Vauxhall Astra 1.6 16v Sport
When the next test car arrives and they tell you its an Astra your heart sinks in anticipation of the interminable boredom. When they mention its the sport version it beats faster in anticipation of a performance spice being added to your life, when you survey it in the car park your heart sinks again. Such are the highs and lows regular car swaps for the sake of a road test
Looking at the thing in the car park you begin to wonder why its called "Sport" at all. After all it looks just like a cooking ashtray. Steel wheels dont hint at much, and from a distance the subtle roof mounted rear spoiler just blends into the rest of the car and 5 doors have never really equated to "Sport" in my book. Perhaps its the white paint job harking back to the original GTE that makes it sporty.
On closer inspection there is a tiny sport badge mounted on the door bump rubbers, but even the 16 valve legend on its rump doesnt mean much these days when twin cam 16V are about the only way to get the efficiencies needed to beat the latest emissions standards whilst maintaining respectable output.
You really would have to look close to see those cheap steel wheels are shod with chubby 195 rubber which is the only external hint of any surprises.
The interior is straight Astra bar a few minor but important points. The steering wheel and gear knob are leather clad, and the seats are extreeeeemly sporty heaaavvily side supported items.
The leather, or leatherette, covers of the gear knob and steering wheel look good and feel nice to the touch, unfortunately though the seat is height adjustable there appears to be no adjustment on the steering wheel and for me it was both a little to far away and somewhat low.
Electric front windows make an appearance but thats about the limit of any spark driven cosseting, there is a manual sunroof, but the interior does come across as a bog standard Astra that some young kid spent a couple of hundred quid on at Halfords.
But once your moving all thought of such things disappear, as driving it is such a gas you dont have time to think about the niceties of fully loaded interiors. This really is one zippy little motor, and one that feels much faster than Vauxhalls conservative figures would suggest.
The claimed peak output isnt all that high and could have been quite easily achieved with an eight valve motor, but Vauxhall have done a good job of fattening up the mid-range and supplied a motor which revs hard and pulls strong right through the range. Even in the fairly relaxed top gear (just over 3000 revs at 70mph) it pulls cleanly from low down, Allowing you not to resort to the gear stick too much when your not in the mood.
The gearbox itself is the cars biggest let down; the shift is light enough and short enough but just too woolly, floppy and indistinct. I dont normally have trouble changing gear but I hit 4th at least 4 times coming out of first, and being lazy and missing 4 out from third going direct to 5 was a real bind. Concentrate a little harder, dont be lazy and it all works fine. But we all get lazy sometimes and the shift really should be better than this.
The clutch is very light and very high, and combined with the engines feeling of lack of inertia, can make for some very snappy changes, on up shifts the momentum of the car barely reporting the fact a change has taken place and only the rasping wail of the engine giving you away. The accelerator pedal does what it should, but the brakes are rather heavy, leading you to the initial feeling that they are rather weak, further testing showed them to work okay even if they arent the sharpest anchors on the planet, but you do need to give them a good old stamp to get them working.
Whilst the Astra may not be the best steering car in the world the thick tyres do an excellent job of clinging on gamely as you press on around the corners. The engines power and flexibility will push the nose wide if your heavy footed in the wet, but in the dry it clings like egg yolk to a jumper. Too much gas from the lights or out of a slow corner will light up and smoke the tyres but such is the way of the front wheel drive world. The ride is noticeable bumpier than the bog standard Astra and it does tramline a little over bad roads, so what you get in grip you pay for in comfort. Its a fair trade off in this case.
The steering has a little bit of meaty weight behind it on the move, but even at parking speeds is acceptably light for all but the most infirm amongst us.
Perhaps its the power steering which comes on most cars nowadays, that makes all steering wheels feels a little dull, the only time you will get any kind of serious feed back is when the front wheels start to spin sending it light. Its still better than some other modern overly light helms though.
If Vauxhall aimed to lower its insurance bracket by making this car as anonymous as possible then they managed it perfectly. Your average joyrider wouldnt give this a second glance. And in return it manages a distinctly middle to low insurance weighing
This car offers all the practicalities of a normal five-door ashtray but with just a little bit of Devil thrown in. The power whilst sharp is never overwhelming and the chassis is well up to the job of containing it. The ride may start to grate over a longer time period but the grip and hooligan performance will want to make you drive it for the sake of it.
Where normally you may slide through a series of tight bends going between 4 and 5 gear happy not to shake the equilibrium of your smooth riding comfort, it will do that if you require but it much prefers you to sling it through, with the tyres chipping and engine singing up and down the rev range in third gear.
Despite the engine which is just gagging for it, the fuel economy is pretty good, around 37mpg in mixed traffic with a leaden foot. On a run with a steady foot it will probably put in some quite remarkable figures. Part of this must be down to good aerodynamics. The shape may be good for fuel but it did cause me slight problems in these wintry mornings. In that the over night dew/frost/rain would habitually run down and ice the doors shut. The drivers door lock also suffered from the same problem. Happily the engine started first shot every time and runs well straight away even on the coldest mornings.
If youre thinking of buying one, you know that its going to be cheap to run/repair cause its a Vauxhall; the low cred image obviously doesnt bother you. Its quick, economical and practical.
The biggest problems you will have with this car are,
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