Over the past ten years, the Vauxhall Astra has evolved from being a byword for boring to a potential class leader in the family hatchback segment. This latest model offers a compelling combination of space, practicality and efficiency, but most impressive is its excellent handling characteristics. The Vauxhall Astra is fun to drive, something that never used to be the case.
The Astra has always been a popular car, but has so far never challenged the dominant models from Ford. Now the gap between the Astra and its closest competitor from the Blue Oval, the Focus, is very close indeed - and there are many ways in which the Vauxhall is significantly better than the Ford. Other competitors include the well-priced Seat Leon and the upmarket Volkswagen Golf.
Vauxhall has found a sweet spot in terms of value and desirability. With prices starting at around GBP15,000 but rising to GBP25,000 for a generously-equipped range model, the Vauxhall is keenly priced at both ends of the range. The interior doesn't match the quality of more premium models, but is thoroughly robust and smartly-appointed throughout.
Key to the Astra's desirability is its good looks. It's arguably the best-looking car in the segment and while it lacks the prestige of a German badge on the grille, it's sophisticated and refreshingly different to the angular lines of the Volkswagen Group of competitors. Whether Vauxhall's position in the market matters will be down to the individual buyer.
Buyers looking for more space than is offered in the regular Astra hatchback could look at the slightly larger Astra Sports Tourer, a compact estate that provides much more room for luggage in the boot. The ordinary Astra is still among the best in its class for practicality, though.
Our verdict on the Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi
The Vauxhall Astra is an attractive, well-priced, practical family car. It competes in historically the most competitive market segment, and comes out on top in a lot of ways. The main downside to the Astra is the badge. Everything else - the dynamics, the practicality, the efficiency - is brilliant.