LAUNCHED in 2009, this generation Astra was designed to be more visually appealing and packed full of clever stuff than its predecessor. With stiff competition coming from all corners of the globe, from the established Euro firms to the recently invigorated Korean brands, its slippery exterior and upmarket cabin were seen as ways to remain ahead of the game.
As a result, this latest generation Astra hatchback is a world away from its humble beginnings. Borrowing heavily from the larger Insignia, it boasts plush upholstery and cabin trim, a generous level of standard equipment, big car levels of refinement and distinctive styling that does much to distance it from rivals offering a lower cost but also lower rent experience.
Keeping one step ahead has resulted in a measured but significant raft of improvements for the car’s mid-life upgrade. Now available in three bodystyles – three-door GTC, five-door hatch, Sport Tourer estate – Vauxhall’s stylists have decided to tweak the cars’ looks depending on engine choice to give the Astra a visual premium ‘lift’.
The subtle but noticeable differences depend on whether you’ve opted for Vauxhall’s new high power BiTurbo diesel variant or not. Either way, you’ll see styling tweaks to bumpers, grilles and lights. If you think that’s a lot of effort for ‘just’ an engine, it’s no ordinary diesel lump.
Keen to boost the performance - perceived and actual - of its Astra in the face of more expensive rival cars streaking ahead with super-dooper oil-burners, Vauxhall’s engineers have developed a 2.0-litre diesel motor with two blowers: a small one to enhance low-end performance and a larger one to give you the top-end shove needed for serious acceleration.
First seen in the larger Insignia, this engine boasts some impressive figures. Top speed is an un-diesel-like 141mph, as is the 8.4 second sprint to 62mph. However, it shouldn’t really be a surprise as you’ve got 195 horsepower and 295lb ft of torque to play with plus a sensible money CO2 rating of 134g/km and a 55.4mpg figure to boot.
Interestingly, that torque figure puts this Astra on a par with the recently released VXR variant. The difference is, obviously, in the power delivery, with the hot diesel version demonstrating a more measured approach without the need to change gear at the same manic pace as the petrol VXR.
That said, if you’re prepared to put in the effort you can set a searing pace in the BiTurbo Astra. The reward is a more composed ride over poorly surfaced roads and, obviously much better fuel economy and range. Vauxhall’s driver adjustable suspension option is available for you to fine tune the experience, while the car’s cabin gets a few choice BiTurbo-themed cosmetic enhancements to lift the ambience and help remind you that you’re not in a one-point-nothing entry level car
Speaking of which, you’ll be pleased to hear that here’s no such thing in Vauxhall’s revised Astra line-up. The coming months and years will see a comprehensive overhaul of the firm’s engine line-up, with the BiTurbo unit and an improved 1.4 turbo petrol unit leading the charge for now. And for the undemanding driver that 1.4-litre motor is no slouch in a five-door Astra, proving quiet and willing.
As rival firms continue to heap new and clever kit on their cars, Vauxhall has also stepped up its product offensive with the likes of traffic sign reader, lane departure and tailgate warning systems to keep drivers alert and minimise accidents. Even as standard the kit list on the BiTurbo is good, with large alloy wheels, climate control, DAB radio, Bluetooth, sports seats and trim plus a distinctive sports setting for the car’s suspension.
It’s clear from Vauxhall’s current stance that it’s keen to do battle in more premium environments than its famous for inhabiting. The quality uplift made to the Astra line-up is welcome, while the performance opportunities offered by the BiTurbo diesel model should put a smile on a few faces.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Vauxhall Astra BiTurbo 5dr, from £24,095 on the road.Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel unit developing 195bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.Performance: Maximum speed 141mph, 0-62mph 8.4 seconds.Economy: 55.4mpg.CO2 Rating: 134g/km.