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Vauxhall Astra 1.4i Turbo SRi Nav 5-dr

Click to view picture gallery“If you’re good you don’t need
  gongs to prove it, but being named
  2016 European Car of the Year
  and Family Hatchback of the Year
  in the UK Car of the Year awards
  has definitely put the new Astra
  in the spotlight...”


SEVEN LUCKY FOR SOME. Not that the seventh-gen Brit-built Astra needs luck to succeed because it has plenty going for it as it stands: it's substantially lighter, dynamically more polished, more efficient and, if money's important to you, up to an inviting £2,200 less to buy than previous generation Astras.

Despite the 'me-too' stampede to get behind the wheel of a crossover or SUV, millions continue to buy, drive and enjoy mid-sized family hatchbacks such as the Astra.

If being ‘wired’ is part
of who you are then
you’ll love the Astra’s OnStar feature — a high-
bandwidth customer
support and monitoring
system
designed to
keep smartphone owners
fully connected...”
Visually this new five-door Astra sports a rakish air to its wider and prettier bodyshell, marked out by a rising waistline that accentuates its hunkered-down, wedgey look. Neatly capped by a fast-sloping roof that appears to 'float' above the C-pillar, the Astra's athletic tail terminates fluently in a wraparound tailgate.

Inside there's more clean lines with a sweeping fascia treatment that sees pride of place centre-dash taken by a seven-inch touchscreen that offers multimedia, infotainment and navigation. The 3D mapping is sharply defined plus the white-on-grey figures of the dials are easy to take in at a glance.

A very welcome upgrade for today's zero-tolerance roads is the roadside sign recognition that shows the current limit, as well as a large digital mph readout, on the new colour mini-screen trip computer. And while not everyone wants, or needs, gear change prompts, they're there but not distracting and can be ignored. There's a nice look and feel to the cabin that definitely lifts it above the class average; fit and finish are good, and high-gloss black and satin chrome add to the perceived quality.

You don't go short on kit either cruise control with speed limiter, multifunction leather-wrapped steering wheel, AirCon, DAB radio, Bluetooth, multifunction driver's computer, four one-shot windows, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated electrically-adjustable door mirrors, auto lights (with tunnel detection), and auto wipers. You also get Vauxhall's new IntelliLink infotainment system plus OnStar.

If being 'wired' is part of who you are then you'll love the OnStar system designed to keep smartphone owners connected. Effectively a high-bandwidth customer support and monitoring system, it keeps you in touch with a call centre and tracking system (via OnStar app 'MyVauxhall'). This lets you speak to a real person 365 days a year for assistance as well as traffic information. And, if needed in an emergency situation, the control room will also summon help for you.

Its powerful antenna and 4G LTE mobile connection turns your Astra into a wi-fi hotspot serving up fast internet access for up to seven devices using the car's own SIM card (free to use for the first 12 months, then a very reasonable £79 a year). For easier smartphone integration, IntelliLink also includes both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

“From behind the wheel,
and helped by some
direct turn-in, the Astra
feels sharp and nimble,
cornering with minimal
body lean, and is more
than happy to partner
a keen driver with a
penchant to press-on...”
It can also be used to download an address or POI straight to the SatNav, to locate your car, remotely lock and unlock it, view vehicle diagnostics… and even sound the horn and flash the lights. Hopefully you won't need it but if you should, stolen vehicle recovery technology is built-in. If all this smacks of Big Brother don't panic Vauxhall has considerately provided a privacy button so you can mask your location.

Other good-to-have kit includes LED daytime running lights, 17-inch 5-twin-spoke alloy wheels, Hill-start assist, tyre pressure monitoring, an Electronic Stability Programme, 'smart' LED Matrix Headlights (active headlights that adjust their intensity and beam pattern to make night driving in certain circumstances easier and safer), and a full set of side, front and curtain airbags plus a host of driver aids including Forward Collision Alert, automatic crash mitigation and avoidance systems and an intelligent forward camera system.

Physical comfort is not overlooked either the seats fitted to the SRi Nav models are 'sports' style, upholstered in a pleasing fabric that will be pleasant to use all year round. More importantly, they're nicely-bolstered with decent shoulder support and proved to be very supportive on long trips. One of the MotorBar test team suffers from a bad back and if she's comfortable and she was, both driving and passengering in the Astra then that's a sure sign the seats are more than just fit for purpose. Appreciated too were the easy 'button' releases for adjusting the height of the headrests.

For a car in this class the Astra certainly packs in a lot of space: for a start there's a fist of it above your head, while the front passenger can really stretch out their legs without cramping the person sitting behind them. For the driver it's all good news with generous foot room that makes it easy to relax their left foot when in the cruise. Equally important is the decent driving position that makes the Astra okay to reverse even without the audible parking sensors or reversing camera that are standard equipment anyway.

As you'd expect, the sporty, Griffin-badged, leather-rimmed steering wheel is multi-functional with remote controls for cruise, media, audio, and voice. Front passengers will be glad of the adjustable (sliding) central armrest while drivers will like the fact that it doesn't cramp the traditional-style handbrake. Good news for all of those aboard is the family-size storage solutions that include big door bins, cupholders, and a fair-sized glovebox with room for much more than just a pair of driving gloves.

A top speed of 134mph
is close to double
the legal limit while, more
tellingly, zero to 60mph
is done and dusted
in 7.8 seconds.
And the
cost of all this usable
performance?
43.7mpg...”
If you're coming to the Astra from a previous generation model you'll see right away that the passenger space has been improved not only are both front and rear seating areas roomy but they actually look really roomy. Another thoughtful touch the rear windows disappear completely into the doors, not part-way as too many others do.

Once seated, rear passengers can relax in seats as comfortable as those in the front with restful backrest angles, ample knee room and a generous serving of foot room (the low 'hump' in the rear floor makes carrying three side-by-side doable). Bottle-holding door bins and mag pockets add more Brownie points, as too do the good views out.

Open the easy lifting rear hatch and you'll find another area where the new Astra also outdoes many of its rivals the deep 370-litre boot is a regular shape and straightforward to load thanks to the high-opening tailgate. The 60:40-split rear seatbacks fold virtually flat onto their bases to provide a 1,210-litre loadbay, albeit with a step-up not a problem between the boot floor and the folded seatbacks. Bag holders and tie-downs are provided for those who like their luggage safely lashed.

Petrol engine choices are varied with a new 103bhp three-cylinder 1.0-litre turboed ecoFlex, a 98bhp 1.4i, two 1.4i turboed direct injection units (123bhp and 147bhp) and a 1.6i turbo that kicks out a potent 197bhp; diesels come in just one size 1.6-litre but with three power outputs: 108, 134, and 157bhp.

The six-speed manual gearbox fitted as standard comes with a nice 'n' easy change action but if you prefer your gearshifting to be done for you an auto is a £1,400 box tick. Of the 1.4-litre engines the turboed 147bhp (150PS) unit is a lively, revvy little number. And pleasantly refined. Backed up by 173lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, it picks up quickly, is good natured in grinding city traffic, and breezes along motorways at the legal limit.

Better still, if you've gone for the manual 'box you'll be satisfied by its sweet change-action and even more pleased with the 1.4's in-gear flexibility which reduces the need for the frequent down-shifting that's often the penalty of smaller capacity powerplants.

We're all now well accustomed to finding 1.0 to 1.4-litre engines under the bonnet whereas not so long ago many motorists felt anything under 1.8 or 2.0 litres was a social killer. Vauxhall's 1.4i Turbo is one of these new breed of engines that, when you actually stop and think about its performance, makes you appreciate just what you can get from under one-and-a-half litres.

“The turboed 147bhp 1.4
is a lively, revvy little
number. And pleasantly
refined. Backed up by
173lb ft of torque from
2,000rpm, it picks up
quickly, is good natured
in grinding city traffic,
and breezes along
motorways at the legal
limit...”
A top speed of 134mph is close to double the legal limit while, more tellingly, zero to 60mph is done and dusted in under eight seconds (7.8). And the price of all this usable performance? Officially the Astra's Combined Cycle figure is 51.4mpg although a hard week's testing saw an overall average of 43.7mpg recorded.

As the media has been reporting, too many Brits are carrying around too much weight. So while many of us could do with shedding a few pounds, the Astra already has to the tune of 200kg! And its lighter new body and suspension is good news for the handling.

In fact from behind the wheel, and helped by some direct turn-in, the Astra feels sharp and nimble, cornering with minimal body lean and is more than happy to partner a keen driver with a penchant to press-on. Not unexpected given that not only does the Astra sit on a new platform but all the running gear has been heavily re-designed and re-engineered crucially, the finished article has been tuned specifically for UK roads.

When it comes down to the Catch 22-like Ride vs Handling conundrum, Vauxhall's engineers have clearly made a good call while it remains grippy and composed to drive whether the pedal's to the metal or not, ride comfort is a notable step-up from that of previous Astras. Potholes need not be feared and the suspension, compliant around the houses, is supple and settled at higher speeds. Press the Sport mode button ahead of the gear lever and you instantly feel the sharper responses taking place under the bonnet. Nicely done, Vauxhall!

All-in-all this latest Astra has a lot going for it, from its more athletic looks to its core handling characteristics and well-considered real-life 'family-friendly' appeal. Better still it comes with a competitive price sticker. You should definitely make time to try this all-new, good-to-drive and well-connected Astra hatchback. ~ MotorBar

Vauxhall Astra 1.4i Turbo SRi Nav 5-dr | £19,595
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-60mph: 7.8 seconds | Test Average: 43.7mpg
Power: 147bhp | Torque: 173lb ft | CO2: 128g/km