It’s Top Gear’s new reasonably priced car, but is the latest version of the Vauxhall Astra a reasonable bet for the family? Matt Westcott checks it out.

THE Astra has bold looks and sharp handling, making it a pleasure to both be seen in and to drive. Our SRi had natty alloys and a body kit which, while rather reserved, still made it stand out from the crowd.

I can’t vouch for the engines in the rest of the range, but if they are anything as refined as our 1.6 litre turbo powered unit, then most if not all owners will be satisfied. Nought to 60mph takes 7.9 seconds, while the top speed is 138mph. Allied to a very nice gearchange and responsive steering, the 177bhp powerplant provided punch when it was needed, but remained largely hushed. The sportier characteristics of the SRi meant there was plenty of grip to be had and throwing it into a corner didn’t concern it any. Body roll was also well controlled, giving the driver added confidence.

The interior is largely black, but the chrome trim around the centre console and on the doors helps break up the darkness.

There’s good use of soft plastics and the whole cabin has an upmarket feel. The dials are straightforward and clean, but they are in contrast to the buttons for other functions which, in the main, are all crowded into one area.

There are a great many of them and getting used to which does what does take a little time. I also wasn’t keen on the style of the audio buttons on the steering wheel which I found a little fiddly in nature. On the plus side, I have rarely sat in a family car that has such comfortable seats.

The support on the driver’s seat was very welcome for a man of my increasing years and what bumps the suspension didn’t take care of, the seating soaked up well.

While our car featured a host of optional extras - DMB radio, Bluetooth, 19ins alloys and various safety and comfort packs - the standard kit was not to be sniffed at. In addition to items such as an electronic stability programme, airbags, air conditioning and driver’s seat height adjuster, we also got the likes of electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, those aforementioned steering wheel audio controls, ambient lighting on the centre console and 60:40 split-folding rear seats. One thing I would have liked to have seen is electric windows all round, rather than just in the front.

Despite its sloping roofline, the Astra has enough space for five, be they tall or wide. You can stretch out in the front, without needing to worry about those in the rear.

There are 370 litres of space in the boot, which is well shaped and deep enough to accommodate pushchairs and prams etc.

Drop the seats and that load area increases to 1,235 litres.

The Astra is not the cheapest car to buy – the tested SRi 1.6 Turbo model is priced £20,700 –but that is reflected in the quality feel to the fixtures and fittings.

Vauxhall quoted a combined figure of 41.5mpg and we managed to match it to the last digit.

CO2 emissions come in at 160g/km.

Overall, good looks are matched by decent driving characteristics and a quality feel to the interior makes the Astra a solid option in a crowded market place.