Vauxhall Astra: First impressions

Initial driving impressions

The day after I took delivery of our new Vauxhall Astra I took it off for a week's holiday - the perfect chance to get to grips with driving the Ford Focus and VW Golf rival.

Pulling out of the car park the first thing I noticed was the gear change felt notchy and devoid of any real feeling. Compared to the Mazda3 I had before it felt like a much cheaper product, and so I had to mark it down for that.

Another early issue I noticed with the car's dynamics was the lack of steering feel. Its electronically-servo'd steering system is incredibly light. While this makes it very user-friendly and easy to manoeuvre, it just doesn't have that raw driver appeal. It almost feels lifeless and for that reason it lacks character.

However, handling is a different matter. The Astra is extremely well-balanced, with the sports suspension helping cut out body roll through corners. The ride is impressive too - largely thanks to the 17-inch wheels with higher profile tyres I chose over larger, flashier items with thinner tyres.

Initially I thought the Astra was painfully slow. I even had to double-check the spec of the car to confirm there was indeed a 2.0-litre diesel engine hiding under the bonnet. There's a simple reason for this though; the car defaults to an ‘eco' mode which appears to dampen down the throttle response a significant amount. There's a button on the dash you can press to cancel ‘eco' mode, and once that's done the car really wakes up. It feels like every single one of those 158 horses are available.

The engine isn't as engaging as the Mazda's from a pure driving perspective, but that's to be expected since the Japanese car's engine was petrol-powered and loved to rev. Chasing the redline isn't great for fuel economy, but it is a lot of fun. The Astra's diesel instead provides a wave of pulling power in the mid-range, which is perfect for stress-free over-taking and saving fuel.

Current mileage: 900

Average mpg: 34.0