What is the Vauxhall Astra?
Almost four decades have passed since the first Vauxhall Astra went on sale in the UK back in 1980, but despite the plethora of bodystyles available and the change of ownership of its parent company, it’s remained at the heart of the small family car sector.
Today’s Astra has an array of familiar foes to compete with, including the Ford Focus and the Volkswagen Golf, but also from other rivals that weren’t even around when the Mk1 version appeared, such as the Kia Ceed and SEAT Leon.
Astras are sold in many other parts of the world, but only as a Vauxhall in the UK. Elsewhere in Europe it’s been sold as the Opel Astra since 1991, before that as the Opel Kadett.
Launched in Mk7 guise towards the end of 2015, and often known by enthusiasts as the Astra K, this is the simplest range yet in terms of bodystyle variations.
On sale first was the popular five-door Vauxhall Astra Hatch, the mainstay of the line-up, expanded in spring 2016 with the estate-bodied Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer. And that’s your lot – not like days of old as we explore below.
It’s a similar story with the engine range, with the largest petrol and diesel motors being only 1.6 litres in capacity, although the turbocharged version of the former is still good for 200hp and was dropped at the end of 2018.
Trim levels follow Vauxhall’s usual pattern of SE, Design, the fleet market-focused Tech Line, and Elite, with SRi and SRi VX-Line offering sportier themes.
For fans of performance Vauxhalls, sadly it’s a model that no longer exists – not that the fastest Astras have always carried the VXR badge, either, but the Mk7 is the first iteration not to have a sporty range-topper.
The last VXR was discontinued in 2014 when the sixth-generation three-door Astra GTC coupe was renamed simply as GTC. Before that, the VXR name was applied to the Mk5 Astra only in Sport Hatch guise.
For the Mk3 and Mk4 Astra, Vauxhall adopted the GSi moniker previously used by its European counterparts Opel for the hottest models, while the quickest versions of the Mk1 and Mk2 were badged GTE.
Looks-wise, the Mk7 Astra is a safe, conventional design that is unlikely to polarize opinion – save, perhaps, for the rear end of the Sports Tourer’s roof shape where it appears rather clunky.
Inside is a similar story, with an inoffensive dashboard design largely constructed of good quality plastics – just a pity that it’s so flair-free.
We’re expected a facelift to arrive during 2019 for the Astra, brining it in-line with the larger Insignia range, as well as the all-new Corsa that will also debut this year.
While suggesting that the Astra is a decent car to drive despite its underpinnings sounds as though it’s being damned with faint praise, the fact it is was developed – relatively speaking – on a shoestring as a stop-gap model, but the Vauxhall is an enjoyable steer all the same.
Sure, it won’t delight its owners in the same way a Focus, Ceed or Golf will, but the fundamentals are there: it corners neatly with fine feedback, body control is well-judged and the ride strikes a fine balance between roadholding and outright comfort.
Compare the Vauxhall Astra’s list prices with its immediate rivals and it appears largely on par, but few people buy their cars that way these days and on finance schemes such as PCH and PCP, the Astra is not that competitive.
Our advice is to shop around at numerous dealers and with brokers, although be aware that this may well restrict your choice of engines, trim levels and extra-cost options.
Discover what drivers of the seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra think about their cars with our detailed owners’ reviews.
Vauxhall Astra Model History
For the Mk6 – or Astra J to Vauxhallphiles – its predecessor’s sharp-suited style was ousted in favour of a smoother, rather anonymous shape resembling that of the larger, contemporary Mk1 Insignia, albeit in smaller form.
Launched in five-door Vauxhall Astra Hatch form in 2009, the range was expanded first in 2010 with the estate-bodied Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer and again in 2011 with the three-door coupe Vauxhall Astra GTC (which dropped the Astra name in 2014).
Fans of the Astra-based people carrier were treated to the closely related seven-seater Vauxhall Zafira Tourer in 2012, but the convertible Astra was no more – replaced in 2013 by the standalone Vauxhall Cascada range.
Hottest Astras continued to be badged VXR, and again, only available in three-door coupe form. Although the GTC had sharp, good looks on its side – unlike its siblings – it remained behind its rivals in terms of driving dynamics.
Find used Astras for sale and discover what drivers of the sixth-generation car think about them in our owners’ reviews.
Fifth-generation Vauxhall Astra (2004-11)
At the time of its launch, the Mk5 Astra H (there’s no Astra I in case you wondered) was lauded for being a handsome family of compact family cars – arguably not difficult considering its contemporaries were the anonymous Mk2 Ford Focus and the blobby Mk5 Volkswagen Golf.
Things became even more interesting in 2005 as the replacement for the both the Mk4 three-door and Coupe emerged as the Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch. That year also saw the arrival of the second-generation Vauxhall Zafira riding on the same underpinnings.
Last to join the range in 2006 was the replacement for the previous-generation Convertible – the Vauxhall Astra TwinTop, complete with a folding hard-top roof.
Out went the GSi badge for the performance models – in its place was the Astra VXR, which was only available in Sport Hatch guise.
Fourth-generation Vauxhall Astra (1998-06)
Slightly more distinctive than its predecessor, the Mk4 Astra G nevertheless appeared to be uninteresting alongside the rakish Mk1 Ford Focus and the upmarket Mk4 VW Golf, both of which went on sale within six months either side of the Vauxhall.
In most regards, the line-up mirrored that of its predecessor: 1998 saw three- and five-door Vauxhall Astra Hatchbacks go on sale first alongside the commodious Vauxhall Astra Estate, Later in the year a longer four-door Vauxhall Astra Saloon appeared to cater for more conservative buyers.
Astra styling was applied to a cleverly arranged MPV – the Vauxhall Zafira – in 1999, while early in 2000 a new line was added to replace the now-dead Calibra. Long-time partner Bertone was contracted to design and build the two-door Vauxhall Astra Coupe, with its soft-top counterpart, the Vauxhall Astra Convertible reaching showrooms in 2001.
It was with those latter two models that the higher performance 2.0-litre Turbo versions initially concentrated, producing 200hp, but a GSi-badged three-door Astra using the same engine arrived before the range was discontinued.
Is the fourth-generation Vauxhall Astra a reliable older model? Find out with our owners’ reviews and browse cars for sale.
Third-generation Vauxhall Astra (1991-99)
Somehow the Mk3 Astra F conspired to look barely more modern than the then seven-year old model it replaced – some at the time considered it to resemble the Austin Maestro rather than the Vauxhall it usurped.
Regardless, it proved to be a big seller in the UK – Ford had shot itself in the corporate foot with the contempary Escort – and at the time of its launch had one of the highest quality constructions around.
Three- and five-door Vauxhall Astra Hatchbacks were joined by a five-door-only Vauxhall Astra Estate at launch in 1991, with the booted Vauxhall Astra Saloon (no Belmont badge this time) arriving in 1992.
Bertone was again brought in to work on the Vauxhall Astra Convertible that went on sale in 1993 – this time it was based on the longer Saloon rather than the stubbier Hatchback. All models were given a mild facelift in 1994, with the notable addition of Vauxhall’s then-corporate ‘V’-grille design.
Although the sportier Vauxhall Astra GSi looked the part, complete with its full colour-coded bodykit, it didn’t have a good reputation in hot hatch circles, with its steering corrupted by the front wheels’ power delivery. It improved over time, but is never regarded as a great of its genre.
Is the third-generation Vauxhall Astra worth a look? See what it says in our owners’ reviews.
Second-generation Vauxhall Astra (1984-93)
While it was still recognisable alongside its predecessor, the Mk2 Astra E looked – as one wag at our sister title CAR Magazine commented at the time – ‘as though it had been squeezed out of a tube.’
This was at a time when soap-bar smooth shapes were bang-on trend, doubtless contributing to the commercial success of the Vauxhall.
Launches kicked-off in 1984 with three- and five-door versions of both the Vauxhall Astra Hatchback and the Vauxhall Astra Estate, but further expansion arrived over the next few years.
Arriving right at the end of 1985 was the elongated Vauxhall Belmont, featuring the same styling as the Astra, with a cavernous boot grafted onto the tail. It was renamed Vauxhall Astra Belmont in 1989 when the rest of the range was mildly facelifted. Bertone was called upon to design and produce the Vauxhall Astra Convertible, complete with a fixed rollover bar, from 1987 - sales continued on until 1993.
The high-performance Vauxhall Astra GTE proved a well-regarded hot hatch, with its zippiness upgraded in 1988 when the GTE 16V reached showrooms.
See how drivers rate the second-generation Vauxhall Astra with our owners’ reviews and pore over cars for sale.
First-generation Vauxhall Astra (1980-84)
When the Mk1 Astra D appeared in 1980 to replace more expensive versions of the Chevette range, its looks were no surprise at all – we’d seen the car in 1979 badged as the Opel Kadett and somewhat confusingly both were sold alongside each other for the first few years.
Sharp-yet-modern styling fitted in with the larger Carlton and Royale models with the Vauxhall line-up, immediately giving the Astra a more upmarket feel.
Both the two- and four-door Vauxhall Astra Saloons shared their silhouette and sloping tail with the three- and five-door Vauxhall Astra Hatchbacks – visually, if not structurally, the only difference was apparent from the rear, where the former had a shallower rear screen to allow for a sensibly proportioned bootlid,
Also available from launch was the Vauxhall Astra Estate – like the Hatchback, three- and five-door options were available.
Those seeking sportier flavours of Astra were initially offered the tepid SR, before the fuel-injected GTE arrived to sate enthusiasts’ desires.