Six of the most exciting Vauxhall Astras ever
Think the Astra is a little dull? These thrillers will change your mind. - by Graham Hope
A version of this article was first published on YesAuto UK.
The first official pictures of the all-new version of one of Britain’s most familiar cars, the Vauxhall Astra, have been revealed and they show a smart, stylish hatch that’s set to embrace electrification and lead the brand into a dynamic new era. Truth be told, though, despite massive sales over four decades, the Astra has sometimes struggled to attract the same affection as other big sellers, often being written off as an 'appliance' car that will get you A to B and no more. That’s a little unfair, because over the years there have been more than a few versions of the Astra worth getting excited about. Here we recall some of the most memorable.
Vauxhall Astra GTE
Think of legendary hot hatches and the likes of the VW Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTi of the early 80s spring to mind. The Astra GTE is not recalled so immediately, which is a shame, really, as it was a rather good execution of the pocket rocket formula. The boxy design of the MkI was very much of its time and may look rather dated now, but adornments such as the chin spoiler and beefy wheelarches conveyed sufficient intent to confirm this was a car that meant business. Under the bonnet was a 111bhp 1.8-litre engine which delivered 0-60mph in around 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 115mph, which was competitive with the Golf GTI of the era. While maybe not an all-time classic, the GTE is still a hot hatch that demands tremendous respect.
BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupé
It may surprise you to learn that the Astra has a genuine pedigree in motorsport. In 2001, an Astra Coupé developed by race team Triple 8 Engineering proved thoroughly dominant in the British Touring Car Championship, winning 25 of the season’s 26 races and securing the series’ drivers title for Jason Plato. Based on the three-door Astra MkIV, the race car featured a 275bhp 2.0-litre engine and proved way superior to anything else on the track. This glorious campaign paved the way for another three seasons of BTCC success, with James Thompson claiming two titles and Yvan Muller one, and Vauxhall Motorsport and then the rebranded VX Racing taking the team honours. The Astra had earned the right to be lauded as a true legend of the BTCC.
Vauxhall Astra Coupe 888
Understandably keen to celebrate this unprecedented level of success on the track, in 2002 Vauxhall commissioned Triple 8 to produce a special-edition road car, and the result was this Astra Coupe, limited to only 100 models. The Coupe – which had been designed by Italian styling house Bertone – was enhanced by a BTCC-inspired bodykit, which included a front splitter, extended wheelarches and a big rear wing, and also benefited from Eibach springs and dampers, 17-inch alloys, Sparco bucket seats and a vivid Europa Blue paintjob. Under the bonnet was the Coupe’s standard 187bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine, delivering 0-60mph in seven seconds. A great way to dispel the Astra’s rather unfair ‘plain Jane’ image.
BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch
After the success of the BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupé, Vauxhall enlisted the help of Triple 8 again in 2005 for the BTC-T Astra Sport Hatch. And when considered in isolation, the car was actually fairly successful in its own right, delivering a constructors’ title for Vauxhall in its debut season, and victories in 10 of the 60 races it competed in as a works entry (in the hands of established drivers such as Yvan Muller and Colin Turkington). The problem was, though, that when compared to the achievements of its Astra Coupe predecessor, the Sport Hatch’s stint in the BTCC paled into insignificance – despite its obvious merits.
Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring
The VXR badge – essentially designating the performance versions of Vauxhalls – first appeared on the Astra in 2005. Given it was going up against some established names, the brand decided to differentiate the Astra by offering a headline-grabbing power ouput of 236bhp, more than any of its obvious contemporaries could muster, and only outstripped by more premium cars such as the 247bhp V6 Audi A3 and 261bhp BMW 130i. And the result, unsurprisingly, was an Astra that was very fast (0-60mph in 6.2 seconds) – indeed, it was almost too muscular, to be honest, with the front wheels often having difficulties containing all that power. The Nurburgring, named after the iconic German track, was a special edition launched in 2008 that added another 15bhp, sharpened the ride and handling, reduced the 0-60mph time to just under six seconds and added some questionable styling flourishes, in particular chequered flag graphics.
Vauxhall Astra VXR
It arguably wasn’t until the sixth-generation model model that the VXR really fulfilled its potential. Released in 2012, this version packed a hefty punch with a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that delivered 276bhp – again more than its Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen GTI and Renaultsport Megane rivals of the time. This ensured a 0-62mph sprint of 5.9 seconds, which was quicker than all its key competitors. But there was more to this VXR than sheer brutish speed, though – the drive was more characterful and agile than we’d seen in an Astra before, although the pay-off was an admittedly firm ride. The VXR looked compelling, too, especially when fitted the Aero kit, which added a dramatic rear spoiler and 20-inch alloys. A seriously underrated hot hatch.
Check more Graham Hope's articles on YesAuto UK.