2016 Vauxhall Astra review – new Astra is best yet, but can it excite? - Ride and handling
With an excellent engine and an outstanding ride the new Astra has some great attributes, but sadly it isn’t a drivers’ car
Ride and handling
The Astra rides exceptionally well. The car we tested was an Elite on the standard wheels 17” wheels, and therefore higher profile tyres, which will have contributed to the plush ride. But, the car is also softly sprung with long wheel travel so is naturally very comfortable. The suspension is nicely progressive too; it’s very soft initially but stiffens up when pushed so that some control is always maintained.
Considering how soft it feels, it does well not to crash into its bump-stops under heavy compressions. Instead, the suspension soaks everything up. Over crests, it isn’t quite as controlled; the body feels slightly wayward but it finds composure quickly.
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You’d expect comedic amounts of body roll from such a softly sprung car, and although the Astra does lean, once it reaches a point, the roll stops. It never feels like it leans too much that it the tyres fold onto their sidewalls. After the exit of a corner it does take some time to right itself, continuing to lean for a fraction longer than feels natural and it makes corner exit a little bit inelegant.
The soft suspension removes any potential feedback reaching the driver through the seat of their pants. And, sadly the steering offers little to no sensation too. It feels light and easy, which feels appropriate for a non-sporty Astra.
The brakes don’t respond with just a light touch of the pedal, they need a bit of a shove. This is initially a bit unnerving, but they are progressive and the brakes work harder the more you push the pedal. Once you’re calibrated to the pedal travel, it makes it easy to judge your braking and adjust should you need to. The brake pedal is also well placed in relation to the throttle, making heel and toe down changes surprisingly easy. Not exactly something you’d expect from an ordinary Astra.
Even when pushed, the Astra maintains a very neutral balance across both axles and distributes its weight evenly. This results in really safe, but tepid, handling characteristics as both axles always have significant amounts of grip. Even under heavy braking, and trying to shift weight to the front of the car, the rear never hints at loosing grip. When you want it to pivot around the front wheels and adopt some attitude into a corner it remains resolutely stuck to its line. Eventually, when pushed hard enough, it’s the front wheels that give way first.
On the exit of corners it does struggle with traction, the inside front wheel looses grip easily on tight corners, even in the dry.
The Astra is set-up to feel safe, grippy and comfortable, but these come at the expense of adjustability, feedback and, consequently, fun.