Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX Review

The Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX on its Gren Car Guide road test

Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX

Road test of the Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX

Model/Engine size: 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX Exclusiv
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 68.9 mpg

Green Car Guide rating: 6/10

We like the new Astra, but does the ecoFLEX treatment ruin a perfectly good car?

We drove the new Astra at launch, in petrol and diesel guises. We liked the exterior design of the car, and the interior design – which is so much better than its predecessor, both in terms of appearance and quality. It’s also spacious. The ride and handling are also impressive (although it’s not as sharp dynamically as a Focus), and at a constant speed, the Astra is a pleasant, quiet and comfortable driving experience.

None of those good points have changed.

What has changed is the introduction of an ecoFLEX model. This has a relatively small, 1.3-litre diesel engine which produces just 95 bhp, together with long gearing. This combination may bring the emissions down, to 109 g/km CO2, and improve the economy, to 68.9 mpg, but it results in the car feeling very underpowered.

You notice this when you first drive off in the car. There’s little power overall, but there’s certainly hardly any power at low revs, before the turbo kicks in. The engine sounds coarse and noisy, and you feel as though you need to rev the engine harder to extract any performance, which makes it even noisier. This also obviously means that the fuel consumption is going to suffer – precisely the opposite of what should be happening.

It also means that due to its poor acceleration, you don’t feel confident overtaking unless you can see a mile of clear road in front of you, as you don’t want the engine to die – along with you.

A white Vauxhall Astra 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX Exclusiv

You’d hope that your patience with putting up with such an underpowered car would be rewarded with a fuel economy read-out on the dash, to at least show how much fuel you’re saving by having no power. But this car doesn’t even have a fuel economy read-out – a huge omission for a supposed ‘green’ car.

In fact the display on the dash in front of the driver doesn’t seem to have either style or substance; it doesn’t look very attractive and it doesn’t provide much useful information.

Whilst we’re talking about the driving experience and the dashboard, you may be tempted to switch off the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), in the hope that this is partly responsible for keeping the power down. Well first of all you’ll need to find the button – which is positioned at the top left of a tightly clustered group of stereo controls – not a very intuitive place for it. And once you’ve disengaged the ESP (which we obviously wouldn’t recommend) it makes no difference – there’s still no ability to get any more oomph out of the car.

Another irritating design feature of this car is the handbrake – when you release the handbrake it hits the housing around the gear lever – often with your fingers being caught in between. It seems as though the Astra was designed to have the much smaller electronic handbrake (which other models do have) and the designers forgot to leave enough room for a conventional handbrake.

As is increasingly common with diesels of this size, visiting fuel stations will become less frequent for the owner of an Astra ecoFLEX, as the 56-litre tank gives a theoretical range of 889 miles, and our experience suggests that 800 miles may easily be achievable.

Our test car with Exclusiv trim had cruise control, remote audio controls, air conditioning, electric front windows, remote locking and a CD player with MP3 socket. You’d need to go for SRi trim to get an electronic parking brake – this is something that we wouldn’t normally recommend, but in this car we certainly would.

The basic price of this car is £17,980, however the test car had options of SatNav (£835), 17-inch alloys (£310), DAB radio (£155) and Bluetooth (£215). This brought the total to £19,495. Whilst the car looks good with the option of the alloy wheels, this is quite a lot of money for a car that feels so underpowered.

Running costs of the ecoFLEX will be low, and so will company car tax. However the car is not likely to hold its value that well.

As always, we’re looking for cars that are efficient, but with no compromises in the driving experience. The Astra ecoFLEX is a big compromise so it only scores a Green Car Guide
rating of 6 out of 10.

The Astra ecoFLEX scored a fairly average 6 out of 10 in the Green Car Guide road test and review.

Summary and Review of the Astra ecoFLEX Exclusiv

We like the new Astra. We tested it at launch, in petrol and diesel form. It was a good all-round car with no major flaws. However we regret to conclude that the ecoFLEX version ruins what is a perfectly good car. The engine is seriously devoid of power and performance and it negatively impacts the entire package. We’d instead go for the 1.7 CDTi, with 108 bhp, which still returns 62.8 mpg, and it doesn’t cost much more.

We’ve tested the Insignia ecoFLEX and found it to be an excellent car ; unfortunately the Astra ecoFLEX has just gone too far. We’d suggest that Vauxhall ups the power, gives the car some life at low revs, and adds a stop-start system to keep the emissions down.

View of the Astra's dashboard from the driver's seat

The view from the Energy Saving Trust

Vauxhall’s Astra is an impressive car and is almost certain to sell in large numbers to both fleet and retail markets. The new Astra combines style and German-like build quality with affordability. The ecoFLEX models are undoubtedly green with low emissions of just 109 g/km which is excellent for a family hatchback. There will be a compromise in performance but for many drivers the low fuel and tax bills will compensate for this. As a fleet car the Astra is certain to be welcomed by company car drivers who will enjoy its sharp looks and solid build coupled with infrequent refuelling stops and low tax bills.

Tim Anderson
Consumer Transport Manager at the Energy Saving Trust

An irritating design feature of the Astra ecoFLEX car is the handbrake which hits the housing around the gear lever when you release it

Car details and fuel economy data

Fuel economy extra urban: 76.3 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 57.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 109 g/km
Green rating: VED band B – first year £0
Weight: 1393 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 13%
Price: £17,980 (From £13,995 – £22,890)
Insurance group: 9E
Power: 94 bhp
Max speed: 109 mph
0-62 mph: 13.8 seconds
DPF: Yes

Rear view of the Vauxhall Astra ecoFLEX with the boot hatch open