Friday, July 30, 2021

First drive: 2021 Vauxhall Astra prototype review

Included is a base turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine with either 108bhp or 128bhp as well as a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel with 128bhp. Both come mated to either a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Of greater significance, though, is the availability of a plug-in hybrid drivetrain for the first time. As in the Grandland, it comes in two flavours, with either a 148bhp or 178bhp turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine running in combination with a 109bhp gearbox-mounted electric motor for respective outputs of 178bhp and 222bhp. Both feature a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox and 12.4kWh lithium ion battery.

Our time with the Astra was limited to running in a controlled convoy over a variety of roads, including autobahns and a particularly challenging country road used by Vauxhall engineers to provide feedback on various chassis set-ups.  

The 128bhp version of the petrol engine serves up strong flexibility if a somewhat gruff exhaust note in combination with the six-speed manual gearbox. The three-cylinder unit revs freely, giving the new Astra a reasonable turn of in-gear acceleration once you’ve tapped into the mid-range, where it is clearly at its strongest. It doesn’t endow the Astra with scintillating speed, nor does it pretend to, but rather allows you to percolate along with adequate performance in everyday driving conditions thanks to its well-judged gear ratios. Combined cycle fuel consumption that is claimed to better that of the old Astra should also make it quite economical to run, too.

The more powerful of the new plug-in hybrid drivetrains, with a combined 222bhp, is predictably more energetic and refined. In electric mode, it starts silently and can leave the engine to rest for around 31 miles when fully charged. Performance on the electric motor alone is reasonable for city driving, with punchy step-off and acceleration up to typical urban speed limits. It is more convincing in hybrid mode, though, where the added reserves of the petrol engine give it quite spirited performance in combination with smooth operation from the electric motor. The action of the automatic gearbox is impressive, too, with fast and crisp shifts.

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