THERE was a time when some cars dominated our roads – in the 1980s and 90s every other vehicle seemed to be an Escort or Astra.

Fast forward a few decades and the motoring mix is far more diverse – yet those old staples still occupy a bigger slice of the car park than you might think.

It was only when I had an Astra on test for a week that I began to realise just how many Griffin badged family hatchbacks are out there. This was brought home to me when I was trying to find where I had left the bright red Sri model in a shopping centre car park.

There were literally dozens of red Astras so thank goodness for remote key fobs and after holding the alarm button aloft I finally found the car two rows away from where I could have sworn I left it!

So why are Astras still such big sellers? Well it is all about the overall package, the Astra has always offered value, practicality, good design and a well-rounded range of capabilities. In the fleet market it has long been a big seller.

The 2019 version is not hugely different externally to the outgoing model, there’s a new grille at the front and the ride height is 10mm lower but under the skin it is a different story. New engines and gearboxes help make what was already a very capable car an impressive one.

Our test car had the 1199cc turbo petrol engine which, despite its dimunitive size, gives the Sri VX-line Nav 1.2 Turbo a 0 to 60 time of 8.8 seconds and a top speed of 137. That new engine also returns up to a shade over 54 mpg but is milage is your biggest concern the 1.5 Turbo D has a  combined fuel economy figure or almost 63.

Every model has a new engine and gearbox to make the Astra more efficient, more economical and better than ever to drive. All are three-cylinder units, starting with our 1.2 turbo petrol with 108bhp and rising to a 1.4 turbo petrol with 143bhp. Then there are two 1.5 turbodiesels – one with 103bhp and another with 120bhp.

The new engines come with a variety of gearbox options from a standard six-speed manual,  nine-speed auto or CVT ‘stepless’ auto.

Vauxhall has also improved the cabin of the Astra with a new eight-inch touchscreen and more upmarket soft-touch plastics. There is also much-improved connectivity, a range of new advanced driver assistance systems and a new MultiMedia Nav Pro infotainment system (as fitted to our test car) that’s standard on the top-spec models but optional across the range.

Vauxhall has simplified the trim levels, too, starting with SE, through SRi and SRi Nav, then SRi VX (our car), Elite Nav and Ultimate Nav. Prices start at £18,895 up to £26,755 with our mid range car being £24.195 on the road.

Ride wise the dampers are new, spring rates tweaked for more comfort and control and steering altered to be more responsive. And on the move the revised Astra is a smooth operator making the driving experience is surprisingly good.

Brakes and wind noise are also hard to fault as is the price, with our car being well over £1,000 cheaper than the equivalent Focus and, Vauxhall say, it will be cheaper to run too.

So it does everything well, looks good and the price is right – looks like future Astra owners may also have trouble finding their pride and joy on the supermarket car park!

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By Motoring Editor Steve Howarth