23.9.2015Vauxhall Astra 1.0 EcoFlex review
More than a quarter of British drivers have owned or driven a Vauxhall Astra so this new model is a big deal for the company and important for British jobs. Despite more equipment, largely new engines, a completely new body and cabin, and much improved connectivity, Vauxhall has managed to reduce prices compared to the outgoing Astra. Crucially for Vauxhall, in a highly competitive sector of the market, the new Astra is good enough to worry Ford and Volkswagen.
Review by Russell Bray
The 104bhp turbocharged 998cc three-cylinder Ecotec direct-injection petrol engine in this otherwise all-new Astra is familiar from both the Adam and the Corsa, but here in this larger car has more work to do so itâ€™s a good job that Vauxhallâ€™s engineers have managed to reduce the average weight of the car by 200kg compared to the outgoing model. With 125 lbs ft of torque from 1800rpm to 4250rpm itâ€™s obviously no rocket but nor does it feel underpowered thanks to the spread of thrust which gives the engine almost diesel characteristics. You can find yourself in third gear a lot though. Acceleration from rest to 60mph takes 10.5 seconds. Motorway cruising was relaxed enough despite only five gears and most of the time the engine note is well muted. Top speed is 124mph.
Vauxhall sorts out the handling of its cars on our bumpy, oddly cambered UK roads and it shows with the new, Ellesmere Port-built Astra. Bumps donâ€™t pitch you off course even if hit mid-corner. The picture was clouded slightly by the test car running on larger 17in diameter alloy wheels than standard (16in) but the car has a positive front end without being nervous and the back axle follows the front with precision and without stepping out unless you do really stupid things with the throttle while cornering hard. The car can gently brake individual front wheels to reduce understeer and makes the car feel more precise and agile. As standard the Tech Line model driven comes in 16in wheels but the test car wore bigger 17in. They fill the wheel arches better but probably made the ride a bit firmer.
The new Vauxhall Astra was styled by a team led by British designers Mark Adams and Malcolm Ward and features some clever side creases that really catch the light and make the car look smart. The Astra looks particularly smart from a rear three-quarters angle. It doesnâ€™t just look sleeker and smaller either, it is; yet there is more space in the cabin than before. Rear seat access is easy and headroom good despite the sloping roof. Boot space is unchanged and Vauxhall claims if you opt for a space-saver spare wheel the floor is completely flat rather than having a ridge where the seats are fitted. The Astra breaks new ground by being available with class-leading computer controlled â€˜matrixâ€™ headlights. These lights can be left on main beam and a computer chip picking up images from the driver-assist camera above the interior mirror will blank out individual sections to avoid dazzling other road users. Length 4370mm. Width 1809mm.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Astraâ€™s seats proved okay on a couple of two hour test routes and the driving position is mainly on the button, though we had some difficulty adjusting the steering column. The other glitch on this early car was quite amusing. I kept trying to slip the car into sixth gear as per the graphic on the gear knob. Investigation showed the car only comes with a five-speed gearbox. You canâ€™t get away from touch screens in cars these days but the Astraâ€™s is sharper and quicker responding than many. It looks neat too and means you have less conventional buttons, but assessing how some complex functions operate will require a longer time in the car. Strangely the speedometer is calibrated more boldly for 40 and 80mph than 30 and 70mph. The test car thankfully escaped the curse of the electronic parking brake. The brakes were a little "soft" for my taste and I did not like the angle of the accelerator relevant to the brake pedal, so try before you buy.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The 1-litre turbo petrol three-cylinder costs from Â£15,995 on the road. With automatic engine stop-start to save fuel in traffic congestion the EcoFlex model returns 64.2mpg on the official combined test cycle. On a busy test route the car averaged 41.5mpg, but my colleague liked to "keep the pot boiling" and kept it in third gear much of the time to take advantage of the torque of the engine. The Astraâ€™s warranty is for three years/60,000 miles. Main service intervals are at 20,000 miles. Insurance group is 12E.
Emissions come in at 99 g/km for carbon dioxide exhaust emissions, though if fitted with the Easytronic five-speed automatic transmission, not yet tested, Vauxhall says the same model achieves a class-leading 96g/km CO2 emissions. Vauxhall has gone to great lengths to reduce the weight of the Astra so that less fuel is used when accelerating and to improve its aerodynamics so at cruising speeds it slips through the air using less power. The car is up to 200kg lighter than the car it replaces while its aerodynamic drag has dropped from a Cd of 0.325 to just 0.285. And this has been achieved without going to the expense of full body under cladding for a flat floor. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 29.
The entry Design specification includes LED daytime running lights, front and rear electric windows, air conditioning, IntelliLink audio system, digital radio, seven inch touch screen with USB and aux input, Bluetooth connectivity, multi-function trip computer, cruise control, steering wheel controls and six airbags. The Tech Line test car trim (at Â£15,995; down Â£775 on the previous model) adds Navi 900 satellite navigation system with eight inch colour touch screen, a leather rimmed steering wheel, and adjustable front armrest. The Â£16,695 on-the-road test car was fitted with 17in alloy wheels for an extra Â£395 taking the price to Â£17,090. The Astra is the first Vauxhall to offer the OnStar connectivity system which includes high-speed 4G LTE mobile network, emergency response notification and stolen vehicle recovery alert. It is also one of the first cars to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Model tested: Vauxhall Astra 1.0 turbo Tech Line EcoFlex
Body-style: Five door family hatchback
Engine/CO2: 105bhp 998cc, three-cylinder petrol engine / 96 g/km CO2
Trim grades: Design, Tech Line, Energy, SRi, Elite
On-road price: From £15,295. Price as tested £17,090
Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles
In the showroom: October
Review rating: 4.0 Stars