The six-speed manual 'box is pretty slick, too, and the taller ratios keep the revs low at cruising speeds. However, you do need to work through the gears a bit more than on other Astra models if you want to get the most out of the engine because it feels a bit flat at low revs.
When you do push on and get the engine going, Vauxhall’s ‘whisper’ diesel engine becomes rowdy beyond 3000rpm. Refinement is generally is good, though, and the Astra stays hushed as a motorway cruiser, with road and wind noise well suppressed and just a bit of vibration through the pedals. High-speed ride is relatively smooth as well, but it can be a bit fidgety at lower speeds.
A big benefit of the Astra’s new DM2 platform is the substantial weight-loss programme it’s been on. Shedding almost 200kg compared with its predecessor, the latest Astra is surprisingly agile through corners. However, the steering doesn’t offer much feel or weight, meaning cross-country blats simply aren’t as enjoyable as they are in a Golf, although it does mean town driving and tight parking manoeuvres aren’t too onerous on your forearms. Those after a bit more feel should look at SRi trim levels and above. They have a sport button that allows you to add a bit more weight to the steering, although not enough to trouble the sweet-handling Focus.
Inside, the new platform has worked some Tardis trickery to give the Astra lots of space, despite it shrinking on the outside. The driver and front passenger have plenty of room, while rear space, particularly leg room, is also generous; even taller adults will be comfortable on longer journeys.
Up front, the infotainment system impresses, too. It is fairly well stocked with DAB radio, Bluetooth, and sat-nav, and responds quickly when you prod it. It’s not quite as logically laid out as the system in a VW Golf, but it outclasses the one in the latest Focus.
Our test car came in fleet-focused Tech Line trim, which is a value-over-gadgets specification, so we’d recommend upping to SRi or higher if you’re a private buyer with a slightly more flexible budget. Optional 17in wheels were also fitted to our car; they marginally improve the handling, but you’re probably better off sticking with the standard 16in wheels because they bring fractionally better CO2 emissions and fuel economy.
The Astra is a great all-round performer, but its appeal is dented by something that has long dogged Vauxhall’s hatchback. Years of supply outweighing demand mean it suffers from heavy depreciation. Yes, this latest generation model will no doubt hold onto its value slightly better than it predecessors, but a VW Golf clings on to its worth a lot better over a three-year period.