Hands up if you’ve driven an Astra.
There’s a good chance that you will have. According to Vauxhall, more than a quarter of British motorists have either owned or driven a version of its C-segment hatchback over the years.
Given that the Astra has been around since 1979 and has been a favourite with fleet managers, police forces and driving schools up and down the country it maybe shouldn’t be that surprising.
It’s changed a lot since the year of disco and The Dukes of Hazzard but was most recently updated in 2015 when an all-new model based on a completely new platform started rolling out of Ellesmere Port.
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Vauxhall Astra Ultimate 1.6i
Price: £26,375 (£29,125 as tested)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo petrol
Transmisson: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 146mph
0-60mph: 6.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 142g/km
Even after a major overhaul such as that, manufacturers are never finished tinkering and earlier this year, Vauxhall extend the range with a new high-end trim level and added a new engine.
The engine is a replacement for the previous 1.6 turbo and is designed to meet the latest Euro emissions standards while offering a performance angle to the range.
The high-powered 1.6-litre is some way off the now-defunct VXR monster, but with 197bhp to play with it’s no slouch. The race to 60mph is dealt with in a respectable 6.6 seconds, and on the open road there’s pace to play with. The only trouble is that you have to work it hard right through the rev range to get the most out of it.
While it has hot hatch pace the Astra’s handling can’t keep up. It’s solid enough, but the steering is some way off the feel and feedback of its perennial nemesis the Ford Focus. And while it hangs on through twisty stretches it never feels like a fully resolved sporting model, more a standard hatch with an added ladleful of power.
Vauxhall’s recently introduced Ultimate trim lines are all about providing the maximum amount of equipment for your money, so this Astra comes weighed down with kit. The standard equipment list is too long to quote, but highlights include adaptive cruise control, perforated leather upholstery, top-of-the-range media/nav system, heated seats front and rear, dual-zone climate control, matrix LED headlights and a driver assistance pack featuring intelligent forward camera.
Despite that, there were still a number of paid-for options, including keyless entry and start, sunroof, “premium” paint and a more advanced driver assist system.
Even with all that piled on and the 197bhp petrol engine, the Astra Ultimate comes in at a shade over £29,000.
It’s not cheap, but it does mean you get pretty much every bell and whistle on offer.
Like the latest Insignia, the Astra’s interior is light years head of previous models. There are still some odd mixtures of materials in places, but overall it looks good and feels well screwed-together. And the Ultimate version really does have every luxury you and your passengers could ask for.
But while the Astra can offer tonnes of kit and a punchy engine, it’s up against some tough competition. The VW Golf remains an eternal best-seller and all-new versions the Ford Focus and Kia Ceed have just arrived promising the latest tech and better driver engagement.