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.
Dare I say it, this Astra is actually quite good fun to drive
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.