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Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch



VAUXHALL has struck gold with its three-door Astra Sport Hatch. By pursuing a policy of creating radically different three and five door hatches – initiated by the Renault Megane and followed by the Citroen C4 – Vauxhall has effectively doubled the Astra hatch’s fleet appeal. And in doing so it has also shown how dull and generic its three-door Focus and Golf rivals look. It’s a bold move, but one that’s bound to pay off.

When it goes on sale on April 10, the Sport Hatch is sure to turn heads.

It’s a very desirable bit of kit. Headlamps, front bumper and bonnet aside, the Sport Hatch is clothed in sexy bespoke sheetmetal.

It sits a good 45mm lower than the hatch. With its wide tracks, long wheelbase and more sweptback windscreen, it looks impressively aggressive.

The Sport Hatch also benefits from a quicker steering rack and uprated springs and dampers over the five door-model. Slip down into the driver’s seat and this sporty impression is reinforced by its low driving position, shallow windows and high shoulders.

The cabin is well-equipped, solidly made out and intelligently configured but could still do with a dash more character.

The torsion beam is more compact, allowing the Sport Hatch designers to install a low-slung rear bench to compensate for the sloping roofline.

The result is decent headroom for rear passengers and a boot and fuel tank with the same capacities as the five-door. Vauxhall also called in the dynamics experts at Lotus to help fine-tune the Sport Hatch’s ride and handling – and as we’ll find, it was money very well spent.

There’s a wide line-up of petrol and turbo diesel engines. All are Euro IV compliant. The petrol range comprises two Twinport fuel injection units – an 89bhp 1.4-litre and a104bhp 1.6-litre – as well as a 123bhp 1.8-litre and a turbo-charged 167bhp 2.0-litre. Later this year the storming turbocharged 240bhp 2.0-litre VXR model will arrive, with a sub-£20,000 price tag. Golf GTI, take cover.

The diesel line-up – all common-rail units – starts off with a 98bhp 1.7-litre, and two 1.9-litre engines that develop 118bhp and 147bhp. There will be a choice of six-speed manual, five-speed automatic and Easytronic clutchless transmission. The Sport Hatch will continue with Vauxhall’s familiar entry-level SXi, sporty SRi and luxurious Design badging. An optional £650 styling pack adds 18-inch alloy wheels, body kit and roof spoiler.

Prices start at £13,795 for the 1.4-litre SXi and extend to £18,145 for both 150bhp diesel and 170bhp petrol flagships with Sports pack.

Standard across-the-range equipment includes six front airbags, air-conditioning, grippy sports seats, anti-lock brakes, traction control, remote central locking, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio control, sports suspension, 16-inch alloy wheels and a CD radio.

The list of options is long and advanced – Sport Hatch drivers can opt for a Sports setting that recalibrates the electronic maps of the steering and throttle for more dynamic driving, Understeer Logic and electronic damper controls, adaptive headlamps, tyre deflation warning and a £850 Panoramic roof option that extends the glass windscreen over the driver’s head.

To further add to the Sport Hatch’s appeal is the promise of the three-door model holding on to its value with more tenacity than its more prosaic five-door stablemate – by as much as 51 over three years/60,000 miles according to CAP. It’s not what you’d expect in this sector, and is bound to put a grin on the faces of fleet managers and Sport Hatch drivers.

Park the Sport Hatch next to its three-door Focus and Golf rivals and it’s like comparing Cat Deeley with Jo Brand and Mo Mowlam. No competition.

Only Citroen’s intriguing three-door C4 challenges the Astra’s visual credentials, but it’s nowhere near as good to drive.

Behind the wheel
GETTING Lotus involved in the development of the car’s ride and handling dynamics has paid off – and how. The Sport Hatch is a delight to drive, a car that rewards and engages the driver in equal measure.

First up of the two cars we drove was the warm 2.0-litre turbo-charged petrol. With 167bhp on tap, performance is very strong. Its 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds is quick, but it’s the car’s flying mid-range acceleration that makes it so point-to-point rapid. It’s a free-revving and deep-lunged engine too, zipping to its red line with enthusiasm and delivering a crisp exhaust note.

The 1.9-litre CDTi turbo diesel may lack the aural engagement of the 2.0-litre blown petrol unit, but what it lacks in sound it more than makes up for in sheer grunt. From just above idle right through to its 4,000rpm peak power, it pulls with an addictive slug of acceleration that makes the petrol feel a touch lethargic by comparison.

In-gear go is impressive – the Astra bullets forward in fourth gear with the same enthusiasm that most hot-hatches can only deliver in second gear. Even in the rangy, long-legged sixth gear, the commonrail engine has enough turbo-enhanced muscle to fly past slower traffic and flatten inclines without needing to change down. All this with nigh-50mpg economy too.

It makes the diesel Sport Hatch an impressively quick and comfortable ground coverer – and arguably the pick of the line-up.

In both cars, there’s real sophistication in the weighting of the controls and the progressive response from all driver inputs. You don’t need more than a mile over a challenging road in the Sport Hatch to know that engineers rather than accountants have developed it.

For a start the driving position is spot on – reach and rake adjustable steering wheel, height variable driver seat and well-placed pedals all work to create a sporty and rakish driving position that in keeping with the car’s agility and pace.

The gearlever on the six-speed manual boxes is wrist-flick light and precise, with a clean and short throw. The brakes are very strong – the centre pedal providing immediate and progressive retardation. And the clutch has plenty of positive and early bite.

There are niggles. The steering could do with a touch more involvement and rear visibility is poor, with the narrow pizza-slice shaped rear windows and thick C-pillars making reversing a bit of a black art. And some may find the throttle response in the petrol a little too aggressive.

Driving verdict
THIS is a great car. Whether it’s a long motorway haul, a quick and fast back-road blast or a slog through rush hour traffic, the Sport Hatch impresses because it’s as good to drive as it is to look at.

2.0-litre Turbo 1.9-litre CDTi
Engine (cc) 1998cc 1910cc
Max power (bhp/rpm) 167/5200 147/4000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm) 184/1,950 – 4,000 232/2000
Max speed (mph) 136 130
0-62mph (secs) 7.9 8.3
Fuel consumption (mpg) 31.4 48.7
CO2 emissions (g/km) 216 157
Fuel tanks capacity (l/gal) 52/11.4 52/11.4
Service intervals (miles) 20,000 30,000
On sale April 10 April 10
Price (OTR) £17,495 - £18,145 £17,495 - £18,145

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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