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A spotter's guide to the Vauxhall Astra

A spotter's guide to the Vauxhall Astra

The humble Vauxhall Astra has been around for what seems like forever. It’s one of those cars that has always been there to get us about in a comfy, reliable, affordable way, yet we never seem to give it much thought.

Did you know the Astra has been around since 1979? Did you know it has been thorough a massive SEVEN generations? And did you know that Vauxhall has made literally millions of them, a fair portion of which on UK soil?

Oh yes, the Astra is a mightily impressive car. So here’s a Haynes Spotter’s Guide to give you the opportunity to swot up a bit more! 

The MkI

The MkI

Built from 1979 to 1984

The first Astra was built to replace the aging Viva, a small, rear-wheel drive car that was, even in the 19070s, looking a bit antiquated. The Astra would change all that. It was front-wheel drive, meaning it had lots more space inside for passengers, what with not having to accommodate cumbersome things like rear axles and propshafts.

The 1300 and 1600 overhead camshaft engines were also a triumph in terms of reliability and economy when compared to the Viva. 

The MkI Astra is a rare sight these days, but if you think you’ve spotted one, here’s how to be sure. The front had big, square headlights with tall thin indicators fitted to them.

The front end is very clean, with a straight-edged bonnet and straight but thin black metal bumpers with plastic end caps. At the rear, it’s another meeting of straight lines, with tall, thin light clusters. 

Astra fact: The MkI GTE was fitted with a 1.8 fuel-injected OHC engine, and it was the first ‘hot’ Astra.

The MkII

The MkII

Built from 1984 to 1991

The MkI proved to Vauxhall that the market was keen, so for the MkII it went all out. Other companies may have just face-lifted the MkI, but not Vauxhall – it built an entirely new car.

It was a good move on Vauxhall’s part, too, as it was crowned European Car of the Year in 1985. It was also available in more guises.

The was a hatch and estate, as before, but the was also a saloon (known as the Belmont) as well as a convertible version. Basically, Vauxhall took the fight to the Ford Escort of the time. 

To spot one, you’re looking for a slightly more curves shape, along with more sculpted headlights that featured a softer line into the grille.

The sharp-edged bonnet went, in favour of one that curved and dropped in-between the front lights. Also, the bumpers on the Mk2 were deep, full plastic items. 

Astra fact: The MkII Astra GTE was straight out of the future – the dash was digital!

The MkIII

The MkIII

Built from 1991 to 1998

For the MkIII, Vauxhall upped the build quality and also increased the range. Again, it was available as an estate, a hatch, a convertible and as a saloon. However, the trim levels increased massively, with a noticeable increase in performance models.

The GTE was gone, but the Si, SRi and mighty GSi made up for it. There was also a bigger push on diesels, with several options being made available.

There was the naturally aspirated 1.7 diesel, the turbocharged 1.7 and also the 1.7 Isuzu turbocharged diesel, perfect for swallowing the miles without swallowing all the fuel. 

To spot a MkIII, you need to look for a more rounded shape, slightly thinner front lights with clear indicators, a straight edged bonnet returns, but is joined by a body colour grille, while the real lights changed into square clusters.

Finally, if there is a rear quarter window separate from the door, you’re looking at a MkIII

Astra fact: The MkIII marketed on its safety credentials. Despite EuroNCAP not yet being a thing, Vauxhall saw to it that the MkIII was one of the strongest cars it ever built.

The MkIV

The MkIV

Built from 1998 to 2006

While the MkIII was a success in terms of safety and economy, it wasn’t exactly what you’d call a joy to drive. In fact, it was regularly criticised for the way it handled, so when it came to the MkIV, Vauxhall had a lot of work to do.

The bods at the design table completely reworked the chassis and suspension, making it a much better car to drive in the process.

They also made it even stronger – then newly-formed EuroNCAP awarded it the full four stars. Though all this did come at a cost. The MkIV Astra wasn’t exactly what you’d call pretty. 

To spot on, you need to look for bigger, wider headlights that pull back further into the bonnet and wings.

Also, for the first time, the headlights and indicators were all one unit. The bonnet and grille combination made a return, too. At the rear, it was a kind of scrunched up, tall affair with big light clusters. Not pretty, but definitely distinctive. 

Astra fact: the MkIV Astra was the first one to be offered with a turbocharged petrol engine care of the mighty 189bhp SRi. 

The MkV

The MkV

Built from 2004 to 2010

The MkV Astra blew our socks off when it came out in 2004. It was a wild, wild departure from the car before it. We could have it as a hatch or an estate, though the saloon was binned off; mainly because here in the UK, we’re just not big fans of saloon cars.

We also got it in three-door guise, but it wasn’t just a five-door model with some doors removed. It was a bespoke model badged as the ‘Sports Hatch’. It was also the model that would be the basis for the mighty, popping, snorting, tyre-eating VXR version. 

To spot a MkV, you need to look for big diamond-shaped headlights that pull back high into the bonnet and wings. The grille is once again separate from the bonnet, though the bonnet itself still drops down between the front lights.

The rear lights are also diamond-shaped, and are bridged by a chrome strip that runs across the width of the boot lid. 

Astra fact: The MkV Astra was the first Astra to be awarded the full five stars by crash-testers, EuroNCAP.

The MkVI

The MkVI

Built from 2009 to 2015

In the case of the MkV, one thing that did let it down was the fit and finish. It wasn’t a solid –feeling car. With the MkVI, Vauxhall sorted all that out be making sure the staff at Elsmere Port screwed it together properly, and with only the finest materials.

As such, the MkVI was a triumph. It was solid, robust and had a feel to it that could rival the German cars. Again, we could have it in hatch or estate, and aging, the three-door model was something unique.

In this case, it was known as the Astra GTC, or grand touring coupe. There was no convertible though, for that you had to by a Cascada. 

To sport one, look for bigger front headlights, a more rounded overall shape and a body with no rubbing/trim strips. On the side, you’ll see a rear quarter window that’s not part of the doors, while at the back, you’ll have light cluster that seat in both the body and boot lid itself. 

Astra fact: The MkVI was used as the ‘reasonably priced car’ on Top Gear. The cars used live on, hidden at Vauxhall HQ in Luton.

The MkVII

The MkVII

Built from 2015 to present

That brings us to the MkVII, which is probably the most gentle of all the Astra’s evolutions. Think of it as more of a heavy facelift of the MkVI. It has a sharper swage line running along the sides, and the headlights are slightly more sculpted, plus they meet the grille.

The rear lights are thinner, but again are mounted on both the body and the boot lid itself. Also, the side rear quarter window is now a part of the door again. 

Given that the PSA group now owns Vauxhall, it’s hard to say what the future will be for this popular hatchback. It’s been a mainstay on our roads for decades and has made many motorists very happy indeed. Let’s just hope that it will continue to do so. 

Astra fact: Over 3,000,000 Astras have been built and sold over its lifetime!