Richard Aucock
08/07/2009 05:52 | By Richard Aucock, contributor, MSN Cars

Vauxhall Astra 1.3 CDTi Club review (2005-2011)

Vauxhall Astra 1.3 CDTi Club (© Vauxhall)


Model: Vauxhall Astra 1.3 CDTi Club
Bodystyle: Five-door hatchback
Engine: 1.3-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Date of test: July 2005

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What is it?

Vauxhall seems determined to offer as many engine options with the latest Astra as is possible. 1.4-litre, 1.6-litre, 1.8-litre, three 2.0-litre turbos, 1.7-litre diesel with two power outputs and 1.9-litre diesel, also with two power outputs. Phew. But goodness, Vauxhall’s spotted a niche it hasn’t filled! So, slotting in between the 80bhp and 100bhp diesels is a new 90bhp unit. 10bhp evidently makes all the difference to some. And here’s something – it’s a 1.3-litre unit, too. 90bhp from a 1.3-litre diesel? Must be pretty special.

Where does it fit?

It is pretty special. The new diesel is, like the 1.9-litre units, sourced from Fiat Group thanks to the Fiat-GM collaboration, and has already been seen in the Panda, Punto and Corsa. It’s been given a 20bhp boost over those models in this installation, and for the time being will to complement, rather than replace, the older 1.7-litre units. It’s currently only available as a five-door hatch, and then only in lower-end trims, suggesting that Vauxhall sees it primarily as a car for fleets. Private buyers, who like sporty trims and three-doors, may still prefer the ‘reassurance’ of a larger engine, though in time, expect the 1.7-litre to be usurped by this unit. Limited production capacity of the engine may also be a factor in Vauxhall’s slow ramp-up.

Is it for you?

This is the one if you want the most economical Astra of all. It averages 59mpg on the combined cycle, staggering for a five-door hatch and not far off the Corsa diesel’s 64mpg figure. That makes it a family hatch that’s potentially supermini-cheap to run, although it’s naturally not supermini-cheap to buy. The £15,275 list price of the test car is £4k more than you’d pay for a similar five-door Corsa – but the same, curiously, as the Astra 1.7-litre CDTi 80 Club. 10bhp for free then, and if you don’t want anyone to know yours is a 1.3-litre, Vauxhall has kindly removed the engine size designation from the bootlid.

What does it do well?

It’s a gem of an engine. All the usual diesel traits are well-subdued, with only the turbo whistle indicating that something a bit special lies under the bonnet. Bald figures are improved a little over the 1.7-litre 80bhp unit, with 0-60mph reduced by 1.2 seconds to a 1.2.8 second dash, and top speed raised slightly to 107mph. But in practice it feels stronger still. Between 2-3,500rpm, pull is forceful and satisfying, and it’s kept on the boil by a six-speed gearbox. Motorways are no problem and, overall, you’d be hard-pushed to tell it wasn’t a larger engine – if it wasn’t for the smooth, free-revving nature. What’s more, the test car was a rare ‘standard’ Club, so rode on normal 15-inch wheels, which transformed the ride quality. This is one supple Astra, with a remarkable ability absorb pot-holes with no harshness, while remaining fluid and even at speed. It’s simply a very sweet drive. The chassis is also grippy and safe, steering is light and the smart interior looks not at all ‘base-model’.

What doesn’t it do well?

Handling is safe but not too interactive – it lacks the dynamic turn-in sharpness of a Ford Focus, while body roll is well-controlled but still noticeable. The steering feels artificial and again doesn’t have the bite of a Focus. Below 2,000rpm, the engine lets itself down with a significant lack of ‘go’, while revving it to the red-line reveals its diesel roots. Also, so well-judged is the power delivery in everyday motoring, pushing harder risks disappointment, because there’s barely any left in reserve. It never feels strained, which is why the lack of extra oomph when you press on is so surprising. Elsewhere, the gearchange feels notchy when rushed (which the engine’s nature encourages), while the clutch, curiously, slips all-too easily if you don’t fully remove your foot.

What’s it like to live with?

The front seats aren’t as sportily-firm or bolstered like racier Astras, but still impress with their padded supportiveness. Vauxhall still makes some of the best seats in the business. The pedals are set a little too close to the driver though, while the steering wheel is also angled slightly – though its attractive design and tactile stereo controls compensate. The centre console looks as good as the instruments, and though the heater controls are set too low, they’re simple to use. The whole interior has a Germanic air to it, and is assembled from low-sheen, high-quality plastics, but those in the back won’t be quite so happy. By most standards it’s spacious, but compared to a Focus, the seat base is set low and footroom is a bit restricted. Club trim offers a good level of standard equipment, including CD, alloys and air con, and running it will be inexpensive – thanks to fuel economy, low servicing and insurance costs, plus superior retained vales of diesels compared to petrol brethren. This engine has the potential to become quite sought-after, while Astra residuals in general are enjoying a positive reaction from the used market. Let’s just hope a flood of fleet disposals doesn’t undo this achievement in the future.

Would we buy it?

This Astra impressed us on two counts. First, the quality of the ride on standard suspension and wheels. It revealed a side to the Astra previously concealed by sporty versions’ more aggressive set-ups, and we’d highly recommend you test a ‘basic’ car if a smooth ride is your thing. Secondly, the engine, which works extremely well. OK, it’s sorely lacking in grunt low-down, but accept a trait common to many modern diesels, and revel in shove far beyond its capacity – which, incidentally, is 1,248cc, technically making this a 1.2-litre! It’s no sports car – ask for much more than everyday go from the engine and you’ll be disappointed – but as a useful £15k family hatch, it’s a very pleasing car indeed. Even if the Ford Focus TDCi’s superior dynamics would ultimately win us over.

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