Vauxhall Astra (2015-2019) 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 an average size and lacks handy features
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What's not so good
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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 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.
Dare I say it, this Astra is actually quite good fun to drive
The best all-round engine for the 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 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 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’s swooping dashboard is nice to look at and well built, but there’s less rear headroom than a Volkswagen Golf and its boot isn’t as well designed