What is it?
The company car of choice in the new Vauxhall Astra range. Fitted with a tax bill-stroking 1.6-litre diesel engine that offers a claimed 85.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 88g/km, this is will be the best-selling diesel in the seventh-gen Astra line-up.
The 109bhp powerplant is the entry-level diesel engine and sits below the 134bhp 1.6 CDTi and 158bhp 1.6 CDTi BiTurbo units. It carries the Ecoflex moniker because it comes with a stop-start system (a £500 extra on the standard 1.6 CDTi engine), and it also gets a few other tweaks to help eke out fuel economy. Most notably, it has a gearbox with taller gearing than the more powerful models, although the 110 Ecoflex actually has the same amount of torque as the 134bhp diesel.
While these super frugal figures impress on paper, they will have to translate extremely well onto the road to make an impact on a class that is one of the most competitive around. The Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia – to name a notable few – are all jostling for sales, elbows out, in this segment with similarly eco-friendly credentials.
What’s it like?
Fuel economy aside, the engine does a decent job of making brisk progress. It’s by no means quick, but it’s nippy enough to cope with A-road overtakes and long motorway jaunts.
The six-speed manual ‘box is pretty slick, too, and the taller ratios keep the revs low at cruising speeds. However, you do need to work through the gears a bit more than on other Astra models if you want to get the most out of the engine because it feels a bit flat at low revs.
When you do push on and get the engine going, Vauxhall’s ‘whisper’ diesel engine becomes rowdy beyond 3000rpm. Refinement is generally is good, though, and the Astra stays hushed as a motorway cruiser, with road and wind noise well suppressed and just a bit of vibration through the pedals. High-speed ride is relatively smooth as well, but it can be a bit fidgety at lower speeds.
A big benefit of the Astra’s new DM2 platform is the substantial weight-loss programme it’s been on. Shedding almost 200kg compared with its predecessor, the latest Astra is surprisingly agile through corners. However, the steering doesn’t offer much feel or weight, meaning cross-country blats simply aren’t as enjoyable as they are in a Golf, although it does mean town driving and tight parking manoeuvres aren’t too onerous on your forearms. Those after a bit more feel should look at SRi trim levels and above. They have a sport button that allows you to add a bit more weight to the steering, although not enough to trouble the sweet-handling Focus.
Inside, the new platform has worked some Tardis trickery to give the Astra lots of space, despite it shrinking on the outside. The driver and front passenger have plenty of room, while rear space, particularly leg room, is also generous; even taller adults will be comfortable on longer journeys.
Up front, the infotainment system impresses, too. It is fairly well stocked with DAB radio, Bluetooth, and sat-nav, and responds quickly when you prod it. It’s not quite as logically laid out as the system in a VW Golf, but it outclasses the one in the latest Focus.
Our test car came in fleet-focused Tech Line trim, which is a value-over-gadgets specification, so we’d recommend upping to SRi or higher if you’re a private buyer with a slightly more flexible budget. Optional 17in wheels were also fitted to our car; they marginally improve the handling, but you’re probably better off sticking with the standard 16in wheels because they bring fractionally better CO2 emissions and fuel economy.
The Astra is a great all-round performer, but its appeal is dented by something that has long dogged Vauxhall’s hatchback. Years of supply outweighing demand mean it suffers from heavy depreciation. Yes, this latest generation model will no doubt hold onto its value slightly better than it predecessors, but a VW Golf clings on to its worth a lot better over a three-year period.
Should I buy one?
As mainstream family hatchbacks go, the Astra is one of the best. Some rivals are better to drive – notably the Focus and Golf – but while the Astra may not be an exciting steer, the return of cheap running costs, decent performance and practicality mean it is a front-runner in the class.
Company car buyers eyeing up a low-cost option will find a brilliant candidate in this particular Astra, while high-mileage private buyers will be similarly rewarded with a great value car that undercuts the Octavia, Golf, and Focus. If, however, you’re a low-mileage private buyer, look at either of the 1.4-litre petrol variants for a bit more poke.