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Vauxhall Astra 1.6 Turbo SRi review (2009 onwards)
What - Vauxhall Astra 1.6T SRi
Where - Millbrook, Bedfordshire
Price - £15,675 - £23,695
Available - now
Key rivals - Ford Focus, Mazda 3, VW Golf
GALLERY: Vauxhall Astra
Read more Vauxhall car reviews
This is Vauxhall's sixth Astra in three decades but none have ever been as stylish, refined or good to drive as this one
We like: ride, handling, contemporary styling, well-appointed interior, space
We dislike: ergonomics on centre console, soft rear seats
Vauxhall's finances may be in turmoil and its UK future uncertain, but there is nothing downbeat about its ability to build great cars.
Earlier this year its Vectra replacement the Insignia picked up the prestigious international Car of the Year trophy, beating cars as brilliant as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Golf.
And now it's sizing up to the Golf again with a new Astra that it hopes will woo customers who want the solid build quality of the Volkswagen with the sharp driving dynamics of the Ford Focus.
The trouble with trying to excel in both areas means it could end up being good at neither. However, so confident is Vauxhall that it brought examples of both Focus and Golf to compare.
On first inspection, the Astra is a solid and handsome car, designed with the sort of flair you expect from Renault and, when parked next to the Focus and MK6 Golf, the one you would choose on appearance alone.
Its wide stance and broad shoulders give the impression of solidity, and its coupé-like profile will appeal to drivers who want a hint of sportiness from their family hatch.
There are eight engines to choose from; 1.4 petrols with 87bhp, 100bhp and 140bhp, the latter fitted with a turbocharger.
The 1.6s are offered with 115bhp and 180bhp, and diesels start with the 1.7, available in 110bhp or 125bhp outputs. Finally there's the 160bhp 2.0 CDTi range-topper.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol we tested is fitted with a six-speed manual and proved itself to be a smooth and free-revving performer.
It is also the quickest Astra at present, with 180bhp allowing it to sprint from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and onto a top speed of 138mph. Out of tighter bends the only issue is a tendency for the front wheels to scrabble for grip.
Ride and handling
The real story, though, is the way the new Astra handles. Previous incarnations where simply rebadged Opels sold in Europe, but this one has been extensively developed for UK roads.
As one senior engineer told me, UK buyers like their steering to be heavier and the result is one of the most extensive steering developments for a Vauxhall road car ever.
They also used the Insignia's suspension system to make the Astra 43% stiffer than before and improved ride comfort with the intention to create the best ride and handling in the class.
This car also gets the optional FlexRide adaptive damping system, which automatically tunes the suspension depending on driving conditions. You can override it with a choice of three programmed settings: normal, Sport or Tour.
Tour lightens the steering and softens the suspension, while Sport firms it up, but even in normal mode the Astra turns in sharply, with less kick back through the steering than a Focus and offering a more engaging drive than a Golf.
In Sport the ride can prove jittery on country roads, but then this car does have the optional 19-inch alloys. Leave the button in the default normal mode, however, and it shields bumps remarkably well from the cabin.
Another major leap forward in the Astra's 30-year evolution can be found the moment you open the door. The cabin is closely related to the Insignia's, with a sophisticated and contemporary design that looks and feels robust.
The centre console is overcrowded but it's surrounded in attractive fake-aluminium with a small screen sitting atop the dash as found on more premium cars. There's plenty of storage, too, and the middle bin has a fake floor to hide valuables like mobile phones and coins.
Moving to the rear, the wider platform means there's more space than ever in here, with enough legroom for two adults to stretch out in reasonable comfort. The only letdown is a slightly soft rear cushion.
The rectangular boot is free of wheelarch intrusion and provides between 370 and 1,235-litres. The boot floor can also be moved into three different positions to provide a flat load area or deep bay.
Economy and safety
The benefit of using a small, turbocharged engine is the balance achieved between performance, economy and emissions. Emissions are down by 13.3% compared to the previous Astra, with the 1.6T pegged at 159g/km and combined economy at 41.5mpg.
An Ecoflex model will also join the range next year with emissions of 109g/km, marking it down as a strong favourite with fleet users.
MSN Cars verdict
The new Vauxhall Astra is improved in almost every way and is finally in contention to upstage the current benchmark cars, the Focus and Golf. It steers, rides and handles with confidence, while inside Vauxhall has taken the lessons it has learnt with the Insignia and applied them to the Astra to create a handsome and prestigious small car.
|Need to know|
|Engines (petrol)||1.4 and 1.6s|
|Engines (diesel)||1.7, 2.0|
|Power (bhp)||87bhp - 180bhp|
|Torque (lb/ft)||96 - 258|
|0-62mph (secs)||13.8 - 7.9|
|Top speed (mph)||106 - 138|
|Economy (mpg)||39.8 - 60.1|
|CO2 (g/km)/Tax (%)||124 - 164|
|Ratings||1.6T SRi (£22,970)|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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