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Seven generations of the Vauxhall Astra

By raccars Published

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The Vauxhall Astra has been a familiar sight on British roads for 36 years and is now entering its seventh generation. How has it changed in that time?

The Vauxhall Astra has remained affordable, practical and good looking for nearly four decades, with the latest version promising to be the best Astra yet. It's always been a sensible small family car but has also boasted a number of high performance variants that have been favourites among boy racers.

First generation Vauxhall Astra

The original Astra was released in 1979 with a sharp, angular look, and was Vauxhall's first attempt at front wheel drive. The Astra has always been a key model for Vauxhall, which at that time was struggling to compete against Ford with the ageing Chevette and Viva models. The Mk1 was, in fact, a stunningly modern car at the time, both mechanically and aesthetically, taking on not only the Ford Escort but also the VW Golf. An 1800GTE in white was also the first time colour coding was applied to exterior trim on a UK car.

Second generation

It was the 1984 Mk2 Astra however which really made an indelible impact upon the industry, with its distinctive 'teardrop' silhouette and a blistering GTE high performance model which became one of the classic Eighties hot hatches. The second generation reused the same mechanicals as the original Astra but with a dramatically redesigned body. Its prominent plastic bumpers became a popular feature of Eighties cars while the GTE's cabin featured a high tech digital dashboard. This was also the first time a convertible Astra was made, to great effect. Vauxhall also attempted a four door saloon version of the hatchback, called the Belmont, which failed to find much of a following. This Mk2 model also earned the dubious distinction of being Britain's most stolen car.

Third generation

The Mk3 was a redesign rather than a revolution and saw the Astra attempt to graduate from cheap and cheerful to something with more premium aspirations. It was released in 1991 but from the outside the third generation Astra lacked some of the panache of its predecessor. It was still user friendly, including a number of very modern safety features not often found on a small car, and some of the detailing was rather elegant but the whole lacked cohesion.

Fourth generation

For the Mk4, Vauxhall introduced a bold new design, with an athletic and dynamic looking body. This model ran from 1998-2004 and was generally acknowledged to be a marked improvement upon the previous car in both looks and performance. The fourth generation also continued its predecessor's sterling work to bring big car safety systems to smaller cars and was regarded as being well built.

Fifth generation

The Mk5, released in 2004, retained what had become the Astra's classic proportions, with a sloping roofline, wide front grille and wide shoulders. As usual it was available as a hatchback or an estate, while this generation's sporty VXR variants revived the idea of the hot hatch which had made the Mk2 Astra GTE such a classic a couple of decades earlier. This was also the best-selling version of the Astra so far.

Sixth generation

Available from 2009, the Mk6 Astra featured a new aesthetic; far curvier and more fluid looking than previous models. The new look was a success and in June 2010 the Astra was the best-selling car in the UK, beating even the mighty Ford Fiesta. The Mk6 was also used by TV series 'Top Gear' for its 'star in a reasonably priced car' segment.

Seventh generation

It's smart, it's sexy and it's full of modern technology. 2016 looks set to be a great year for Vauxhall and the Mk7 Astra.

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