Huge choice of engines will have something for everyone.
Clean and modest exterior styling.
5 star NCAP safety rating.
Large and stylish interior
Generous equipment levels through the range.
Uninvolved handling fails to inspire confidence.
Awkwardly shaped storage space means luggage can sometimes be a problem.
The lower capacity engines are unsuitable for motorway driving.
The Opel Astra has been a staple of European roads for decades now and the latest generations have sold well despite picking up no awards. It's primary selling point has been it's reasonable pricing, roomy interior and low running costs.
Opel Astra H (2004 - 2010)
Released in 2004 the fifth generation of Astra was neither a huge leap forward nor a disappointment. New technological additions such as rain sensitive windscreen wipers and automatic headlights have ensured it has kept pace with the competition, yet there is nothing innovative on show. The largest improvements have been in safety with the Astra H being the first generation to pick up a 5 star NCAP safety rating.
The selection of engines for the H generation is broad featuring 5 petrol variants and 3 diesels. The range of petrol powerplants runs from the 1.4 litre through 1.6, 1.8 and culminates in the 2.0 litre. The 1.4 litre is good for frugal drivers that do not intend to make motorway journeys. The sportiest model of the range is a 2.0 litre turbo badged as the VXR, with even the lowliest VXR kicking out 240 bhp it's one of the few Astra's that can put a smile on your face.
For those with a doctorate in sensible the diesel models in their 1.3, 1.7 and 1.9 guises are both reliable and fuel efficient. Anyone looking to lower their costs could do worse than source an Astra diesel, whilst they are well built the low cost of parts means any breakdown would be cheap to repair. The interior is well designed with the seating both comfortable and roomy, it seems like a well designed motorway car.
Opel Astra J (2010 - Present)
The sixth generation of Astra has been a great seller across the European continent, it's smooth updated looks combined with the spacious and comfortable interior have proved something of a winning combination. The transition from the fifth generation was one of refinement rather than revolution, it's a strategy that has paid dividends for Opel.
If the previous generation's range of powerplants was broad the Astra J's selection of powerplants is huge. With 7 petrol engines and 5 diesel variants there's a choice to fit every need. The 1.3 Ecoflex unit was the most innovative addition to the range, purpose designed to keep fuel costs whilst driving in the city to a minimum. It's 1.7 litre brother is a great pick for those looking for a long distance motor vehicle that won't bankrupt them with fuel charges. The rest of the powerplants are standard units ranging in size from 1.4 to 2.0 litre with all the usual attributes one would expect.
Equipment levels certainly improved for the model though the trim derivations retain the same names. The range opens with Expression and runs through Design, Excite, SRi, before ending with Elite. You can expect air con, stability control, heated windows and cruise control throughout the range, quite a generous package as standard.
Competition and conclusion
The Opel Astra is a good all-rounder which isn't enough to set it apart in the competitive family hatchback class. That said the roomy interior, high equipment levels, solid workmanship and good safety rating makes it a dependable family car. If you need something cheap to run, comfortable and reliable it's a good bet. The general consensus though is that the Ford Focus offers a more involving drive.