than the outgoing model.

What's it like inside?Inside, the high quality General Motors Europe cabin is still present, but in a new curvy, multi-surfaced style that looks borrowed from a bigger car - in some cases that's because it is. The Astra uses the Insignia's steering wheel, gear lever and instrument binnacle to great effect. The dashboard has been lowered and moved forward away from the driver, which improves the visibility and driving position as well as giving a feeling of spaciousness. The storage space has been heavily revised to make it more useful and the rear-seat accommodation is large enough for three large adults for a long journey. What's it like to drive? On a series of switchback roads in Germany, the Astra was noticeably quieter and more compliant on washboard surfaces than before. The ride is much improved, and the handling, which was sharp on the old model is just as precise. Job done then? Well not quite. The suspension does seem to push movement across the car more than its rivals with a full independent set up such as the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. We were not entirely convinced either, by Vauxhall's latest electronically adjustable suspension. This will cost about £700 when it goes on sale, adjusts the dampers according to speed, load and cornering conditions. With three modes of sport, touring and standard, the system will harden the suspension, speed the throttle response, sharpen the steering system and even change the dashboard's backlighting. We liked the fact that the driver can select all or any of the above changes when sport mode is depressed, but it did feel as though the system had neatly bracketed the best solution; a case of too much choice possibly? What we did like was the powerful and sensitive brakes and a new-found steering precision for Vauxhall's family hatchback. It all bodes well for the future. VerdictThe new five-door Astra is a great-looking car, with an equally attractive cabin and room inside to spare. The grumbling, rumbling ride of the old model appears to have been banished, although we need to drive the car in more representative conditions to be sure. The handling is as sharp as ever and the brakes are sensational. Role on the new Astra, who ever owns Vauxhall in future, they've bought themselves a potential winner.

Car Specs - Vauxhall Astra 1.6 turbo

Engine:1.6-litre petrol, 180hp
0-62mph:7.8 seconds
Top speed:140mph
Economy/emissions:36.7mpg/216g/km CO2
Price/On sale £20,500(est) /Dec

We rate:Great looking Better ride than its predecessor

We slate:Electric variable dampers Heavier than outgoing car

Rating: Image removed.

by Andrew English

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