Vauxhall Astra: Class average with above average potential

As we hand the Astra back, it's clear that Vauxhall has made a thoroughly competent - and likeable - family hatchback

  • The Vauxhall Astra in 136hp manual SRi Nav form joins our fleet
  • Mass-market appeal and mid-range specification, is it above average?
  • This week: The Astra returns to Vauxhall

As Vauxhall’s Astra nameplate approaches 40 years on the UK market, we’ve added the current generation to our long-term fleet. It has spent what feels like a lifetime solidly occupying the middle ground of price lists, aspiration and company car parks alike.

Competing with 21st century rivals is a very different battleground to those early ’80s goals of basic reliability and refinement, and Vauxhall face challengers from premium marques on the company lease price lists. The middle ground is ever decreasing, and the Astra needs to be above average.

And then it was all over

In a flash, it’s time for my Astra SRi-Nav 136 to return back to Vauxhall. But that was the plan all along, babysit the Astra while I wait for the new Insignia Sports Tourer to arrive – which it now has.

So what can be said about one of Vauxhall’s most popular five door hatchbacks? In total fairness and honesty, there isn’t a great deal to put off the potential customer looking for a well-equipped, thrifty and strong performing package.

For every negative, of which there are few, something else makes up for it. Firstly there’s economy – despite arriving with less than 1,000 miles on the clock, the Astra knocked up some very impressive figures from the off – more than 65mpg and I reckon I could have done better.

With the strong fuel economy comes strong performance too. The 136hp 1.6 diesel is a proven unit, and providing you don’t slog too slowly or race it too highly there’s very little noise or vibration. The torque on offer is very good too – a proper flyer.

Tidy handling and good grip is sadly marred by the over-light and rather lifeless steering. Now this is a shame because allied to its great performance, strong brakes and good gearshift, it’s the only smudge on its copy book.

The Astra is ergonomically sound and easy to operate, refined and comfortable on long runs, and seems to be built well enough to last the distance. As a car for all occasions, only the large lump in the load bay once the rear seats are folded made me tut and mumble.

For sure there are more engaging cars to drive and some rivals may have a touch more interior space. Those out of touch with Vauxhall’s current model range may automatically disregard the Astra from their list of potential purchases purely on brand values. But it’s a fine car, a clever car, and damned good value.

More praise for Vauxhall OnStar

We mention OnStar regularly but only once experienced and understood do you realise how handy and more importantly just how well this works in a car. That’s why it won in the 2018 Parkers New Car Awards. Not only labour and stress saving but lifesaving too – you have to see it work to appreciate.

If it weren’t for the technology then the Astra might once again have become another Vauxhall also-ran. But OnStar remains totally unique in this sector and so much more than a gimmick. That said though, even without OnStar the Astra is still a fine car.

All it needs to be class leading all round is some thought in its cargo area, a splash of colour inside the cabin and some minor upgrading to the interior plastics to feel that little bit more pleasing to the touch. Dial in some sportiness into the steering too and it’ll be top of the tree.

So… does the Astra tick the boxes?

Where economy, performance, refinement when cruising and driver/passenger enjoyment are concerned, then from me it’s a solid absolutely. It’s been a pleasure to run over the past 4,400 miles.

We love, we hate

Update 3: Vaux Pops

It’s funny isn’t it? When you start driving around in a certain make and model of car, how many similar ones you start to notice?

Over the past few weeks it seems that everywhere I go there goes another one, noticeable more so in this one than with the Insignia.

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav

Recently I have spent a lot of time behind the wheel, be it on the motorway or in built up areas. Every other police car, sales rep or airport rental car seems to be a Vauxhall Astra. I haven’t quite got to the point of waving at other drivers… just yet.

So as a mile eater or around town pack horse, just how is the car stacking up? Well in a previous update I have mentioned the fuel economy – it’s phenomenal. Luckily they don’t do the Tiger Tokens at Esso anymore – it would take me a month to get a blank cassette!

Astra has potential to be outstanding

As a driving tool it’s not quite as engaging as a Focus, nor does it possess that certain Cockroach-like rock solid character of a Golf. Other rivals may trump it on equipment too, but it’s a very difficult car to point at a certain fault and complain.

I’ve noticed the gear change quality improve as miles add on. Notably notchy on arrival, it now slips in and out of the ratios smoothly – even if the gear knob is a weird shape and texture. Vague steering aside I cannot fault the driving experience overall so far.

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav LCD screen

The other half has even stated she likes – no, loves – driving it, and that’s from a dyed-in-wool VAG user-chooser. That said though, there are some things Vauxhall could really improve in order to make a good five door become a cracker.

Nice looks but a poor view

Parking sensors are not fitted as standard equipment on the SRi and the rearward view is far from the best. I hold a HGV licence and could park a Giraffe in a Wendy House, but others have mentioned it can be tricky – especially manoeuvring in a dark multi-story car park.

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav

Loose objects clatter about, thanks to a lack of padding or other kind of soft material to line the trinket trays, cubby holes or glovebox. The latter also lacks a lamp when open, but the little pound coin holders in the lid are a useful and thoughtful touch.

Other grumbles include the column stalks that feel a wee bit lightweight and cheap to the touch, and the door window switches that seem slightly too far rearwards for comfort. Also, the heater buttons are too small and lack design imagination.

None of the above drives you insane but rather make you think that they’ve held back on detail to save a few pennies. Mutterings aside, the Astra just takes everything in its stride. It’s a damn fine package that only needs a little nip to become truly outstanding.

Other owners seem reasonably impressed too

I’ve made a point of asking other drivers what they think of their Astras, and the answers ranged from; ‘leave me alone or I’ll call the Police’ to one driver who had hired it and was ‘extremely surprised’ overall – and another who inherited it as a company car and ‘loves it’.

My current thoughts? If it weren’t for the rather spiffing OnStar feature the Astra would be just another also-ran Vauxhall. However,  two years since launch it remains unique in the market place and the safest hatchback around – a hard car not to like.

Exiting? Not really.

Rewarding? For sure.

Update 2 – High miles right from the off:

2015 Vauxhall Astra SRi-Nav

Since the first report my Astra has certainly seen lots of motorways. To reinforce this, just in its first week alone, some 1000 plus miles were swiftly put onto the odometer. Just like the Insignia I ran before this one, the Astra is seemingly adept at ticking off huge distances without so much as breaking a sweat.

The SRi-Nav CDTi so far has got me as far afield as Blackpool, Leyland and Essex. One thing that was apparent from the off is its healthy fuel consumption. Resetting the trip meter and adding some fuel prior to a non-stop drive to Blackpool via every nasty motorway that included the M25 and M6, that journey worked out at 71mpg.

Having your cake and eating it:

But it’s not just the fuel economy that I’m growing to like – there’s the performance too. My example car comes with the 136PS diesel – the middle of the three options if you prefer this fuel – producing 320Nm of torque. With six nicely matched ratios at your disposal its performance is rather excellent in my opinion especially the gutsy nature of the engine.

Initial impressions are of a car that’s refined enough to make even the longest journey seem to shrink that little bit. It’s also competent enough to induce a wry little smile when you shuffle the steering wheel around on a back road when you’re bored of motorways. Despite the delivery miles when collected it gets very close to the often wayward ‘official’ fuel economy figures.

Notable subtle improvements:

2015 Vauxhall Astra SRi-Nav driver's seat

Having had plenty of Astra experience in the past I have noted some subtle nips and tucks over the first of the new range from 2015. The brakes don’t seem as snatchy as I initially found then to be at the launch. The interior build quality is also that little bit better too. There’s not so much as a creak or groan from any of the fixtures and fittings.

Also, despite the driver’s seat only featuring height, rake and reach adjustments (lumbar is optional on SRi) long distance comfort impresses me – I’m the first one to complain if the seat isn’t quite right. The heating and ventilation is good too, especially the demister function. The screen is fog free within seconds of tapping the booster button on the centre console.

Vauxhall Astra’s universal appeal:

With strong performance, good thrift and pleasing refinement the car is looking good. My partner has mentioned on a couple of occasions that she ‘enjoys’ driving the Astra – a phrase she seldom uses with cars. In our household at least, and with each passenger who had yet to experience one, the Astra is going down rather well.

Well established in the marketplace, this generation of Astra has been on sale for two years now. You certainly see quite a few on the road, and the OnStar system (standard on SRi-NAV) still makes it one of the safest cars on the road. Being a Vauxhall it’s bound to be an effective and value orientated purchase.

Living by numbers:

2015 Vauxhall Astra SRi-Nav

Cost wise based on current Vauxhall list prices, my Astra comes in at £23,265 on the road. As you would expect, there are various ways to finance a volume sector car such as this.

Outright purchase, finance or PCP deals are in abundance. Once again based on current manufacturers list prices a typical three year PCP contract excluding maintenance on 10,000 miles per year breaks down as following:

  • OTR cash price – £23,265
  • Manufacturer contribution – £2000
  • Customer deposit – £6980
  • Amount of credit – £14,285
  • 36 monthly payments of £260.27
  • Optional final buy out payment – £6,227
  • Representative APR – 4.2%
  • Payable interest – £1311.72

As mentioned, these figures are purely based on a manufacturer’s opening gambit. I’ll bet you my last Rolo that walking into your local dealership or contacting a broker or two, you’ll smash the aforementioned figures into something much more palatable. Meanwhile, this Astra is behaving and settling into the fold quite nicely as the mileage continues to pile on.

Update 1 – Car of the Year becomes a car for the era

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav

The Astra is seemingly Vauxhall’s version of perpetual motion, it’s been with us almost as long as time itself. Now 38 years after the original launched, it’s done pretty well – scooping up Car of the Year in 2016 for this latest revision. Sales have reflected success on the market, too.

Now there’s much more at stake for Britain’s longest serving range of hatchbacks. Some uncertainty still lingers with new Peugeot ownership, but for the time being business is strictly as normal.

Manufactured at the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port plant, the range is as extensive as you would expect. A medium sized family hatch attracting both volume retail and fleet buyers, the model we have selected represents the Astra in its most popular guise – the SRi Nav.

No frills added, the car features just the one optional extra – namely metallic paint that they call ‘Flip Chip Silver’. It’s more of a light sky blue really, as inoffensive as the car itself.

SRi Nav flavour is available with a broad range of engines, varying from 100 to 200hp. Our vehicle is specified with the 1.6 ‘Whisper Diesel’ engine; 136hp mated to a six speed manual gearbox.

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav engine

This sits right in middle of the other diesel options of 110 or the Bi-Turbo’s 160hp engines.

For those who like two pedal action there is a six speed auto option – on the 136hp unit only. So there we have it then, a nice simple car with a conventional yet competitive driveline. So what else do you get?

Standard equipment (not exhaustive) includes the following:

  • All-round power windows
  • Manual air conditioning
  • Cruise control
  • Vauxhall OnStar
  • Navi 900 IntelliLink touchscreen navigation and infotainment system with larger 8.0-inch screen
  • Voice activation of audio/maps/phone
  • 17-inch alloys
  • Auto wipers and lighting

Driver assistance Pack One that comprises of:

  • Forward collision detection with autonomous emergency braking
  • Traffic sign recognition
  • Forward distance indicator
  • Lane departure warning with lane assist

My early impressions so far are of a car that seems to be decently built, possesses extremely eager and instant performance while being pleasingly economical too. In fact, my return journey home from collecting the car saw over 70mpg as an average.

Whether this will continue remains to be seen. One thing is certain, punchy performance allied to miserly thirst is just what the doctor ordered in our high mileage household.

Vauxhall Astra 136 SRi-Nav

A viable antidote or rival to the Focus or Golf? You betcha, and it’ll be interesting to see how well it behaves in my real world commuterland part of the UK – the dreaded Home Counties.

Michael Humble