UK Drive: How does the new Vauxhall Astra cope with British roads?

What is it?

Vauxhall Astra
The new grille is hard to miss


It’s hard to say just how important the Vauxhall Astra is to the UK. It’s a household name which has, time and time again, proven to be the ideal mode of transport for all manner of drivers thanks to its value-focused approach and hard wearing but practical interior.

Now, there’s a new one. Not only does it arrive with a striking new look, but it’s also packing a plug-in hybrid powertrain for added efficiency and lower emissions. Now we’ve already driven the Astra on European soil, but this is the first time that we’ve been able to test it out in the UK. So let’s see what it has to offer.

What’s new?

Vauxhall Astra
The vertical brake light is a standout feature


Bold new look aside, the new Astra has been jam-packed with new technology and features, while Vauxhall has looked to boost the levels of refinement and comfort you get. We’ve also got an impressive range of safety assistance features, including lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection and forward collision alert.

The plug-in hybrid powertrain is the big new addition here, of course, and if you need more space then a practical Sports Tourer version is available. It brings a larger boot – though the regular Astra’s load area is still respectable in size.

What’s under the bonnet?

Vauxhall Astra
The L-shaped LED lights are noticeable


Vauxhall has continued down its path of offering a multitude of powertrain options with the Astra, so it’s why you have petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid setups available. Here, we’re focusing on that final, most electrified option – though a fully electric version is due next year – which uses a 1.6-litre petrol engine combined with an electric motor to make 178bhp and 360Nm of torque. That equates to a 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds and a top speed of 140mph, which is pretty respectable for a car in this class.

Sent through an eight-speed automatic gearbox, that setup can provide up to 43 miles of electric-only range while, with the batteries fully topped up, Vauxhall says that you could see up to 256mpg alongside low CO2 emissions of between 24 and 26g/km depending on specification.

What’s it like to drive?

Vauxhall Astra
The new ‘Vizor’ grille sits up front


As we’ve already mentioned, Vauxhall has worked to make the new Astra a more refined prospect than its predecessor. For the most part, this is a success, with the bulk of road and wind noise isolated from entering the cabin. The well-padded seats tie into this comfort-focused approach, too.

We did, however, find the ride in this plug-in hybrid to be a little on the hard side, which is no doubt a by-product of the added weight brought on by the electric motor and batteries and the stiffened suspension used to accommodate. We tested a regular petrol model for comparison and found that to be far more comfortable over broken surfaces, so we’d opt for that if you’re after the best ride quality.

How does it look?

Vauxhall Astra
The rear lights are particularly sharp


It’s hard to fault Vauxhall’s endeavours to inject some real flair into its mainstream models. It already proved that it could make ‘everyday’ cars look the part with the latest Mokka and it has now made the most of this momentum with the new Astra. To our eyes at least it’s one of the best-looking cars in the segment, with the latest interpretation of Vauxhall’s ‘Vizor’ front end design being deployed successfully.

Around the back, it’s much the same story, with thin lights and a large central badge which also incorporates the boot opening mechanism. It feels as if Vauxhall is finding its stride with these models, that’s for sure.

What’s it like inside?

Vauxhall Astra
The cabin has plenty of modern touches


The Vauxhall Astra is a car that needs to be spacious and dependable on a daily basis, with families the most likely target buyers for this vehicle. In that sense, the plug-in hybrid might not be the strongest choice as, despite the lower running costs, it suffers a significant boot space penalty over the petrol and diesel version. In fact, there are 352 litres available in the PHEV – compared with 422 litres in the regular car – so there is a significant drawback in terms of practicality.

We also found it to be a little tight in the back, while the rear door apertures are reasonably narrow which could make loading a child seat into the back of the car a little trickier than you’d like it to be.

What’s the spec like?

Vauxhall Astra
The new screen comes with Apple CarPlay as standard


Our test car came in high-end Ultimate specification which came with all of the bells and whistles you could want. At £39,115 after options, our Astra model certainly sat at the more premium end of the spectrum, though features such as dual-zone climate control, a heated leather steering wheel and a 10-inch driver display go someway to justifying this price tag.

The 10-inch infotainment system on the latest Astra isn’t the most intuitive to use, though it’s handy to have physical shortcut buttons for many of the functions. Some areas of the cabin were let down by cheaper-feeling plastics, mind you, which did contrast the overall premium feeling that it seems Vauxhall is aiming for with the Astra.

Verdict

Vauxhall has managed to move the game along with its new Astra. One of the biggest aspects of this latest car is its design, which will no doubt attract buyers who are after something just a little different. However, it’s still backed by a pleasant interior and – in the case of the plug-in hybrid – low running costs, too.

It’s a shame that it doesn’t feel quite as spacious as rivals, mind you, while the boot on this PHEV version is significantly smaller than on regular versions. At a premium price, this Astra starts to make less sense but opt for a lower – but still very well equipped – specification and this is a Vauxhall that will impress.

  • Model: Vauxhall Astra

  • Price: £23,275

  • Model as tested: Astra Ultimate Plug-in Hybrid

  • Price as tested: £39,115

  • Engine: 1.6-litre petrol engine with electric motor

  • Power: 178bhp

  • Torque: 360Nm

  • 0-60mph: 7.7

  • Top speed: 140mph

  • Economy: 256mpg

  • Emissions: 24-26g/km CO2

  • Electric-only range: 43miles