Astra now a top credible contender

When Vauxhall reinvented the Astra back in 2015, everyone was pleasantly surprised. The popular but unremarkable also-ran had finally become the class contender we'd been waiting for.

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Mixing impressive comfort with solid driving dynamics, top tech and decent build quality, the Astra is now a truly credible alternative to the segment-leading Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.

In trying to squeeze fuel economy from a petrol derivative, though, Vauxhall has placed its 1.0-litre, three-cylinder turbocharged engine under the bonnet.

An official fuel economy figure of 64.2mph and a 10.3-second 0-60mph time would suggest that the combination works, but does the reality stack up?

Once upon a time, the Astra was something of a bland euro-box, but ever since the striking and angular model of the mid-2000s, it has become something of a looker. The last generation was a sleeker and more curvaceous attempt, but the new model is a slightly more grown-up effort.

It looks modern yet restrained, with our mid-spec test car offering trimmings of chrome to add a dash of class.

Inside, it's less button-heavy than some rivals, with our test car's touchscreen dominating proceedings. Build quality is solid enough, and the cabin plastics are generally good but the odd cheap-feeling switch lets the illusion slide slightly.

The Astra's cabin is made up of hordes of dark plastics and austere expanses of cloth trim, which makes it feel slightly more cramped than it actually is. In reality, there is bags of space up front and only tall passengers will feel cramped in the rear - children certainly won't mind spending a long-ish journey back there.

Boot space is decent, too, with the 370-litre volume falling an almost unnoticeable 10 litres short of the VW Golf's load bay. It's a very useable space that's more than happy to take a family's weekend luggage.

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Downsizing has been something of a buzzword in the car industry for years now, but there are those who still can't quite be convinced that a 1.0-litre engine is really big enough to propel a family car.

Amazingly, though, the Astra is perfectly adequate in 1.0-litre guise. It's by no means the pick of the engine range, but it's far better than you might expect. Admittedly, the 103bhp output is never going to set the world on fire, and the chances of achieving the claimed economy in the real world are slim, yet it's a serviceable little engine that borders on being characterful.

It has quite a gravelly note at low revs and that is fed back through the pedals, but at more adventurous speeds it settles into an amicable three-cylinder thrum.

The engine is, in many ways, a reflection of the car itself. It isn't the best driver's car in its class - the Mazda3 and Ford Focus surpass it on that front - and nor is it the best built, but it offers a very comfortable ride and handles well enough to offer up a little driver enjoyment when you're pressing on - that's not an easy balance to strike.

Our mid-range 1.0-litre Astra test car came in at £21,205, and for that included goodies such as 17-inch alloys, air conditioning and satellite navigation, as well as the OnStar connectivity and service assistant - something usually reserved for more premium cars.

OnStar allows the driver to call an in-house call centre 24 hours a day to ask for assistance, but it also hosts a connectivity suite including a mobile WiFi hotspot that offers an internet connection for up to seven devices.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also included, providing an added dimension of connectivity.

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