Vauxhall’s reborn hatchback gets three drivetrain options – could diesel be the unlikely pick of the bunch?
In what could be the unlikeliest comeback story since Kate Bush topping the charts a few weeks ago with her 1985 song Running Up That Hill, diesel is enjoying a bit of a resurgence in the new car market. Even after years of demonisation, diesel still just about stands proud as the most affordable and time-efficient means of covering large distances at a constant pace.
Until the advent of solid-state batteries and the proliferation of EV chargers across Europe, there will surely remain a place in certain product line-ups for a variant that sups from black pumps. That’s why the new Vauxhall Astra (like the Citroen C4 and Peugeot 308 to which it’s closely related) is offered with a diesel engine as well as petrol, plug-in hybrid and electric power.
That’s unparalleled drivetrain diversity and welcomed particularly in this instance, given the flexibility of purpose that it affords Vauxhall’s Ford Focus rival. Urban runabout, fleet-friendly family car or proper mile-muncher: it can do it all.
The diesel comes equipped with a 1.5-litre turbo four-pot producing a humble-sounding 128bhp, so it’s light on outright straight-line pace, but more importantly it serves up an agreeable 221lb ft of torque, which makes itself well known off the mark and through the mid-range – giving that lazy but effective grunt that makes driving an oil-burner feel like such a comparatively low-effort and unthinking experience.
The reserves are sent to the front axle via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which, while sadly not controlled by the lovely trigger-like shifter fitted to other recent Stellantis cars, is responsive, is appropriately ratioed and goes about its business without much fuss – which is to say with minimal hesitation or jerking.
This lump will muster upwards of 60mpg on the WLTP test cycle, so it’s a good deal more frugal than the near-identically powerful but slightly nippier 1.2-litre turbo petrol triple we tested recently – although obviously it’s at its best at a high-speed cruise. And that’s not only for economical reasons.
At idle and under load, this is a gruff-sounding engine that doesn’t marry up aurally with what is otherwise a resoundingly successful and overtly premium design overhaul – inside and out – for the Astra. It fades away at a stride, but getting there is a reminder of why it has always been difficult to feel particularly inspired by the soundtrack of a diesel, and the Astra’s ride isn’t quite quiet enough or soft enough to compensate for the noise.
Really, though, those are small flaws in a product that feels like it should cost much more than it does. The cabin is far more visually inspiring than that of any form of Focus (even with a good lashing of fingerprint-prone piano black plastic) and the clear and intuitive touchscreen system infotainment betters the oft-frustrating one in the Seat Leon and the Volkswagen Golf. Everything is largely where you expect it to be – save for a couple of functions that require some menu-delving – and it feels as comfy and roomy as anything comparable.
Our car was in mid-rung GS Line trim, and while the concept of a circa- £30k middling Astra requires a bit of a mental adjustment, it still feels like pretty darn good value if you take into account the recent astronomical hikes in new car prices generally. We have a 360deg parking camera, intelligent adaptive cruise control, wireless smartphone mirroring, dual-zone climate control, puddle lights and so on.
It’s a generous package, but top tip: the range-topping Ultimate, with its wireless smartphone charger, jazzier wheels and panoramic sunroof, can be had for less than a grand more than the GS Line with a few options added. Peruse the price list carefully.