Astra 1.6 16v SXi (1999 T-reg) review

November 18th, 2004

Never a popular choice with the style-pack, often branded as dull and anoymous, the Vauxhall Astra has often been given a raw deal by the motoring press. This inevitably filters down to buyers who like their cars to denote some sort of status. Yet the Mark 4 Astra is a total joy to drive. It’s a ‘driver’s car’ and the 1.6 SXi is a sporting hatch without the insurance premium. I’ve been after one for some time having also considered the same age Golf, Leon and Focus. Whilst they were all good, the Astra scored many more positives than the others. Below is my review.

Firstly, the faults

No real mechanical faults yet. I imagine most niggles have been sorted by the previous two owners.

The driver’s seat is a little creaky and doesn’t appear to return to the set position when lifted to allow passengers to alight.

The driver’s side door has strange rattles emanating from within. I imagine that these rattles are something to do with the electric window system. I’m yet to investigate as they are not annoying me too much. The sound resembles loose change rattling around in your pocket.

The parcel shelf bracket on the left hand side of the shelf itself is broken. Probably due to the previous owner trying to stuff a little too much into the boot. The lack of an adequate fulcrum means the shelf does not sit properly.

The spare key fails to unlock the car doors unless actually inserted into the lock and turned (like in the old days!)

My initial impression

Having previously only owned basic 1.2 litre superminis (Fiat Uno, Fiat Punto, Renault Clio), this is my first venture into a car with slightly more power. This is not to say I haven’t driven cars with a little more zest! I test drove a Seat Leon 1.9 TDi with 130 bhp. I also tried another couple of Astras – a 1.8 SRi and a 1.6i 16v CD. In my previous job if often drove a 1.8 Vectra and a 1.4 Corsa. So I have a few models to compare it with.

The SXi has tighter suspension than the CD model though you don’t get electric wing-mirrors or air conditioning. As far as I’m concerned, the lack of these two features will save me maintenance money further down the line. The car has a nice, manual sunroof though the autumnal months have prevented me from using yet.

The lotus-tuned suspension makes for very enjoyable, roll-free cornering. The car sticks to the road.

The 1.6 16v engine is nippy though the lower gears are slow. Don’t expect to beat and GTi’s off the lights! The engine really comes into its own in fifth gear. Motorway driving is effortless, as is overtaking on country lanes (as long as you’re going fairly fast to begin with!). I’m not sure what the difference between 1.6 and 1.6i is. The Astra 1.6i 16v CD model seemed to drive exactly the same.

The brakes are not as responsive as I’d like but then I’m still adjusting from my previous car. Maybe you just need to stamp a little harder. There is no ABS in the 1.6 SXi from 1999.

The standard stereo is a Phillips cassette stereo that interfaces with the steering wheel stereo controls. The stereo itself has no digital display – instead all Astras have a ‘heads up display’ in the centre of the dash. This is a very handy utility that puts the stereo information in a convenient, readable position. This feature is lost when you replace the stereo (as I have) with an aftermarket CD player. Although you lose the ‘heads up display’ (except for the clock and temperature) you can still use the steering wheel controls thanks to a handy adapter. I purchased the new stereo and adapter from Halfords. The adapter cost £30.

Many say the Astra cabin in gloomy. I like the cabin. It’s uncluttered, solid and functional. The dash is well laid out and the controls are easy to understand and use. It’s also rattle-free. It was interesting to discover that this model of Astra was German designed and initially German built. The twin-fold down rear seats allow for a good load from the DIY stores and there’s a handy little reach-through to the boot via the back of the arm rest.

The chassis is solid and the doors shut with a satisfying clunk. I feel safe in the knowledge that this model has an 80% increase in strength over the previous model. The deadlocks give an added impression of security. You can lock/unlock the car from a distance via the key-remote. The indicators flash to indicate your success!

This car is in group 5/6 insurance. For the low premiums you get a sporty looking car with white dials, body coloured handles and bumpers, front fog-lights and tight suspension.

I have very few minor niggles (listed above) with this car but I’ve only had it a couple of weeks. I’ll be sure to update this as my ownership continues. I don’t expect to need to upgrade from the fun little hatch for the next few years at least.