Published on Monday 9 December 2013 16:25
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall hopes that a package of smart styling revisions will keep its Astra family hatch competitive with tough competition in the Focus and Golf sector. Add in the brand's usual vast range of engines and trim levels and you have a family hatchback that continues to be very difficult to ignore. Especially in entry-level 1.4i 16v VVT petrol form, the least expensive version of which is one of the most affordable cars in its sector.
Versions of the Astra, Focus and Golf have been locking horns over the affections of family hatch buyers for years. With models like the Renault Megane, Peugeot 308, Toyota Auris, Honda Civic, Fiat Bravo and Citroen C4 also wrestling for attention, things can get confusing. In the UK, the Astra brand carries plenty of weight with the public and Vauxhall has developed the current sixth generation version to hammer that advantage home. To achieve this, it has worked on enhancing quality, increasing space and taking the driving experience to the next level. Will that be enough? Well to make sure, we've got a mid-term package of styling tweaks that give the car a sleeker look. Let's try it in entry-level 1.4-litre 16v VVT petrol form.
To begin with, I need to point out that the 1.4-litre 16v VVT petrol powerplant on offer here is one of Vauxhall's older engines. In other words, we're not talking here about the modern 120 or 140PS 1.4-litre 16v turbo petrol unit that's offered to Astra GTC coupe customers and was available to original buyers of this sixth generation Astra five-door hatch. It isn't any more. If you're looking at a five-door Astra hatch, petrol choices are limited to 87 and 100PS normally aspirated versions of the 1.4i 16v VVT unit we're looking at here - or an unremarkable 115PS normally aspirated 1.6-litre powerplant.
In the case of this 1.4 in 87PS form, that means rest to sixty in around 14s on the way to a top speed of 105mph. Graduating up to this unit in 100PS form means that your bodystyle choice also includes the Sports Tourer estate. Performance improves to get you to sixty on 12.9s on the way to 111mph.
As for ride and handling, well most will find this a well-judged compromise between dynamic response and a comfortable ride thanks to the way that both the dampers and the slightly vague electric power steering have apparently been tuned specifically for British roads.
Design and Build
Whether you opt for your Astra in five-door hatch or Sport Tourer estate form, you'll find the latest version has a sleeker look, much in the style of the GTC three-door. Both five-door models get a smarter front grille, with a repositioned logo-bar in the upper section and a re-styled lower section too. Neater front indicator lamps and a fresh design of fog lamp complete the front-end revisions. The rear of both models has also been refreshed, with sleeker rear-panel styling complemented by a chrome lower moulding.
This MK6 Astra has, from launch, been usefully larger than its predecessor, something you notice most back on the rear seat. A fully-grown adult really can sit comfortably in the middle for decently long periods alongside passengers who'll appreciate the fact that you can slide your feet properly right under the seat in front. So yes, this really is a proper 5-seater in a way that many of its rivals simply aren't. Not such good news for Vauxhall is the fact that the improvement in cabin space is so significant that it virtually matches that of the brand's apparently bigger Insignia model. One reason for buying the larger car might, perhaps, be that its boot betters the 350-litre bay in the Astra by 140-litres, but with all the seats flattened, the Astra remains close to its bigger stablemate, offering 1235-litres. There's also a useful floating floor for separating your load.
Market and Model
Here's where this Astra - and this particular 1.4i 16v VVT petrol version in particular - has a real advantage over most of its family hatchback rivals. A five-door 87PS version of this entry-level car can be yours in base 'Expression' trim for around £13,000 - which gives it a price advantage of around £1,000 over an equivalently powered entry-level 1.6-litre Ford Focus. This Astra's cost is even enough to undercut entry-level versions of budget brand South Korean family hatchbacks like 1.4-litre petrol versions of the Kia cee'd or the Hyundai i30. Only Skoda's Rapid can get close, and then only if you specify it with the weedy 75PS three cylinder 1.2-litre petrol unit that most experts will council you to avoid.
Astra pricing does rise substantially though if you order the 1.4-litre 16v VVT engine in 100PS form. You'll need just over £16,000 for the five-door hatch version and around £17,300 if you want the Sports Tourer estate version. You do though, get slightly plusher ES trim as part of the deal. As far as equipment levels are concerned, well whichever version you choose, air conditioning, an MP3-compatible CD stereo with Aux-in socket, driver's seat height adjustment, power heated door mirrors and electric front windows come as standard. Only the absence of daytime running lights and engine Start/Stop on some of the cheapest versions and the lack of Bluetooth 'phone compatibility (all items offered further up the range) are notable omissions for budget buyers.
Cost of Ownership
Because this 1.4 16v VVT petrol unit doesn't have Stop/Start, its fuel and CO2 figures are unremarkable - 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and 129g/km of CO2 whichever version you choose.
What else? Well, Vauxhall being a mainstream brand, residual values aren't as strong as, for example, a Volkswagen Golf but the Astra claws the advantage back with a low upfront price, modest cost of options and very affordable servicing. The insurance for 1.4i 16v VVT models is group 5 on the 1 to 50 scale and for first time owners, there's also the attraction of Vauxhall's Lifetime Warranty package which will last the lifetime of the car or for up to 100,000 miles.
Bottom line? Well this smarter sixth generation Astra must now be taken more seriously than ever before, even in this entry-level 1.4i 16v VVT petrol guise. It's good to drive and great to ride in, with a large, classy cabin that will sell this car to many, the standard having been raised far beyond what we've seen from Vauxhall in the past.
Best of all, it's mainly British, built at Ellesmere Port near Liverpool to a quality at least as high as anything the Japanese brands can manage. Perhaps this model's key selling point though remains its price. With an asking figure of around £13,000 for the 'Expression' five-door hatchback 1.4i 16v VVT variant, this particular version is arguably the best value family hatchback you can buy. Enough said.