Vauxhall has delivered us a smarter, cleverer and more efficient version of its British-built seventh generation Astra. A fresh range of three cylinder petrol and diesel engines bring the oily bits up to date and make a big difference to running costs. Plus safety now meets today's higher class standards and you can specify extra high-end luxury features you couldn't have had before. In short, this Astra's now worth a second look.
The key changes here lie beneath the bonnet. Previously, there was just a single 3 cylinder engine in the range. Now the old units have gone and the line-up is built around this format. There are two fresh petrol units, a 1.2 developing either 110, 130 or 145PS and mated to 6-speed manual transmission. And a 1.4 putting out 145PS which has to be had with a new 7-speed CVT auto 'box. All the engines develop reasonable pulling power, with outputs ranging between 195 and 236Nm. Vauxhall's particularly pleased with throttle response with these engines, claiming that 90% of their pulling power is available within 1.5 seconds of pressing the accelerator.
The diesel engine is new too, a 1.5-litre three cylinder powerplant offered in two states of tune, 105PS and 122PS. The more potent unit gets the option of a new 9-speed auto gearbox. These engines feature an electrically-activated turbocharger with variable geometry turbine vanes and, similar to their petrol counterparts, a balance shaft in the block for additional refinement. Torque output figures vary between 260 to 300Nm. There are no suspension or handling changes, which means that this MK7 model continues with a relatively simple torsion beam rear suspension system, a set-up enhanced with a so-called 'Watts linkage' feature to improve cornering stability.
You'd struggle to recognise this facelifted model as being different from earlier versions of the MK7 Astra design. The only visual changes lie with small tweaks to upper and lower sections of the front grille, these apparently contributing to a more aerodynamic profile. As before, buyers choose between the standard five-door hatch body shape, or a five-door Sports Tourer estate variant. Fortunately, the exterior lines of the silhouette are wearing well. A nice touch is the 'floating' roof, an effect created by a dark trim on the C-pillar and highlighted by a chrome strip that runs the length of the roof.
Inside, there are no changes but extra comfort can be specified in the form of high-end features like a wireless charger, a heated windscreen and a BOSE sound system. As before, infotainment's taken care of by the available Multimedia Radio, Multimedia Navi and Multimedia Navi Pro systems. All systems are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-mirroring and the top-of-the-line Multimedia Navi Pro set-up has an eight-inch colour touchscreen and can also be operated by voice control. Rear seat space is class-competitive, as is boot space, 370-litres in the hatch and 540-litres in the Sports Tourer.
In a family hatchback class stuffed with appealing options, it would be easy perhaps to overlook this seventh generation Astra - or at least to assume it to be an also-ran in this tightly-fought segment. You shouldn't do that - and it isn't. Especially now. The new engines bring this Vauxhall back to the forefront of the Focus segment and offer levels of efficiency that rivals struggle to beat. And your local dealer is likely to give you a very sharp deal too.
Assuming you get that, you'll also get yourself a car that feels quite up to the challenge posed by an army of efficient, plush and dynamically able rivals. Of course this facelift's package of improvements have helped here - the slightly smarter look, the extra safety provision and the additional luxury features. Best of all, it's 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.Click here to find out more about our Vauxhall Astra range