A quarter of a century has passed since Vauxhall launched the first Astra in the UK and since 1980 it has enjoyed a dominant position in the compact car class. In May 2004 the fifth generation Vauxhall Astra made its UK debut - the 5-door hatchback was the first model released followed by an estate in the autumn of 2004 and the 3-door Sport Hatch which is due for release in the spring. Order books are open now, for first deliveries in September of the high performance VXR model - for more information [ click here ]

The new Astra is available with an impressive range of seven petrol engines a 1.4i 16v (90 hp), 1.6i 16v (105 hp), 1.8i 16v (125 hp), 2.0i Turbo (170 hp), 2.0i Turbo (200 hp), 2.0i Turbo (240 hp) and a 1.4i 16v DualFuel with the additional choice of four diesel engines a 1.3 CDTi 16v (90 hp), two 1.7 litre common-rail turbo diesel engines offering two different power outputs at 80 hp and 100 hp and two 1.9 CDTi 16v engines offering 120 and 150 hp all of which are Euro 4 compliant. Transmissions range from five-speed manual, six-speed manual , four-speed automatic to five-speed Easytronic transmission.

Available in Expression, Life, Club, Design, Elite, SXi and SRi trim levels with the high performance VXR completing the line-up. Prices range from £10995.00 for the entry level 1.4 Expression to £18995.00 for the VXR 2.0i 16v Turbo Sport Hatch.

Vauxhall are confident that the extensive range of engine, trim & transmission choices combined with ground breaking technology will meet the needs of both private and company car buyers.

With tough competition in the form of Ford's new Focus and Volkswagen's new Golf, we tested the 2.0i SRi (170PS) to find out if the new Astra has what it takes to take on the class leaders.

The Vauxhall Astra SRi is powered by a 2.0 turbocharged engine which produces 170 bhp at 1950 rpm enabling it to accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds (it felt faster than it is on paper) and continue to a top speed of 135 mph. The 2.0 litre engine features TWINPORT intelligent fuel saving technology which results in an increase in power and a drop in fuel consumption of up to 10 per cent in everyday driving conditions. The Astra 2.0 SRi 170 bhp returns 31.4 mpg on a combined cycle with CO2 emissions of of 218 g/km.

The new Astra is excellent to drive around town and it is equally at home on the Motorway and dual carriageway where it cruises effortlessly. The 2.0 litre turbocharged engine offers more than adequate power through all the gears and as you would expect of Vauxhall it is quiet and refined. The new standard six-speed manual gearbox is superb offering precise and fluid gear changes whilst sixth gear allows easy Motorway cruising and better fuel economy.

Service intervals for petrol engines are every 20,000 miles or 2 years (whichever occurs sooner). Bear in mind that the Astra flexible service interval warning takes individual driving style into account and indicates the time when maintenance is due.

How It Drove - Ride/HandlingAccording to Vauxhall one of the main criteria when developing the new Astra was to create a car which is truly rewarding to drive and they have succeeded.

The basic chassis is similar to the outgoing model with MacPherson struts and lateral control arms at the front whilst the rear wheels are attached to a specifically adapted torsion beam axle with a double-walled, U-shaped profile. The chassis track is now 32 mm wider which improves road holding and gives more cabin space inside. SRi models feature a 'Sports Chassis' which has been lowered by a further 15 mm than other cars in the range which enhances stability and improves grip. The ride was firm but comfortable although when sport mode is selected the ride becomes noticeably firmer.

The electro-hydraulic power steering is map controlled which means that the cars speed and the rate at which the steering wheel is turned determines the level of power assistance and results in superbly weighted steering that is direct and precise. The turning circle (kerb-to-kerb) is 10.55m (34.6ft).

The SRi model is also equipped with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Electronic Stability Programme-plus (ESP-plus) and 'Sports' driving mode switch which are designed to assist the driver in maintaining control during acceleration, cornering and avoidance manoeuvres ensuring that the Vauxhall Astra SRi is safe and surefooted.

The standard ESP Plus with Traction Control is a driving stability system which applies selective brake activation assisting you in maintaining control of your car boosting driver excitement and safety.

'SportSwitch' selects sport mode which alters the reaction of the accelerator pedal for a sharper feel and the steering becomes more direct ideal for more demanding 'B' roads. The Sport mode enables you to deactivate the ESP Plus system.

All-round disc brakes with a dual circuit diagonally split braking system are standard on the SRi model and ensure that the Astra brakes reassuringly well. The Astra also features a front brake pad wear warning ensuring that unnecessary disc wear does not occur.

Ease of UseThe new Vauxhall Astra is easy to drive, park and manoeuvre. Visibility is excellent all round with large windows offering superb forward and side vision. The dashboard is ergonomically laid out, simple and uncluttered. All the controls are tactile and stylish with everything to hand. Only the audio and heating controls were a bit complicated to operate but a quick read of the handbook and a wealth of functions can be accessed.

The driver information centre incorporates a trip computer which displays various warnings for fluid levels, instantaneous and average fuel consumption, fuel consumed, average speed, distance travelled, time, outside temperature and date.

Our test car was equipped with the 'Sight and Light Pack' £125 which includes rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, electro-chromatic anti-dazzle rear-view mirror which reduces eye strain when driving at night especially on the Motorway and automatic lighting control which automatically switches the headlights on and off.

The windscreen wipers feature a simple to use intermittent wiping facility which is activated by tapping the lever upwards once. The interval between wipe cycles is variable. The rain sensitive windscreen wipers (part of the Sight and Light pack) engages the front wipers when it has determined how much water is on the windscreen. The rear wiper works at 3 speeds depending on the road speed of the car. It is turned on automatically when the front wipers are activated and when reverse gear is selected.

The new Astra has a spacious boot with 350 litres of space and and by folding up the rear seats this can be increased to 1,300 litres. The rear seats fold down (but not totally flat) or can be split 60/40. Load restraint lashing eyes are standard and the luggage area is Illuminated.

On a practical level the Vauxhall Astra SRi incorporates remote control central locking, front map reading lights integral with front courtesy light and 2 rear reading lights, instrument panel dimmer, 12 volt auxiliary power socket, front and rear grab handles, seat back pockets, twin sunvisors with lit vanity mirrors, large door bins front and rear, front fog lights, large illuminated glovebox, front armrest with integral compartment, front ashtray and fade up/fade down courtesy lighting operated by front and rear door switches.

Follow me home headlights are standard throughout the range and keep the headlights on for 30 seconds after you leave the car and then switches them off automatically enabling you to return to the car safely or enter your home with reassurance.

All the controls are easy to use even at night when the headlights are switched on the window switches, door handles and centre control panel all feature subtle lighting for ease of use.

Standard features include Auto Lock which automatically re-locks the vehicle 5 minutes after the doors are unlocked without being opened and Speedlock which automatically locks the doors when road speed exceeds 7 mph (the boot is locked at speeds up to 4 mph).

Safety and Security The following safety & security equipment is standard on the Vauxhall Astra SRi:

Driver's airbag, Front passenger's airbag, Front seat side-impact airbags, Electronic Stability Programme-plus (ESP-plus), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Cornering Brake Control (CBC), Emergency Brake Assist (EBA), Driver's seatbelt reminder light, Height-adjustable front and outer rear seat head restraints, Pyrotechnic front body-lock seatbelt pre-tensioners systems, Front and outer rear seatbelt force limiters, Height-adjustable inertia-reel front seatbelts, Inertia-reel outer rear seatbelts, Centre lap and diagonal inertia-reel rear seatbelt, ISOFIX child seat restraint system for outer rear seats (does not include child seat), Anti-submarining ramps in all seats, Electronic park/brake pedal safety interlock on models with automatic transmission, Energy-absorbing column, Pedal release system, Front brake pad wear warning, Laminated windscreen, Side-impact protection beams, Integral protective side door padding, Reinforced passenger safety cell, Child-proof locks on rear doors, Remote control central deadlocking (doors/tailgate/fuel filler flap), Visible Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate, Key left in ignition audible warning, Freewheeling door locks, Electronic engine deadlock immobiliser, Security code and remote display protection for audio equipment, Driver's internal central locking switch, Door-to-door illumination, Locking wheel bolts for alloy wheels and Remote control ultrasonic security alarm.

Comfort and RefinementVauxhall have put driver satisfaction and user-friendliness at the top of their agenda when designing the new Astra and this really shows.

The new Astra is 139 mm longer and 85 mm wider than its predecessor which results in a larger cabin offering higher levels of customer comfort. Headroom and legroom has increased by 17 mm and the repositioning of the C-pillars makes access to the rear seats easier and more comfortable.

Compared to the outgoing model the new Astra has an extra 30 mm of shoulder space in the front and 20 mm in the rear.

The doors are large and open to reveal wide access points making it a very easy car to get in and out of for both front and rear seat occupants.

Our test car was equipped with the 'Leather Pack' £1000 which includes leather seat facings, electrically heated 3 x stage sports front seats, lumbar adjustment on driver's seat, indirect door night lighting, height-adjustable centre rear seat head restraint and front passenger's seat height adjuster.

The seats benefit from improved contouring, higher side supports and a longer seat cushion for better leg support. The standard sports seats benefit from a 20 mm deeper seating position for a snug fit.

The seats were undoubtedly very comfortable and supportive but not to the same degree as Volvo or Saab seats which in our opinion are class leading.

The three-spoke leather covered steering wheel column is adjustable for reach and rake and incorporates the audio controls keeping your hands safely on the wheel.

The SRi model has electric front windows with safety autoreverse and one-touch facility, twin electrically adjustable heated door mirrors (wide angle on the drivers side) and manually folding door mirrors.

Air-conditioning with rear passenger compartment heating ducts is standard as is a pollen filter which which prevents dirt, dust and pollen from entering the cabin.

How It Looks - ExteriorThe new Astra's design is both bold and modern and incorporates the unmistakable Vauxhall V-shape corporate nose and styling characteristics that include the elegant crease line that runs from the radiator grille into the cabin and on down the rear of the car.

The rear of the car features large rear tail lamps which with the help of special plastic particles provides improved illumination over conventional lights. At night the indicators are easier to see and the reversing lights increase the drivers field of vision when reversing which is ideal for country lanes or dark side streets.

Body coloured bumpers, door mirrors, door handles and side moulding's are standard. Tinted glass, rear spoiler, visible stainless steel exhaust tailpipe, front fog lights and the standard 17" alloys wheels with 215/45 R 17 low profile tyres further accentuate the SRi models overall appearance.

How It Looks - InteriorThe interior styling of the Vauxhall Astra SRi is modern, stylish, functional and uncluttered with chunky and tactile switchgear. The charcoal interior plastics were of a good quality and are enhanced with a metallic/carbon fibre effect trim. The leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob are tactile and the speedometer, rev counter and fuel indicator are backlit and have matt chrome rings. The SRi model features aluminium pedals for added sports appearance.

Our test car featured charcoal leather sports seats and matching leather door inserts. Both the seat fabric and carpets were good quality and should prove durable in the long term.

In Car Entertainment and Satellite NavigationOur test car was equipped with the optional CDC 40 stereo radio with Digital Audio Broadcast (DAB) facility, FM and MW reception, integral six-disc CD autochanger and graphic information display with seven speakers and steering wheel mounted audio controls.

The CDC 40 is also equipped with Digital Sound Processing (DSP) which allows the user to adjust its seven-band graphic equaliser to find the perfect sound or, alternatively, select one of the preset sound modes such as Pop, Classical, Jazz or Speech.

This system is excellent and well worth the £450 cost.