What is the Vauxhall Astra?
The Astra provides no thrills, aesthetically or dynamically, but when it comes to the car as white goods, it is spot on. Ever since the original version of 1980, Vauxhall’s small family hatch has focused on providing hassle-free, affordable transport rather than excitement, and for many owners that’s enough. They don’t need the greater agility of a Ford Focus (about the same price), the more upmarket image of a Volkswagen Golf (more expensive) or the cast-iron build quality of an Audi A3 (more expensive still). For many drivers pottering around town, parking in the supermarket car park or racking up motorway miles, the Vauxhall Astra is the car for them.
Astra Mk 5 buyers could choose between a hatchback or an estate, the former coming in three or five-door flavours. The three-door, Sport hatch option is a little more sleek, Vauxhall electing to make it more of a style statement than the five-door model. The five-door estate is definitely just a workhorse, though. Its 1550-litre load space is capable of carrying a lot more than you might think, although you won’t get many covetous glances as you go about your business.
Aside from its low prices (which start at all of £1,500), much of the Astra’s appeal lies in the range of engines. Most Astras focus on economy, so there are 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol engines, along with 1.3, 1.7 and 1.9 CDTi diesels. The latter is the best of the lot as it turns the Astra into something of a roadburner, especially in 148bhp guise, yet easily achieves 45mpg. The 1.3 CDTi can officially return 58.8mpg but you have to wring its neck to make decent progress, which damages economy in the real world.
The closest you’ll get to thrills in the Astra is by going for the 189bhp VXR. It looks decently racey, does 140mph and comes in three-door, Sport hatch form only. It’s not the best hot hatch out there, but it’s not at all bad. If you prefer something less obvious, take our 1.9 CDTi recommendation and track down a well-equipped hatch in Design, SRi or Elite trim. You won’t get a buzz every time you reach for the keys, but your wallet will love you.
What to look out for when buying a used Vauxhall Astra
The 1.9 CDTi is arguably the best engine but tends to be the most troublesome. The water pump can fail, leading to the timing belt being thrown off, wrecking the engine. It suffers fuel injection problems, too, which can be costly to fix. Also watch out for clutch judder on 1.6 and 1.8-litre petrol cars; the rear crankshaft oil seal fails, throwing oil onto the clutch. Handbrakes fail, suspension bushes wear out, the front suspension turrets corrode and electrical issues are far from rare, so check that everything works.
This generation of Astra (known as the Astra H) has been recalled just three times, which isn’t bad for such an old design. Two of the recalls were because of steering problems, while the most recent was because oil could leak onto the exhaust manifold, potentially setting fire to the car.
The one to buy
Vauxhall Astra 1.9 CDTi 150 Design Sport hatch
- 1910cc, 4 cylinders
- 148bhp @ 4000rpm
- 235lb ft @ 2000rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 8.9sec
- Top speed:
- 50mpg combined
- Road tax band:
- L 4290mm, W 1755mm, H 1435mm
Vauxhall Astra rivals
Ford Focus (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Honda Civic (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Peugeot 308 (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)