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Vauxhall Astra 1.4i Turbo SRi Nav 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“When the British-built Astra five-
  door Hatchback was first introduced
  to the media last September it was
  pretty obvious that it was probably
  the most important car for most
  people to be launched in 2015...”


CONFIRMING THAT, it has just been voted 2016 European Car of the Year and Family Hatchback of the Year in the UK Car of the Year competition.

The other good news for customers is that this seventh-generation Astra Hatch is not only up to 200kg lighter in weight (and so more fuel efficient) but it is lighter on the pocket too prices are up to a whopping 2,200 less than the previous generation, with prices starting from 15,295 on-the-road. Specification levels are Design, Tech Line, Energy, SRi and Elite, with Nav versions of the latter two.

Even the entry-level model gets alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, AirCon, IntelliLink audio system with DAB radio, 7-inch colour touchscreen, Bluetooth 4G connectivity, multifunction computer, cruise control, and electric front and rear windows.

Even the entry-level
Astra gets alloy wheels,
LED daytime running
lights, AirCon,
IntelliLink audio system
with DAB radio, 7-inch
colour touchscreen,
Bluetooth 4G
connectivity, multi-
function computer,
cruise control, and
electric windows...”
The Astra is a household name in Britain with almost three million sold in the UK over the last 36 years. Vauxhall says than more than one-in-four British motorists have either owned or driven an Astra.

Last year 52,703 Astra models were sold in the UK, placing it at number seven in the UK Top Ten sales chart. Its main competitors continue to be the Ford Focus and the VW Golf although the Nissan Qashqai crossover is making significant inroads into sales of these family cars and there is increasing demand for the premium brand A3 range from Audi.

In addition to the new lightweight body architecture, compact subframes and lighter weight front and rear axles, there is a range of EU6-compliant fuel-efficient petrol and diesel engines to maximise on the weight loss, some of which are already fitted to other Vauxhall models.

Petrol engine options, depending on the trim grade, are a new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo 105hp ecoFlex unit, a 1.4i 100hp non-turbo unit, two 1.4i turbo direct injection units (125hp and 150hp) and a 200hp 1.6i turbo. Diesel engines, traditionally the main-sellers, are all 1.6-litre units with 110, 136 and 160hp outputs.

The Astra five-door that will probably suit the majority of customers is the 150hp 1.4i direct injection turbocharged petrol model in SRi Nav trim with OnStar connectivity. Priced at 19,595, this comes with a six-speed manual gearbox (for an extra 1,400 you can, should you prefer, have an automatic transmission).

The styling of the hatchback five-door is sportier than its predecessors and it's just a smidgen shorter but wider, so interior space is much better both front and rear. With its new face, wedge-shaped side profile and rising waistline, sculptured door panels and a coupe roof which lowers to the rear, it's an athletic looking family car which suits this turbocharged engine very well.

While stylish, the low-height rear side windows and the wraparound tailgate with its steeply raked window don't provide very good rear and rear-quarter visibility although the rear-view camera and parking sensors do help.

The 147bhp turboed
1.4i likes to be revved
but with 173lb ft
of torque there’s enough
‘grunt’ to give very
good low- to mid-range
acceleration and
response without having
to constantly change
down gears...”
Inside, there's a thoroughly modern treatment for the fascia, well positioned controls, a cowled instrument binnacle, neat interior door panels, shiny trim inserts and chrome-effect surrounds to brighten the overall appearance. The SRi Nav spec includes sports-style front seats and a good array of family-friendly storage pockets.

The kit is comprehensive: a few of the most notable items are 17-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, automatic lights and wipers, front fog lights, Forward Collision Alert and a full set of side, front and curtain airbags.

The expensive-looking optional (995) Matrix 'smart' headlights fitted to my test car adjust their intensity and beam pattern to make night driving in certain circumstances easier and potentially safer, but have little added benefit under street lighting.

Thanks to folding rear seats, the deep boot space can be expanded from its standard 370 to 1,210 litres. Unfortunately there is no variable height boot floor so heavy items have to be lifted over a high rear sill.

The 147bhp (150hp) 1.4i turbo unit likes to be revved but with 173lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm there's enough 'grunt' to give very good low- to midrange acceleration and response without having to constantly change down gears to get enough speed to overtake slower traffic.

It's a very usable powerplant and it outshines Ford's new 1.5-litre Ecoboost 179bhp/177lb ft turbo direct injection petrol unit which is used with the Focus five-door Hatch. Even with more power and more or less the same torque, the Ford engine is sluggish at low revs, needing to be worked harder to get the best response out of it and that showed in its real-life fuel economy of just 37.4mpg.

Whereas for 'my' Astra 1.4i test drive the figure was 42.4mpg, and by chance I used the same daily driving routes as I had when testing the Focus: a mix of motorways, A and B roads with some local travel too. The official Combined Cycle figure for the Astra is 51.4mpg, the same as the Focus 1.5 Hatchback, so neither met their official figures however, the Astra gets closest.

The suspension is
compliant and absorbs
impacts from potholes
really well.
And it
s not set up soft
either because it
s also
stiff enough to provide
sharp handling with a flat
and level ride during
braking, acceleration and
cornering...”
Top speed for the SRi 1.4i is 134mph and zero to 60mph takes an impressively low 7.8-seconds faster for acceleration, in fact, than the 179bhp Focus.

I really liked the Vauxhall 1.4i turbo: it had no dull areas; it coped with stop-start traffic with ease; it picked up momentum quickly and cruised effortlessly; and it was hard to believe it was just a 1.4! It didn't get stressed, it was quiet, and I think it is probably one of the best petrol engines in its class today in terms of refinement and driveability.

Another thing that impressed me about the new Astra Hatch was the significant improvement in ride comfort over previous models. It was almost the very first thing I noticed, apart from the high level of spec, when I got behind the wheel.

The suspension is compliant and absorbs impacts from potholes really well. And it's not set up 'soft' either because it's also stiff enough to provide sharp handling with a flat and level ride during braking, acceleration and cornering. Dynamically it's a neat and nimble handler although I wasn't so happy with the steering feedback; at times it was too light and generally it lacked feedback and it didn't feel consistently weighted during cornering.

Which brings us to the crunch question: Did the new Astra truly deserve to be voted the 2016 European Car of the Year? It doesn't bring anything radically new to this sector and many of its technology features, lightweight construction, and so on, are available in other competitor models.

But it does have plenty of good points, including price, and these all add up to the best car Vauxhall has produced in years. It's almost the complete package and built in Britain, so on that basis it justifies being voted the winner but only just.
~ David Miles

Vauxhall Astra 1.4i Turbo SRi Nav 5-door | 19,595
Top speed: 134mph | 0-60mph: 7.8 seconds | Test Average: 42.4mpg
Power: 147bhp | Torque: 173lb ft | CO2: 128g/km