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|Body and chassis|
|Class||Small family car|
Astra is a model name that has been used by Vauxhall, the British subsidiary of Adam Opel AG, on their small family car ranges since 1979. For its first two generations, the nameplate was applied to right-hand drive versions of the Opel Kadett for use in the UK. Since 1991, Opel has used the Astra nameplate on its B/C-platform. General Motors' Saturn division in the US also offered the Astra as a captive import from late 2007 until Saturn was discontinued following GM's 2010 bankruptcy.
First generation (1979-1984)
The Astra name originated with Vauxhall's 1980 model, though the car had originally been launched almost a year earlier as the Opel Kadett D. This model replaced the Vauxhall Viva in the UK, along with some versions of the Vauxhall Chevette. However, the Chevette (itself based on the previous generation Kadett C) remained available as a budget alternative for several years afterwards, until the Vauxhall Nova was launched. The Astra was Vauxhall's first model to have front wheel drive. Not all trim levels were available with all body styles. Confusingly in the British market, both the Kadett D and the Astra were sold alongside each other until the consolidation of Opel and Vauxhall dealerships in the early 1980s, when the Opel badged versions were dropped.
The overhead-camshaft engine (not 1200) was a huge leap forward from the earlier generation of small engines used in Vauxhall and Opel cars in terms of power, economy and refinement. It was initially available in 1300 and 1600 forms, and later an 1800 fuel-injected version was added, used in the Mk 1 Astra GTE model, introduced in 1983. This version of the Astra was an alternative to the Ford Escort XR3, Volkswagen Golf GTI and Fiat Strada 105TC.
Vauxhall now appeared to have a serious rival for the Volkswagen Golf at just about every level. The car featured a new unified engine for Vauxhall/Opel, featuring an all-aluminium head, overhead camshaft and hydraulic valve lifters, and it quickly became popular with buyers. A 1200 cc version which used the older Opel OHV engine was also available.
There were three body styles for the first generation Astra: hatchback, saloon, and estate, all available with two or four side doors. The saloons were styled exactly like the hatchbacks, except for a different rear window above a bootlid; from the side they looked almost indistinguishable from the hatchback, with no protruding notch at the rear. The saloon version was replaced by the Belmont saloon based on the Astra MK2 in early 1986.
The white 1800GTE was the first UK car to be 'colour-coded' with body trim that matched the base colour of the car, this included wheel arch extensions, front side and rear lower skirts, mirror covers, bumpers and even the alloy wheels were painted white. The black, silver and red versions of the GTE also had colour-coding but had the more conventional black bumpers and silver painted alloy wheels.
There was also a van version which was badged the Bedford Astravan — the Bedford brand at that time being used for GM's commercial vehicles in Britain. Unlike the previous Opel T-Car, no Coupé was offered.
Sales of this first Astra were strong, and gave Vauxhall a much-needed boost in the small family car sector after several years of declining sales with the Viva HC. It soon overtook the Austin Allegro as Britain's second most popular small family car, although it was still a long way behind the Ford Escort in terms of sales success.
Versions available were:
- 1200 E (2/4-door saloon, 3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1200 L (2/4-door saloon, 3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1300 E (as 1200 E)
- 1300 L (as 1200 L)
- 1300 S (3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1300 GL (3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1600 L (3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1600 GL (3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1600 SR (3-door hatchback only)
- 1600 L Diesel (3/5-door hatchback, 3/5-door estate)
- 1800 GTE (3-door hatchback only)
Second generation (1984-1991)
The Mark 2 Astra was launched on 17 October 1984. It used the same range of engines and running gear as the Mark 1, but with a completely restyled body with better aerodynamics. It was voted 1985 European Car of the Year.
Long-lived, the Mark 2 was available in estate, hatchback, saloon and cabriolet versions. The saloon was launched in January 1986 and sold as the Vauxhall Belmont; this trend to brand saloon models independently of hatchbacks was also used by other manufacturers of the period, with examples including the Ford Orion and the Volkswagen Jetta. However, this strategy was mostly unsuccessful, as this was Vauxhall's only attempt at badging its hatchback-based saloon as a separate model, and Ford rebadged its Orion range as Escorts in September 1993.
In 1987 a special one off ‘design exercise’ based on a 1986 1.8 GTE was built by the Ellesmere Port factory to celebrate its 25th (Silver) Anniversary. The Astra GTE ‘Quicksilver’ was first shown at the British International Motor show in 1987 and displayed in the Ellesmere Port showroom throughout the Plant’s “Silver Anniversary” year.
Bertone built 6,764 cabriolets from 1987 to 1993. These came as 1.6 (with 82 bhp (61 kW)) and 2-litre (115 bhp (86 kW)) GTEs, the latter available with powered roof and electric windows. These cars are praised for their shake-free shells and their looks.
A new GTE using a 2 litre fuel injected engine was also introduced, and early models of these featured an all electronic dash with digital speedometer. Analogue instruments were an optional extra, but were very rarely selected over the digital dash. Vauxhall's twin-camshaft version of the engine, the C20XE, had a high performance version of the GTE created around it. This engine was originally released in Europe where it developed 156 ps (153.9 bhp) in standard form. When the GTE 16v arrived in the UK, it was subject to stricter emissions regulations; to meet these, a new exhaust manifold was applied to the C20XE, which robbed the engine of 6ps. The resulting 150ps (148 bhp) offered sprightly performance, though a common criticism is that the handling was never good enough for the engine. The limited-edition "Champion" Astras from 1990 were fitted with the same C20XE "redtop" engines (so called because of their red spark plug cover), along with Connolly Leather interiors.
The Mark 2 Astra sold well in the UK, and although it was never able to outsell the Ford Escort, it came closer than any other similar-sized car to achieving this.
In 2005, a survey found the two most stolen cars in Britain to be the Vauxhall Belmont and the Vauxhall Astra Mark 2, with more than 1 in 13 Belmonts stolen.
Third generation (1991-1998)
Released in 1991, the Mark 3 model was essentially an evolution of the Mark 2, rather than a redesign.
While Vauxhall had retained the Astra name, this generation was the first to be called Astra by Opel (succeeding the Kadett E), and the first to also be sold by Holden. It was offered as a three or five-door hatchback, a saloon, and an estate. A cabriolet was also offered, designed and built by Bertone.
The Astra also became available in Australasia badged as a Holden, first in New Zealand in 1995, and then in Australia in 1996. The first models were imported from the UK, but the current model is imported from Belgium. The Holden Astra nameplate was originally placed on a rebadged Nissan Pulsar, first sold in Australia in the mid-1980s.
The Astra F consisted of two main revisions and was revised in 1994, with the launch of Opel's new Ecotec engine. For a short period, a submodel which consisted of parts from both revisions was produced. The submodel used all the new Ecotec running gear, but many parts from the previous revision were used in order to use up leftover parts. Other main changes included mildly-altered exterior styling - featuring Vauxhall's new corporate 'V' front grille first seen on the 1994 Omega, a smoked grey trim panel available on all cars on the rear tailgate to smooth over the protruding rear lamp clusters, and availability of new specification models.
Aside from the South Africa-only 200TS, the lead model was the 3-door only GSi, powered by either the same 2.0 engine found in the Mk2, or a new 1.8 16v petrol injected model with 124 bhp (92 kW). It also featured sports bodykit and interior. The GSi ceased production in 1994 but was reintroduced in 1997, with the engine being replaced with a lower-powered but more modern 'Ecotec' version (2.0 16v with 134 bhp) the bodykit was slightly altered on these models - a longer rear spoiler with integrated brake light, fluted side skirts, a bonnet without vents, and removal of the GSi16v badging from the bumper and tailgate (replaced by the later chrome effect Vauxhall Astra 2.0 16v badging). The second phase GSi's had air conditioning available as an option.
In common with other car manufacturers, the early 1990s saw Vauxhall featuring safety as a selling point, and beginning to incorporate many new safety features into cheaper family cars that were previously only found on expensive luxury saloons. The Mark 3 Astra was one of the first such cars, being introduced ahead of the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Mondeo, two other cars with a similar new-found focus on safety. So, the Mark 3 saw the introduction of twin side impact bars, a toughened safety cage, a safely-designed steering wheel (with collapsible columns) and 'body-lock' mechanical front seat-belt pre-tensioners. After the first face-lift full-size drivers air bags became optional or standard (depending on the model). Crash tests by consumers association (as featured by BBC's Watchdog show in 1992) and also by ADAC and Auto Express showed that the Mark 3 Astra protected better in crashes than most rivals of its time.
In the UK, Vauxhall offered the following trim levels (and in some cases, engine size):
The car also had 'special edition' badging, which indicated special trim:
In later Sport and GSi models (from 1995 onwards) Lotus Sprung Suspension was used to give better ride. The Sport models essentially replaced the GSi cars in 1994/1995 due a drop in sales due to sharply rising insurance prices. The Pacific special edition was a model that featured a complete Irmscher body styling package with 15" Cesaro wheels from the Mark 3 Cavalier. In addition to this, some high end or sporty model had a dark grey plastic backing behind the number plate on the rear of the vehicle - this is not present on all cars produced during this period, and is a 'hand me down' from the earlier GSi models.
Fourth generation (1998-2004)
Released in 1998, the MK4 addressed many of the criticisms of the MK3 in the UK with greatly improved ride and handling. The growing emphasis on safety was also reflected in greater body rigidity, resulting in a Euro NCAP 4 star crash test rating, considered excellent for its time. In the UK the MK4 Astra was available with a range of 16v Ecotec engines as well some 8v units. The 8v unit was refined during the model's life however, with the Z16SE offering good all round performance compared with its higher insurance 16v equivalent. In addition to the standard hatchback, the MK4 also had a popular choice of the coupé. This was available in four petrol engine types:
- The 1.2 Z12XE produced 75 bhp (available in Ireland and other E. European countries only)
- The 1.4 16v Z14XE produced 88 bhp (66 kW; 89 PS).
- The 1.6 8v X16SZR produced 75hp, later the Z16SE produced 85hp
- The 1.6 16v Produced 101 bhp (75 kW; 102 PS), later the 1.6 Twinport Z16XEP produced 105 bhp
- The 1.8 X18XE1 produced 115 bhp, later Z18XE 125 bhp (93 kW; 127 PS).
- The 2.2 Z22SE produced 147 bhp (110 kW; 149 PS).
- The 2.0 Turbocharged produced 189 bhp (141 kW; 192 PS) SRI Turbo and 197 bhp (147 kW; 200 PS) GSI Turbo Variant.
There were also these diesel variants:
- The 1.7 DTi producing 75 bhp (56 kW; 76 PS).
- The 1.7 CDTi producing 80 bhp (60 kW; 81 PS).
- The 2.0 DTL 16v producing 85 bhp
- The 2.0 DTi Y20DTH producing 100 bhp
Fifth generation (2004-2011)
The Astra Mark 5 was first launched in early 2004 as a five-door hatchback, which by the end of the year was joined by a five-door estate and a sporty three-door hatchback called the Sport Hatch in the UK. The Sport Hatch had the option of a "panoramic windscreen" (unique for a production car at the time of its launch) which extended the windscreen into the roof area.
The main variants were Life, Club, Design, SXi, SRi, Elite, and the flagship VXR (Sport Hatch only), which had 240 bhp. However, special edition models included Active, Energy, Breeze and VXR Nurburgring. The latter was only available in white with a distinctive black (and white) chequered stripe across the bonnet, roof & tailgate.
The Petrol Models included 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 2.0 and 2.0 litre Turbo (VXR).
The Diesel Models included 1.3 90 bhp, 1.7 with either 80 or 100 bhp and 1.9 with either 120 or 150 bhp.
All Diesel models feature the initials CDTI and the majority of engines have 16 valves.
From 2006 the TwinTop 2-door coupé convertible was available in the Vauxhall Astra range, having already been a variant on the Tigra.
The Astra Mark 5 was also the first Astra to feature a Euro NCAP 5 star crash test rating.
The five-door Astra was replaced in late 2009 (although various models were still available throughout 2010), while the three-door Sport Hatch wasn't replaced until late 2011.
Sixth generation (2010-present)
The Vauxhall Astra I/J was officially unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show and has been available to purchase since late 2009. The principal manufacturing plant for the latest Astra (though not for its Zafira sibling) is at Ellesmere Port enabling the manufacturer to benefit from sterling depreciation with this model. Design has been a major consideration in the development of new Vauxhall Astra and the car is heavily influenced by the Vauxhall Insignia.
Despite being more expensive than the Astra H, the Astra I/J has been a strong sales success in the UK, where it was the best selling car in June 2010 with well over 10,000 sales - outselling its crucial rival the Ford Focus by nearly 50%. This however is mainly because production of the current Focus was being scaled back prior to the launch of a new MK3 model in early 2011.
The Estate version of the Astra, the 'Sports Tourer', debuted at the 2010 Paris Motor Show and went on sale shortly afterwards, with a starting price of £16,575 for the ES version, then Exclusiv, SRI and SE versions, with the SE costing from £20,345.
It has been reported that the seventh generation Astra will enter production at Ellesmere Port in 2015.
In BBC 2's Top Gear, the Astra I/J in the Tech Line trim, is used as their fourth; "Reasonably Priced Car."
Police use of the Astra
Many British police forces use the Astra as a workhorse, used for simple duties and sometimes for pursuits, if the high powered divisional area car is unable to respond as rapidly as they can be dispatched. The Metropolitan Police Service use a collection of the MK4 and MK5 Astras, mostly as of 2007, the mark in popular use is the MK5, these are used as Incident Response Vehicles (IRVs) and are commonly seen on the roads of London.
The MK1 Astra was a strong seller in the UK and quickly established itself as Britain's second most popular small family car, but was never able to match the runaway sales success of the Ford Escort.
The MK2 Astra was a bigger seller than its predecessor, though again it failed to match the Ford Escort in terms of sales success. It further widened the gap between Vauxhall and rival products from Austin Rover, although the combined sales of ARG's Rover 200 and Austin Maestro ranges were often at least a match for the Astra's total sales.
The MK3 Astra took Vauxhall from strength to strength in the small family car market, after almost seven years on sale - and further narrowed the gap with the Ford Escort.
The MK4 Astra was also a huge success, and by 2001 it was the second best selling car in Britain overall behind the Ford Focus. Combined sales of Opel and Vauxhall Astra G made it the 26th most popular car in the world with a total production of 3,799,015.
The MK5 has so far been the most successful version of the Astra. It was Britain's second-best selling car in 2005, 2006 and 2007, further narrowing the gap between itself and the market-leading Ford Focus.
In March 2009, nearly 2,500,000 Astras had been sold over five generations since its launch 30 years earlier, making it the fourth most popular car ever sold in Britain, Iwith 90,641 sold in 2009,
For 2010, it was Britain's second best selling new car with 80,646 sold. It was only outsold by the smaller Ford Fiesta, and finally managed to outsell the Ford Focus and end Ford's lead of the small family car market after 37 years. Sales were down to 62,575 in 2011, becoming the fifth most popular new car in Britain.
The Astra has been used in auto racing around the globe, in particular in touring car racing. Its highest success were achieved in the British Touring Car Championship (see BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupe). The Astra Coupe replaced the Vectra in the BTCC after the regulations changed in 2001 and immediately became a successful car in British Touring Car Championship taking both 1st and 2nd in the drivers championship in 2001 with Jason Plato, 2002 with James Thompson, 2003 with Yvan Muller & 2004 with James Thompson. The Astra Coupe was able to also take the Teams and Manufacturers Championships at the same time between 2001 and 2004. During its 4 years in the hands of the works VXRacing team it was almost invincible taking 61 wins. After 2004, it was decided that Vauxhall would retire the Astra Coupe and move on to the Mark 5 Astra Sport Hatch for the next two years. Due to the reliability and speed of the Astra Coupe, they were used by many independent teams such as GA Motorsport, Collards Motorsport, Thurlby Motors and Arkas Racing for the next few years with one car entered this year by Martin Johnson. The newer cars struggled to match the coupe's pace and were beaten by the Hondas and SEATs on many occasions. Yvan Muller was runner-up and Colin Turkington sixth in 2005. In 2006 Yvan Muller moved to the World Touring Car Championship while Colin Turkington moved back to MG. They were replaced by Fabrizio Giovanardi who finished fifth overall and gave Vauxhall its 100th BTCC win, Gavin Smith seventh and Tom Chilton eighth. For 2007, VX Racing dropped the Astra in favour of the Vectra C and reduced to two cars. Fabrizio Giovanardi and Tom Chilton drove for the team in 2007.
The BTC-T Vauxhall Astra Coupe was a car that won 25 out of 26 races in the 2001 British Touring Car Championship season. The Astra 4S finished fourth in the final round of the 1986 British Rally Championship.
The Vauxhall Astra VXR won the Best Sporting Car from the Scottish Car of the Year 2012 held at Glasgow on the 14th October 2012.
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