The Vauxhall Astra is a practical family car that’s enjoyable to drive. It has a well designed interior and good levels of equipment, but the boot’s an average size and lacks handy features
Underneath the Vauxhall Astra’s sensible-looking outer crust beats the heart of a brilliant family car that’s well-built, practical and good fun to drive. It’s also available as an estate but it’s the regular five-door hatchback being tested here.
If you’ve ever had the dubious pleasure of sampling an old Astra’s interior, along with its poor build quality and messy layout, then this one should come as a pleasant surprise. The simple design makes the Vauxhall easy to operate, with shiny black plastics highlighting the more important buttons on the centre console. If you look really hard lower down in the cabin you will eventually discover some cheap plastics that you won’t find in a VW Golf.
You get a lot of kit, too – even basic Design models come with a seven-inch touchscreen that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can use your compatible smartphone’s sat-nav and media apps through the car’s big screen.
The Astra does the low-tech stuff well too. It has space for four people, although the Volkswagen Golf has a smidgen more rear headroom, and a good range of smaller storage spaces that should help you keep the interior looking tidy. The boot is below average for a car of this size, and it lacks an adjustable floor to ease the loading of heavy items.
If the interior comes as a nice surprise then the way the Astra drives will have you smiling from ear to ear. It feels light and nimble, agile and really rather fun to drive if you’re in the mood, yet it’s comfortable and quiet when you don’t want to drive about like your hair’s on fire. It’s as if Vauxhall has morphed the Ford Focus’ fun handling together with the VW Golf’s comfort – it’s almost the perfect driving experience for this type of car.
The only thing that’s likely to annoy you when driving is the poor rearward visibility caused by the small back windows and thick pillars around it. Front and rear parking sensors are a £465 option across the range if reversing isn’t your strongest suit.
The Vauxhall Astra is like plain white bread with a tasty new filling – its sensible outer crust hides something really rather exciting
The Astra’s at its best when paired with one of Vauxhall’s lower-powered engines. If you have a low annual mileage then choose the nippy 125hp 1.4-litre petrol that’s cheap to buy and pretty affordable to run. If you cover lots of miles, go for the 136hp 1.6-litre diesel – it offers brilliant fuel economy and perfectly acceptable performance.
In terms of safety, the Astra is more than acceptable. In fact, the Astra scored five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP but, strangely, automatic emergency braking only comes fitted as standard to mid-range SRi models.
Don’t let that put you off though – the Astra is a great all-rounder that’s both comfortable and fun to drive. See how it compares to the VW Golf and Ford Focus in our video group test. For more detailed and in-depth analysis of the Vauxhall Astra read our following interior, driving and specifications review sections.