This early taste of the Mk8 Astra suggests that it is a proper, individual offering that should stand out – and as far as Vauxhall is concerned, that’s probably an achievement in itself.
The current generation of Corsa is, after all, a car created on the fly, in the wake of the takeover of the old British name and its stablemate Opel. Its bigger brother, on the other hand, has had time to mature in-house – time for the engineers to take full advantage of the Stellantis tech.
As we prepare for our first taste of the new Astra, though, it’s clear that this is indeed a more striking type of family hatchback from Vauxhall. At the front there’s the latest incarnation of what the company calls the Vizor – the dramatic headlight and grille treatment – while the rear of the car is pulled downward, with wing-shaped tail-lights and a vertical third brake light. It’s bold, particularly in the metallic yellow paintwork of our test example.
The interior marks a big departure for the Astra too. At the heart of the front cabin is the Pure Panel, a wide housing for the pair of 10-inch displays devoted to the digital instruments and the infotainment. The interface for the latter feels a little clunky to us; let’s say it needs to be learned, rather than being seamlessly intuitive.
Car group tests
Used car tests
The changes don’t stop there, because the switch to the Stellantis Group’s EMP2 platform means that this Astra gets the option of plug-in hybrid power. And that’s what we’re trying here; it mixes a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 148bhp with a single electric motor delivering the same output, for a combined maximum of 178bhp and 360Nm of torque. There’s also a 12.4kWh battery, which Vauxhall claims can take the car 43 miles on electricity alone – and up to a zero-emissions top speed of 84mph.
Pulling away silently, the Astra instantly shows off a relatively tight turning circle of 10.5 metres. And once we start getting up to speed, the powertrain demonstrates a sophisticated side to its character; the eight-speed automatic transmission is extremely slick, with changes that are almost imperceptible.
Push the hybrid system beyond its pure-electric mode and there’s more than enough performance for a family hatchback; 0-62mph takes 7.7 seconds and the top speed is 140mph.
You’re unlikely to be troubled by the transition between electric and petrol power, because the switch is conducted in a very refined fashion – but if you really push on and take the revs higher, you’ll find the note a little bit thrashy.
The ride quality could be more of an issue, however, particularly on the UK’s notoriously poor road surfaces. Our test car is the heaviest Astra, of course, but the overall set-up felt rather firm, transferring road scars through to the cabin and delivering a constant rumble from the tyres.
Inside, the Astra has plenty of room up front, but it feels a little tight in the rear for adults. And the quality isn’t going to stand out as much as the design; it’s decent, but no better than the class norm these days.
With a list price starting at over £32,000, the PHEV will appeal to those watching their BiK tax more than to retail customers. But the Astra is still available with a regular petrol engine, with either 108bhp or 128bhp, and there’s even a diesel variant. A pure-electric edition is due to arrive in 2023, too.
|Model:||Vauxhall Astra HYBRID-e GS-Line|
|Engine:||1.6-litre turbo petrol, 1x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive|
|Electric range:||43 miles|