Parkers overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 3.5

There's an strong range of engines in the Sport Hatch range starting with the 1.4-litre model with 90bhp but this struggles for pace and doesn't suit the Astra's sporty looks. The 1.6-litre unit is better (this originally had 105bhp but was uprated to 115bhp in 2007) or there's a 1.8-litre with 125bhp (in 2006 this was replaced by a more powerful 140bhp VVT unit).

The high performance model is the 2.0T which boasts 170bhp but in mid 2007 this was replaced by a more efficient 1.6T with 180bhp and it's a superb engine. It is in fact the same unit that's used in the Corsa VXR and it shares the same eager nature, which turns the Astra into a genuine junior hot hatch capable of 0-62mph in just 7.7 seconds. The diesel engines are impressive too and even the entry-level 1.7 CDTi with 100bhp delivers decent in-gear punch along with 57mpg economy.

The more powerful engine is the 1.9 CDTi which is available in two outputs of 120bhp or 150bhp. Both offer identical emissions (149g/km of CO2) and economy (50mpg) but the 150bhp version is quicker and has noticeably more pulling power. In late 2008 an ecoFLEX model with a 1.7 CDTi engine was introduced. This has 110bhp - 10bhp more than the standard 1.7-litre diesel, and yet thanks to engine management tweaks, emits 119g/km of CO2 and averages 63mpg.

In order to make the Sport Hatch feel more dynamic, Vauxhall has given the three-door Astra a lower body and stiffened the suspension while all models get sports springs and dampers. As a result it's enjoyable to drive with tight handling while the slick gearbox adds to the racy feel. Grip levels are good too, so it's a shame that the well weighted steering feels so wooden - but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining on a twisting road with precise turn into corners and little body roll.

SRi versions of the Sport Hatch also come with Vauxhall's clever Sport switch, which allows the driver to choose between comfort or dynamic settings for the electro-hydraulic steering assistance, throttle response and electronic dampers (if fitted) at the touch of a button.