Vauxhall Astra 2.0 CDTI ecoFLEX SE Road Test Review by Oliver Hammond

Now that this 6th generation incarnation of Vauxhall’s ever-popular Astra model has cemented its success in the UK market since its launch in late 2009, SimonsCarSpots thought it was time to see what made the latest Astra substantially outsell Ford’s rival Focus as the best-selling car in June 2010 and continue to do rather well ever since.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - external 4

The Astra range starts at £12,995 for the standard 1.4 petrol Expression model and goes up to just over £30,000 a fully kitted 2.0 diesel Elite edition with most available options ticked. The version we had for this week’s review was the Astra 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX Start/Stop 5-door hatchback with 165bhp in SE trim, in Olympic White with a black interior, costing £25,555 in total. Our car had tasty options fitted in the form of the colour satellite navigation system costing £855, a DAB radio at £160 extra, a Bluetooth mobile phone system priced at £220, FlexRide at £790 and parking sensors at the front and rear costing £395.

We know looks aren’t everything, but…

Although the latest Astra has been around for a couple of years now, it still never fails to impress a large number of people who are actually quite positively surprised when they find out what car you’ve pulled up in. With its really rather striking and some-may-even-say beautiful stylish new design, the new Astra banished any traces of boxy utilitarianism that may have summed up the previous model. The 6th generation Vauxhall Astra is actually built on what is called the ‘Delta’ chassis from General Motors, first implemented on the Chevrolet Cruze. The Astra’s design borrows noticeably from the equally impressive Insignia’s styling and I personally am a big fan of the Astra’s sultry, sporty and dynamic lines, especially in SRi guise – although the SE spec under test this week doesn’t look far off at all. The front and side angles particularly work well in my view, although the rear is a little on the bulbous side.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - external 5

Daytime running lights, eagle-eyed front headlights, tasteful use of chrome, a definite impression of solidity and an undeniably modern look definitely make the new Astra a car in this segment to shortlist based on its style. The old Astra was pretty solid too, but this new model reinforces the point just that bit more. White seems to be the rage at the moment and our test car was no exception, but I still think other colours suit the new Astra better – red, black, grey or blue, for example.

The cocktail-Bab-esque interior which lacks no gadgets

Inside, the blended vibe of contemporary and futuristic matches the outside, continuing the theme. The style, layout and execution of the Astra’s dashboard, instrument panel, centre console and various controls are very good indeed for a mainstream car of this ilk. The buttons and knobs for the radio, CD system, climate control and other basic functions are refreshingly large, making them easy to operate even with gloves on or when pressing them hurriedly on the move. Some controls are not positioned or operated as obviously as they could be, but they’re all easy to get the hang of with a bit of practice. The menu options are selected by rotating the two round dials and then pressing the respective dial inwards to select an option.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - dash screen 1

The centre console, dashboard and doors include a tasteful amount of chrome-effect materials to give them a bit of modern chic and although some may label it as a bit naff in a Stringfellow kind of way, I’m definitely a fan of the use of red lighting throughout the interior, to bring both an ambience and a degree of practicality to the door handles, the gear level surround and certain other areas.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - red lighting 3

The front seats are large and generally good at providing support, although I struggled occasionally after spending considerable stretches of time creeping along in very slow moving motorway queues. The actual quality and finish of the seats is incredibly good, with their leather side supports and elegant stitching, which is also carried across to the door cards, giving the interior a premium feel to it. I was rather surprised, in a positive sense, that the grab handles are damped – as some similarly-priced cars’ feel rather more flimsy. Thought has obviously gone into many areas of the Astra interior’s implementation. You feel like you’re sitting quite low down inside the car, but naturally you’re given the ability to (manually) adjust the seating position so it suits you better.

Our test car was fitted with a DAD radio which was brilliant in both its quality and operation, allowing me to listen to Jazz FM on the move, which was a nice bonus. The optional colour sat nav system was also fitted and certainly adds even more modernity and technology to the Astra’s dashboard. The sat nav and Bluetooth phone system both worked very well and the voice activation performed impressively too, so combined with the Astra interior’s other attributes, it certainly makes for a good car for businesspeople or busy family people who like a lot of gadgets on the move. The only thing that spoils the execution slightly is the use of rather old-fashioned, large orange icons and text for the multifunction computer – rather like many French cars still use as well.

Moving on from the large-feeling front seats, the rear is also more than adequate too, with plenty of room for average-sized adults. Taller people may struggle a bit for headroom due to the sloping roofline, but there’s no intrusion from the transmission tunnel so the middle seat is definitely there in practice, not just in theory – although better suited for children when carrying 3 people in the back.

I found boot space to be surprisingly good with plenty of room for the weekly shop and no doubt more than sufficient space for a family of four to carry a modest amount of luggage between them. The official figure is 351 litres with the seats up, which is only 10 litres less than the latest Ford Focus hatchback. And with the 60/40 seats folded down in the Astra, a quoted 1,216 litres are available, compared to the Focus’ 1,148 litres. So the Astra wins marginally if you want to use the Astra for carrying various gubbins to the local tip or moving some furniture, for example. The Flex Floor system in the Astra, which you can see in the photo below, allows the boot floor to be artificially raised and lowered to suit, depending on whether you want items to be the same level as the rather pronounced lip which would otherwise make loading some items in a bit tricky, or if you wanted to create a hidden storage area under the raised floor. The door pockets are big enough to fit smaller drinks bottles into them, the Astra obviously comes with cupholders which are more or less standard on cars these days and there are a few other storage bins and compartments dotted around the cabin – but the storage compartment in the front centre arm rest isn’t all that big.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - boot

The remaining notable interior features to mention are the use of Vauxhall’s now ever-present electronic parking brake switch which may seem more familiar to people who are more used to driving automatics. It works well once you get used to it, pulling the switch back briefly to put the handbrake on lightly, or pulling it more forcibly if you want maximum strength to be applied. You can disengage the electronic parking brake in a number of ways, but sometimes the car struggled to drive out of it, so to speak, and one time, the engine stalled when pulling away going up a steep hill in queued traffic. The Astra’s ECOTEC engine with its start-stop technology is virtually stall-proof, though, as it restarts itself in such situations. The environment is becoming an increasing concern for countries around the globe, so cars fitted with such start-stop systems are very welcome and it certainly makes slow-moving journeys slightly more bearable. It is fair to say, however, that the 2.0 CDTi engine in the Astra is quite noisy and when it starts up again it doesn’t do so as quietly as the same kind of system in the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion, for example.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - engine 1

How does the Astra perform on the road?
The 2.0 CDTi engine isn’t the quietest, most refined diesel out there and at times did sound somewhat akin to a van what with all the clatter, but this is mainly in lower gears. The engine does feel powerful and punchy and pulls away well, reaching much quieter levels once you’ve worked your way up through the car’s 6 gears. The gearbox was a little bit notchy for my liking in terms of its physical operation, but the actual gear changes proved pretty smooth, which is more down to human style. To engage reverse, you hold in the little button at the top of the gear stick and the actual process of reversing is made easier thanks to decent parking sensors, plus the Astra’s dimensions being fairly easy to judge and get a feel for. Unlike some cars I’ve reviewed lately which yearn for high gears as soon as possible, the Astra didn’t seem to like 4th gear until it reached 40mph or more. The clutch seemed quite heavy for the first half of the week but I began to notice it less thereafter.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - electronic parking brake

Vauxhall’s flagship 2.0 litre diesel unit uses cutting-edge common rail fuel injection, has 16 valves and variable geometry turbocharging, it being the most powerful diesel option in the Astra range. The 165bhp is definitely noticeable as the Astra can be driven as spiritedly as you desire. It never seems to struggle even if it’s not in the optimum gear and out on the motorway it excels providing lots of cruising power and overtaking ability. When conditions are right, you should be able to sprint from 0-60mph in 8.4 seconds which is more than enough for a car of this type, and (not that it’s possible on UK roads) the top speed is 134mph.

The annual VED for this Astra variant is £30, it sits at 13% as far as Benefits in Kind are concerned and puts out 119g/km CO2, which is better than the latest Ford Focus Duratorq 2.0 (163bhp) TDCi’s 139g/km CO2.

Economy wise, the official combined figure is 62.8mpg but unfortunately the horrendous M60 commute took up much of my Astra’s time during the week, so perhaps the averaged 42mpg was quite good considering it didn’t get above 20mph for considerable periods. When not in commuter mode, the Astra was driven around plenty of town centre streets and country lanes and the average MPG readout never really seemed to drop, which was impressive as it indicates that although you’ll need to regularly drive on long stretches of motorway to achieve near the 62.8mpg combined average, you should never find yourself far off 45mpg even if you spend most of your time pottering around town on short trips.

The inner child within us all will be fascinated by the two large buttons at the top of centre console – SPORT and TOUR. The SPORT button is supposed to sharpen up the response of the speed-sensitive steering system. Although the Astra’s steering is already very good indeed to start with owing to its FlexRide Adaptive Stability Technology system, pressing the SPORT button did seem to improve the steering response, precision and feedback that little bit more. SPORT mode also stiffens the dampers for improved road contact and sharpens the throttle input. At lower speeds I didn’t notice a huge amount of difference in SPORT mode, but in higher gears (noticeably in 4th and 5th) the car did feel even more spritely than usual, for that extra bit of driver involvement and fun. And the real piece de resistance when it comes to the SPORT button, in a purely childish way, is that it bathes the instrument panel in red, supposedly to heighten one’s anticipation and adrenaline.

Vauxhall Astra 20 CDTi ecoFLEX 5-door hatch SE road test review by Oliver Hammond - computer display

Conversely, the TOUR button softens the Astra up, with comfort in mind. Pot holes and speed bumps are everywhere these days, so I liked nothing better than to set the Astra in TOUR more when driving around town. The suspension already coped with such things very well in cossetting, confident style – but pressing TOUR made them seem even softer, even if it maybe had somewhat of a placebo effect. And if you don’t feel like pressing either of these buttons, you can just settle for the Astra’s start-up default, which is ECO mode.
So it all sounds rather good then?

Indeed, I found the Astra to be an accomplished car in many respects. The styling is very effective both inside and out and should age well over the next few years. Although the 2 litre engine was quite noisy at times, I expect that most of the Astra’s hordes of buyers will find it acceptable especially if they turn the excellent DAB radio up a notch, and the car handles very well indeed. So if you’re a business person desiring of a frugal hatchback to munch away those motorway miles, a family person or single person ‘around town’ or a fleet buyer for the police force, business or even religious organisations, it’s easy to understand why the Vauxhall Astra 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX start-stop 165bhp SE might well be on your shortlist. The only question mark will likely be over this model’s price, which feels rather expensive at £25k. It’s altogether a very good car, though, and Vauxhall offer 100,000 miles or Lifetime warranties, so you should be well protected. Long may Ellesmere Port continue to extend the Astra’s lineage.

Oliver Hammond
Motoring Writer, Road Test Reviewer & Car Consultant

Specification of Vauxhall Astra 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX Start/Stop 5-door hatchback (165ps) SE Tested

Engine: 2.0 CDTi
Capacity: 1956cc
Max Power: 165PS@4000rpm
Max torque: 350Nm@1750-2500rpm
Max speed: 134mph
0-60mph: 8.5 seconds
Fuel tank capacity: 56 litres
Luggage Capacity: 370
Insurance group: 20E
Annual VED: £30.00 (C)
Urban manufacturer quoted MPG: 52.3mpg
Extra-urban driving manufacturer quoted MPG: 70.6mpg
Combined figure manufacturer quoted MPG: 62.8mpg
CO2 emissions (g/km): 119

The Standard Specification of this model Astra Includes:

Electronic Stability Programme (ESP)
Driver’s and front passenger’s airbags
Active-safety front seat head restraints
Daytime Running Lights
Air conditioning
CD 400 CD player with MP3 format/stereo radio
Auxiliary-in socket
Driver’s seat height adjuster
60/40 split folding rear seat back
Electrically operated front windows
Electrically adjustable/heated door mirrors
Remote control central deadlocking
Reach and rake adjustable steering column
Cruise control
Steering wheel mounted audio controls
Three spoke leather-covered sports steering wheel
Ambient light in centre console and roof
Covered storage container in centre console
Front seat back storage pockets
17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels
Electric parking brake
Ribbon/Moroccan trim
Rain-sensitive windscreen wipers
Automatic lighting control with tunnel detection
Electro-chromatic anti-dazzle rear-view mirror
Remote Control Ultrasonic Security Alarm System
Front fog lights
Multi-function trip computer
Chrome-effect exterior side window surround
Electrically operated rear windows
Front centre armrest
FlexFloor luggage compartment
Ambient lighting in front doors
Illuminated vanity mirrors front door sill covers

Our test car came with the following options fitted:

SatNav System £855
Stereo Radio with Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) £160
Mobile phone system with Bluetooth £220
FlexRide £790
Front and Rear parking sensors £395

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