Vauxhall has delivered us a smarter, lighter, cleverer and more efficient Astra in seventh generation guise and in 1.6-litre CDTi 110PS ecoFLEX guise, it's the family hatch segment's most frugal contender. Once merely an ordinary family hatch, this model line is now making some extraordinary claims for your attention if you're in the market for a car of this kind.
According to Vauxhall, over a quarter of all British drivers have at some point either owned or driven an example of their Astra family hatch. A pretty significant car for our market then - and never more so than in the hugely improved seventh generation guise we're going to look at here.
Let's be clear: to meet its maker's objectives and face down an army of family hatchback Golf and Focus-sized segment rivals, this seventh generation design must be more than simply a better car than its predecessor. It has to take this segment to another level in terms of efficiency and technology, while substantially improving in terms of style and driving dynamics. If it can do just that, we'll find out at the wheel of this frugal 1.6-litre CDTi 110PS ecoFLEX variant.
Reducing this seventh generation Astra model's weight by up to 200kgs has had a significant effect on the way this car drives. It now soaks up bumps better and turns into the bends more easily, aided by a stiffer chassis and torque vectoring that helps with cornering traction. As before, this Vauxhall does without the kind of independent rear suspension system you'd find on a rival Ford Focus, instead favouring a neat Watts linkage system that claims to reduce sideways motion between the axle and the body of the car as you go through the corners.
Under the bonnet, diesel drivers get Vauxhall's refined 1.6-litre CDTi 'whisper diesel' unit with a choice of three power outputs - 110, 136 or 160PS. We tried the 110PS ecoFLEX variant which makes 62mph in 10.3s on the way to 121mph and is far more refined that the old 1.7-litre unit used in the previous generation model. Bear in mind though, that if you order this variant with the stop & start system that produces class-lading efficiency figures, it's a bit slower, taking 11.8s to reach 62mph and making 115mph flat out.
Give this seventh generation Astra little more than a cursory glance and your first impression may well be that visually at least, it isn't very much changed from what went before. Look more closely though and a different piece of styling presents itself, leaner, lighter and more agile in appearance, just as was intended. As before, there's a choice of five-door hatch or 'Sports Tourer' estate bodystyles.
Inside, despite the reduction in exterior size, you get an additional 35mm of rear legroom compared to the old car. Move up-front and there's the expected smarter fascia with splashes of chrome and the expected standard touchscreen infotainment screen that as usual reduces dashboard button clutter. For the first time, the General Motors 'OnStar' system is available, the set-up providing an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, 24/7 assistance from a dedicated service team and the ability to call the emergency services if the airbags deploy.
List prices have been adjusted for a little extra affordability this time round and that means you'll be paying from around £17,000 for this 1.6-litre CDTi 110PS variant. The range is based around a five-door hatchback bodystyle, but if you want a bit more versatility, then there's the option of finding a price premium of around £1,000 for the Sports Tourer estate version.
And equipment? Well, if you opt for base 'Design' trim, you get 16" alloy wheels, air conditioning, a DAB stereo with Bluetooth, a 7-inch touchscreen with Android Auto & Apple CarPlay compatibility, cruise control and all round power mirrors and windows. Business users will be interested in the 'Tech Line' trim that adds sat nav and a leather steering wheel. 'Energy' models lose the sat nav but gain bigger 17" alloys along with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Move up to the 'SRi' grade and you get sportier wheels, a driver assistance pack, sports seats and the OnStar system that will offer help in an emergency. Top 'Elite' models gain leather electric seats that are heated front and rear, climate control and a few other luxury items. Safety kit available on plusher models or as an option includes a 'Traffic Sign Assistant' that displays traffic signs on the dash as you pass them, a 'Lane Keep Assist' system, plus a 'Forward Collision Alert' set-up with auto braking.
You can talk as much as you like about this seventh generation Astra model's sharper styling and sophisticated technology but ultimately, probably the most important thing about it is something you can't see: the substantial weight loss programme that's been undertaken here to deliver Vauxhall's leaner, lighter and more efficient objectives. The brand says that up to 200kgs has been taken out of the weight of this car, though if you average the savings across the range, the figure is more like 130kgs.
Sure enough, it's an impressively clean and frugal thing, especially in diesel form. Now that the Griffin brand has at last ditched the noisy old-tech 1.3 and 1.7-litre CDTi units that rather hobbled the previous generation model, this Vauxhall looks set to take on all-comers in this closely-fought segment when it comes to those all-important figures. You have to have a 1.6-litre CDTi unit these days and it's at its most efficient in 110PS guise: or at least it is if you pay extra for the ecoFLEX variant with its engine stop/start system. With this in place, a class-leading 91.2mpg on the combined cycle is theoretically supposed to be possible, along with 82g/km of CO2. To save you making comparisons, I'll tell you that this is between 5 and 10% better than this model's most efficient rivals can manage.
So to the bottom line, which is, quite simply, that it's time for the market to re-evaluate the Vauxhall Astra. It's the most efficient and technologically advanced contender in its class, as well as being one of the best equipped and most affordable. Despite smaller dimensions, it somehow manages to be more practical than before - and smarter too. Better still, a weight loss programme has also resulted in a much lighter car that's more agile and responsive to drive. It's hard to make a bad choice in the powerplant department either and the 1.6-litre CDTi 110PS ecoFLEX diesel unit we've been looking at here is impressively quiet and very efficient.
Best of all, this MK7 model Astra remains mainly British, with hatch and estate models built at Ellesmere Port near Liverpool to a quality at least as high as anything the Japanese brands can manage. That reason alone might be enough to give this car a place on your family hatchback shortlist. Fortunately for Vauxhall, there are also many others.
Choose from 8 different Vauxhall Astra grades.
Images for illustration purposes only