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Astra H, 2.0iT (Z20LEH),, 30/8/05

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  • Astra H, 2.0iT (Z20LEH),, 30/8/05
    Date: August 30th, 2005
    It’s a good time to be a hot hatchback fan. The Volkswagen Golf GTi is back to its thin-Elvis best, Renault’s Clio 182/Cup/Trophy is excellent and the arrival of Ford’s five-pot Focus ST is just around the corner. But Vauxhall reckons that the market can handle even more excitement, so has launched a 237bhp Astra that’s so dramatic-looking it could’ve just rolled off a motorshow stand. Better still – at £18,995 it’s a full £1000 less than the Golf GTi.
    All of which is good news for the enthusiast. For the more superficial, the Astra’s rakish looks – virtually unchanged from the Astra HPC concept unveiled at the Paris motor show last year – will be convincing enough. But for keener drivers, the way it goes down the road will determine whether or not it’s worthy of a place in their driveway.
    We were certainly impressed when we first drove the Astra VXR, pitching it against its Golf and Megane rivals in Germany last month (Autocar 19 July). We reckoned that the Astra blew ‘cars as sensible and complete as the new Golf GTi into the weeds’. Yes, we had to concede that the Golf was the best package overall, but the Astra’s wild-child enthusiasm won us over.
    Question is, does our enthusiasm for the Astra VXR’s talents relate to everyday, real-world UK driving? Is its dynamic excellence enough compensation for living with its shortcomings day in and day out?
    Design and Engineering
    Developed from the 2.0-litre unit in the 198bhp Astra SRi, the VXR’s engine has received a new turbo and injection system, as well as revised inlet and exhaust manifolds. Power is up to 237bhp at 5600rpm, while peak torque of 236lb ft is developed from as little as 2400rpm, right through to 5000rpm.
    Powerful as the VXR may be, however, we didn’t manage to match Vauxhall’s acceleration or top speed claims at the test track. Rumour is the claimed 0-60mph time was achieved on optional 19-inch alloys, which let the VXR hit 60mph in second gear. On the 18-inch wheels of our test car, we needed to change to third, and so couldn’t better 6.4sec over a two way average, with a best of 6.3sec. Meanwhile, we topped out at 143mph rather than the claimed 152mph on our high speed circuit, though this was recorded on a banked track which robs a few mph.
    We couldn’t match Vauxhall’s economy claims, either. The combined official figure of 30.4mpg remains some way above our average of 18.9mpg, though our touring figure of 22.3mpg ran it a little closer. Granted, we drive cars hard there, but even we were surprised to nearly drain the tank just completing our performance tests, at a rate of 7.3mpg. If you’re planning a track day, expect a range of anything between 80 and 100 miles between fills.
    Regardless of the fact that it doesn’t quite match the claims, we’re still impressed with the Astra’s overall pace. In fourth gear it posted a 50-70mph time of 4.0sec, compared to the Golf GTi’s 4.4sec over the same benchmark. And although the rapid Clio 182 matches the Astra over the 0-60mph sprint, it can’t match the VXR’s broad spread of power, taking 5.6sec for the 50-70mph time in fourth.
    Certainly, if you own an Astra VXR, every day it will remind you that it’s equipped with a highly boosted turbocharger. And when the front wheels attempt to deliver that torque to the road, boy, do you feel it through the steering wheel.
    On the Road
    It’s not Astra’s power and torque per se that give the front wheels a problem, it’s the throttle’s response. The smallest applications of throttle get the turbo spinning and delivering a big gob of power and torque. And if you think it’s difficult to modulate normally, wait until you hit the Sport button that sharpens both steering and throttle response.
    Once the pace picks up and you want as much power as the VXR can deliver though, things improve greatly. The spread of torque that’s an affliction at low speeds is welcome once you’re pressing on, allowing the Astra to be punted along at a heck of a pace. Leaving the six-speed ‘box, which is actually slick and smooth shifting, in third or fourth gear is fine for most B-roads, letting the engine do most of the work.
    The Astra’s VXR’s ride and handling are probably its finest assets. Despite rolling on 225/40 R18 tyres it deals with crests and dips well, with excellent body control. Vauxhall sent the Astra VXR to Lotus for UK-specific suspension tuning so the Vauxhall differs from Opel’s HPC in this respect. The VXR gets rebound springs on the dampers, which probably helps the primary ride, but it copes with potholes and surface imperfections adequately, too.
    In addition to the ride, the VXR is astoundingly agile. It turns into corners with real enthusiasm and accuracy, and once settled into a turn, retains a feeling of poise and adjustability. It responds to throttle inputs with real speed and vigour. Oversteer and understeer movements feel pitched around the driver, making you feel at the centre of the action, and this immediacy and intimacy with the car’s movements makes it feel even more alert than it probably is. Lotus tells us that it has engineered the centre of yaw (the point around which the car feels like it pivots) at the gear knob, rather than at the front axle like in a conventional Astra - and that’s certainly how it feels.
    Living with the Car
    Recaro seats are one of few highlights unique to the VXR Astra’s interior. They’re superbly supportive, particularly around the shoulders, although they limit headroom for taller drivers. Pedals are well spaced, but heel-and-toe downshifts can be slightly tricky because of the brakes. The brakes stop well (60-0 in 2.9sec), but the pedal’s decent initial modulation isn’t quite as progressive as it should be when you want more deceleration.
    Other interior changes unique to the VXR are the steering wheel, dials, some carbon-effect inserts and a new gearknob. The steering wheel lacks quite enough reach adjustment, but the wheel itself has a pleasingly chunky, soft-rimmed rim. Pleasing isn’t a word that applies to the gear knob, it’s edged in a hard stitching that’s pretty unpleasant to hold. Plus there’s still only a fuel-gauge, speedo and rev-counter - on such a sporting car it’s odd that there’s no water or oil temperature gauge.
    The interior's fit and finish is generally good, although there are a few harsh edges on the steering column cowling. However, the large front seats limit rear legroom a little, while the boot lacks sufficient width and length to comfortably take a regular set of golf clubs. The height of the rear window also limits rear visibility somewhat.
    At £18,995, the VXR comes fairly highly equipped. Standard specification includes electric windows, manual air-conditioning, six airbags (it also has five EuroNCAP stars, incidentally), electronic stability control, 18-inch alloys. Sat-nav is an option (at £1250) but it is not entirely intuitive to use. The orientation is always in the direction of travel whilst driving, and can only be set to north during browsing, which is somewhat infuriating.
    We expect for most owners, the Astra’s interior foibles will only be petty niggles. More serious, for us, is the engine’s lack of subtlety and adjustability, which makes it a sometimes irritating car to live with on a daily basis.
    Verdict: 4 Stars
    We’ve been critical of some aspects of the Astra VXR, but still like it a lot. At times, its handling response and dynamism are so breathtaking that we’d happily drive it even if it had no doors. But the fact remains that it would be a better car, and an easier one to drive, if it the engine’s response was more manageable. Nonetheless, on its day, it’s a hugely entertaining machine.
    Sometimes tiresome, sometimes brilliant, always eventful.
    How much?
    Price when new £18,995
    Price as tested £21,245
    How fast?
    0-30mph 2.7 sec
    0-60mph 6.4 sec
    0-100mph 16.4 sec
    0-150mph no data
    0-200mph no data
    30-70mph 5.7 sec
    0-400m no data/no data
    0-1000m no data/no data
    30-50mph in 3rd/4th 2.9/4.9 sec
    40-60mph in 4th/5th 4/5.8 sec
    50-70mph in 5th 5.3 sec
    60-0mph 2.9 sec
    Top speed 143 mph
    Noise at 70mph 72 dbA
    How thirsty?
    Test average 18.9 mpg
    Test best/worst 22.3/7.3 mpg
    Govt figures
    Combined/urban 30.4/21.6
    CO2 emissions 223 g/km
    How big?
    Length 4290 mm
    Width 1420 mm
    Height 1092 mm
    Wheelbase 2616 mm
    Weight 1393 kg
    Fuel tank 52 litres
    Layout 4 cyls ,1988 cc
    Max power 237 bhp at 5600 rpm
    Max torque 236 ftat 2400 rpm
    Specific output no data
    Power to weight no data
    Installation F
    Bore/stoke 86x86 mm
    Compression ratio 8.8:1
    Valve gear no data, no data
    Ignition and fuel Unleaded
    Type 6-speed Manual
    1st 3.82/5.1
    2nd 2.05/9.5
    3rd 1.3/15
    4th 0.96/20.3
    5th 0.74/26.3
    6th 0.61/31.9
    Final drive 3.83
    Front no data
    Rear no data
    Type no data
    Lock to lock 2.5
    Front 321mm ventilated discs
    Rear 278mm ventilated discs
    Wheel and tyres
    Size Front 8.0Jx18 in
    Size Rear 8.0Jx18 in
    Made of alloy
    Tyres Front 225/40 R18
    Tyres Rear 225/40 R18
    I think my PE is above the car I drive
    I think my PE is on par with the car I drive
    I think my PE is lower than the car I drive