The first generation Astra made debut in 1991 as a replacement for the ill-famed Kadett. It was created rather hastily and the 2nd generation appeared in the pipe-line as early as around 1993. It was an entirely different-looking car, not typical for the early 90s and it spent around 5 years in development until it eventually saw the light of day in 1998. The Vauxhall Astra marked another step aside from the older Vauxhalls with an improvement quality and performance.
Although the Astra does look dated today, in 1998 it was considered a rather beautiful car. There are, however, people that didn’t agree with calling it beautiful. Nevertheless, it offered good aesthetic value and there was certainly no shame in driving one. The car has a high door-line and relatively small glazed area, a common method used by car designers in order to achieve a sporty and dynamic appearance. I’m not saying that the Astra looks sporty, the bulky front end and the abruptly ending tailgate somehow takes the edge off the swiftness of the design, however, as a low-priced compact family car the Astra does the job just right.
The Astra came in several body styles: sedan, lift-back, estate and also two more expensive sporty models – cabrio and coupe – both developed and assembled by Bertone in Italy – hence the high price.
The interior is rather bland but on the other hand it is solid and well-built. Gone are the hard plastics, giving way for a much nicer and softer polyurethane parts. The fabric used on the seats is hard-wearing and you can still find the seats in relatively usable condition even on very old Astras. The seats themselves are rather hard for a family car, to start with they may annoy you, but you’ll appreciate the apparent hardness on longer journeys.
There are quite a few petrol engines to choose from: 1.4-litre 88bhp, 1.6-litre 8-valve 83bhp, 1.6-litre 16-valve 101bhp, 1.8-litre 113bhp, 2.0-litre 197bhp, 2.2-litre 144bhp and a rather limited choice of diesel engines: 1.7-litre 73bhp, 2.0-litre 80-98bhp.
There’s a good variety of petrol engines and when it comes to buying used Astra, the general rule is to avoid the 8-valve engines and stick to the 16-valve ones. Not only they offer more power, they are generally part of a newer development - they’re more reliable.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine will be the version of choice for many used car buyers as it delivers over 40mpg in a combined cycle. The 1.8-litre version, although heartier and more pleasant to drive, reduces the fuel economy to around 36mpg.
The diesels are, unfortunately, quite disappointing. If you’re a car manufacturer and you can only squeeze 80bhp out of a 2-litre turbo diesel, then you really have to have a chat with your engineers! On a positive note, the diesels are very economical achieving up to 50mpg, so if you don’t mind the lifeless performance, you might as well choose a diesel Astra for that extra economy.
If a wolf in sheep’s clothing is what you’re looking for the GSi Turbo modification will provide plenty of joy. It’s an ideal first car for a boy-racer with 7-second acceleration, 150mph speed in a car that is capable of 31mpg is a dream of anyone who doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on their first sports car.
Its chassis was optimised by Lotus engineers in Britain and the car spent 5 years in development. This time must have been taken for a reason and that reason is the handling. It handles very well despite its low price and low profile. It actually makes the Astra pleasant to drive. It handles very well, offers decent comfort and totally breaks the axiom that a budget car has to feel on the road. Everything about this car is functional and utilitarian, the Astra was created to do the job and the fact that it offers the driver an enjoyable experience, is truly a bonus.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very reliable car. In many cases it depends on your luck, but there have been reports of entire engines and gearboxes blowing up and needing replacement. The cabin can develop leaks, but that is unlikely to cause rust issues. The manufacturer gives 12 years guarantee on the bodywork and the Astras are normally good, if only the mechanical parts lasted as long as the body!
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