Vauxhall Astra (2009-2015) review
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 only an average size and lacks handy features
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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 Astra 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 Vauxhall 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 Vauxhall Astra 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 Vauxhall Astra is 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.
There’s plenty of room in the Vauxhall Astra for five adults to get reasonably comfy but there’s less rear headroom than a Volkswagen Golf and its boot isn’t as easy to load
Vauxhall’s standard smartphone mirroring features mean there’s no need to bother upgrading to the expensive infotainment system
You should be able to get comfortable in the front of the Vauxhall Astra no matter what size you are. All models get a height adjustable driver’s seats and a steering wheel that moves for rake and reach.
Sporty SRi cars, unsurprisingly, get sports front seats with extra side support to stop your body sliding about in corners.
Elite models add leather upholstery, electrical lumbar support for both front seats – for additional support on long journeys – and have a height adjustable passenger seat as standard – a £260 option on the rest of the range. Elites can also be specified with ventilated front seats that stop you sticking to the leather on a hot summer’s days. They cost £505 and include an electrically adjustable driver’s seat with a massage function – though you can expect a gentle nudging rather than a full on sports-massage walloping.
Space in the back of the Vauxhall Astra is alright. With an average-sized adult in front, someone behind of a similar size can put their feet under the front seats, there’s plenty of knee room and headroom is just about okay – the same as you get in a Ford Focus; a little less than is offered in a Volkswagen Golf.
Three up, it’s pretty impressive. The small hump in the floor means your middle passenger doesn’t have to play footsie with the other two and shoulder room is perfectly tolerable.
The Vauxhall Astra’s large rear doors mean you get better access for fitting a child seat than you do in the Ford Focus or the Volkswagen Golf, so manoeuvring in the base is easy and it slots simply into the Isofix points. Getting the seat in on top is as simple as you could expect it to be in a car of this size.
Vauxhall hasn’t messed about when it comes to kitting the Astra out with storage areas. The front door bins are huge enough to swallow a one-litre and a 1.5-litre bottle of water simultaneously and the rear door pockets can take a large bottle each. The glovebox is also pretty big, you get a hidden cubby under the front-centre armrest and two cupholders under a roll-back shutter behind the gearstick.
The Vauxhall Astra’s boot is its weakest point. Its 370-litre capacity is less than you get in the Volkswagen Golf (380 litres), Honda Civic (478 litres) and the Skoda Octavia (590 litres).
It’s also a pain to load because you don’t get a handy adjustable boot floor as you get in a VW Golf, so heavy items have to be lifted over the high load lip. You don’t get any smaller storage areas in the boot, or a 12V power socket for powering electricals and the ribbed floor doesn’t hold items in place like it is designed to. In fact, all you really do get are tie-down hooks for your luggage, which you’re unlikely to ever use.
The Astra’s boot is big enough for two large and two small suitcases, but loading them will be a pain if they’re heavy. A stroller and two soft bags also fit, but getting a set of golf clubs in requires wedging them against the tall load lip.
With the back seats folded down, you get a 1,210-litre capacity. Enough to get a bicycle in with both its wheels attached, although loading it into the boot of a VW Golf is much easier thanks to its flat floor and lack of a load lip.
The Vauxhall Astra is fun to drive, comfortable and quiet. It combines all the best elements of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf to form a family car that you can actually enjoy
Dare I say it, this Astra is actually quite good fun to drive
The best all-round engine for the Vauxhall Astra is the 125hp 1.4-litre petrol engine, and not just because it gets you a tasty Turbo badge on the boot. Getting near its official fuel economy of 52.3mpg should be much easier to achieve than in the 1.0-litre model and it’s also surprisingly nippy – nippy enough to let you enjoy the Astra’s brilliant handling.
The 136hp 1.6-litre diesel is only worth going for if your annual mileage is high enough to recoup the £2,000 extra it costs over the petrol. If that applies, though, it’s a good engine – more powerful than the comparable units fitted to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, and capable of returning more than 60mpg even in the real world.
If you want a quick Vauxhall Astra then choose the 200hp, 1.6-litre petrol – it’s quicker than the super-rattly bi-turbo diesel, more than £1,000 cheaper and surprisingly close in terms of running costs.
You could say ‘comfort and handling’ are the Vauxhall Astra’s middle names – it’s that good for this type of car. A 130kg weight saving compared to the old model makes it feel like it’s been to the gym – returning as a lean, mean, flat-cornering machine. It’s not a sports car, but it really does feel nimble and agile in corners to the point that, if you’re in the mood, it can be quite enjoyable.
But you can also enjoy it at normal speed because it’s very comfortable – even if you purposefully hunt out bumps you’ll hardly feel them coming through to the cabin. It’s the proverbial jack of all trades.
The Astra’s controls are light, which makes driving slowly and smoothly in town really simple. Your only complaint might be the poor rearward visibility, which makes reversing more awkward than it needs to be. No Astras come with parking sensors as standard, but you can get them front and rear for £465 or, for £750, have the Parking Pack. The latter is worth paying the extra for because it includes a rear-view camera, self-park and a blind-spot alert system.
All models come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but you can also choose from two automatics. The five-speed Easytronic transmission is actually a manual with an automatic clutch – so there’s no third pedal. It’s available with the 105hp petrol. However, you’re better off going for the smoother six-speed auto offered with either the 136hp diesel or the 150hp petrol.
The Vauxhall Astra is quiet on the motorway for a car of its size so tackling big journeys isn’t an issue. A five-star Euro NCAP rating secured in 2015 means it should also be pretty safe, but it’s worth paying between £575-805 (depending on model) for the Driver Assistance Pack One. This adds automatic emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition, lane assist that can gently guide the car in its lane, and a distance indicator that warns when you’re following the car in front too closely.
The Vauxhall Astra interior looks smart and you’ll find all its knobs and buttons easy to reach but you can’t get it with any colourful trims or fancy metal-effect inserts like in some alternatives