Product Type: Vauxhall cars
Newest Review: ... found it really hard to get used to the gearstick as you need to pull the stick up and drag it to the left to reverse which is odd. A l... more
GTE more for your money
Vauxhall Astra Mk II (1984-93)
Member Name: blackbob
Vauxhall Astra Mk II (1984-93)
Date: 21/02/04, updated on 22/02/04 (8644 review reads)
Advantages: Powerful/Cheap, Easy to run/Repair, Looks good/Digital dash
Disadvantages: Many bent ones out there, Will probably have been 'boy raced', 80 style might be dated to some
(GM) & Vauxhall Policy - 1970's.
General Motors own Vauxhall in the UK and Opel in Germany which is why their cars are so similar.It is a policy known as badge-egineering where two subsiduary companies both produce the same car under different names i.e. Ford Fiesta/Mazda 131 or Vauxhall Nova/Opel Corsa.
Before 1975 GM was content to let Vauxhall and Opel do their own thing but after advice from GM they began work on the Cavalier/Ascona and Chevette(Shuv it)/Kadett range,both being launched in 1975/76.It may seem hard to believe now but the humble 'Shuv it' was the car that pulled Vauxhall through the lean and bad years of the mid to late 70s.Apart from the mad 'rally-bred' HS and HSR models with the OHC 2300cc engine,the Chevette came with an old 1256cc OHV engine and had rear-wheel drive which made it seem dated when compared to the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Polo from Volkswagen which were both front wheel drive and had transverse-mounted engines like the Mini.
I personally love rear-wheel drive cars and believe that the front wheels of a car should be left to steer while the rear ones drive.When the front wheels lose grip you lose the ability to steer and also traction.Front wheel drive cars suffer predominantly from understeer - yes,I know that Capris,for example,suffer from understeer aswell but that is easily converted,with a bootful of throttle,to power-on oversteer - try that with your FWD car,in fact don't just in case someone does after reading this.If you give it a bootful of throttle with your FWD you WILL end up
in the hedgerow.
Front wheel drive - pros and cons.
The subject of suspension geometry is long and somewhat boring,if you're not really interested.Many factors are involved in the way a car handles so this is a simplistic description but here goes.
Understeer occurs when you enter a corner too fast and the front wheels lose their grip,the car does not turn-in quickly enough and you find you have to apply more steering lock to turn the corner or end up going straight on.This is because the front wheels lose traction and with it the ability to steer but if you lift-off the throttle the front end will come back under control.This makes for a predictable and safe handling car.
Whereas oversteer occurs when the rear wheels lose grip and either slide outwards or in the case of a powerful RWD car the wheels try to overtake the front.As the approach to this is to steer-into the slide or apply 'opposite lock' it depends much more on driver skill to handle this situation although if you can control this sort of car then you will find that you can corner faster and harder than with a FWD car.
Ask yourself why Formula 1 cars are still RWD instead of FWD or 4WD.
This is a basic description and if I find a review where I can explain the ins and outs of suspension,road-holding and handling more fully then I will(I bet you can't wait,can you - no need to comment!!)
The other advantage of FWD is that with the engine and g/box placed 'east-west' within the engine bay or 'transverse' as opposed to 'in-line' or 'north-south' as in older cars there is a lot of space to be gained - there is no transmission tunnel for the g/box and propshaft,no space needed for a final drive at the rear and the engine bay can
be shorter.Lift the bonnet on any modern car,say a Fiesta,Focus,Nova,Vectra,Monde o etc you'll will see the engine going 'transverse' whereas with most BMW's(the ultimate driving machines apparently) or a Sierra,Cortina or Capri the engine and g/box are 'in-line'.
Enter the Astra.
As an answer for the front wheel drive small family market Vauxhall/Opel released the Astra/Kadett model in 1979 and it was a sucsess from the word go.With the Volkswagen Golf/Polo and Ford Fiesta being launched some years previous to the Astra Vauxhall/Opel had extra time to design their first FWD and the chance to study their rivals to further develop and refine the Astra,taking a MKI Volkswagen Golf chassis and running it with their own engine and running gear to gain further insight into the dynamics of FWD(This sort of thing is not uncommon among car manufacturers,when developing the new 105E Anglia,Ford bought a Mini and on taking it apart discovered that BMC were building the car at a loss,losing almost £30 per car and so decided on a cheaper and more traditional layout for their Anglia).
With engines ranging from a 1200cc OHV offering 55bhp to the 1800 fuel-injected 113bhp OHC and a 3-door,5-door and estate body there was a car to suit all needs.It featured Macpherson struts and an anti-roll bar upfront and semi-independant trailing link with anti-roll bar(on larger engined models,GTE inc.) at the rear while having rack and pinion steering,usually without power assistance accept as an option on later higher-spec models but for such a light car it is hardly necessary as without it,it makes for positive steering with good feedback from the front wheels.There is a te
ndancy ,especially with the MKII GTE's,for lift-off oversteer,which means that if you were to come into a roundabout too hard and suddenly let off the throttle then the rear end tends to break lose and slide out which may catch people by suprise,it seems mainly due to the high back end on these cars and the size of car as the neither the Cavalier nor the Nova seem to suffer this problem - Nova owners may correct me as I've never owned one and had but a few shots of my brother's 1.2 Merit - what's this an understeering FWD car exhibiting oversteer which defies all that I said earlier about FWD cars and their inherent tendancy towards understeer - I said suspension geometry wasn't simple!!.The rather slab-sidded,angular looking MKI was superceded by the MKII in 1984/85.
The MKI Astra GTE was born to beat the opposition,the 1300S Fiesta(plus the later XR2),Escort XR3 and the Volkswagen Golf GTI,in particular.The early eighties saw the emergance of the 'hothatch' which were basic small family models with mildy tuned engines,suspension and brakes all packaged with lots of plastic add-ons and eye catching graphics,'go-faster'stripes etc designed to appeal to the younger market,with the practicality of the base family model but the sportier lay out they replaced the older Truimph Spitfire/Stag,MGB GT open top sports car style and with the loud styling seemed to complement their era rather nicely,though they are very much responsible for the start of the ever-upward spirralling insurance cost
we live with today.
Launched in 1983,the MKI Astra GTE had the 1796cc OHC 8 valve 18SE engine which produced a r
espectable 113bhp@5800rpm and 111lbft@4800rpm giving it a 0-60 time of 9.5secs and a top speed of 116mph and with all the extra development time for both the Astra itself and the GTE model,in particular, made for a harmonious engine/chassis package.Sporting a Bosch LE-Jetronic injection system and breakerless ignition to help keep it all in time put it beyond the XR's by Ford.With vented disc brakes on the front and rear drums the braking set up was adequate without being revolutionary.
As befitting an early '80s hothatch the 3-door bodyshell recieved a front valance spoiler,plastic wheelarch extensions,side-sills,rear hatch and valance spoilers and lots of GTE badges to prove it's obvious 'boy racer' appeal but all this did make for an attractive looking car.
When I passed my driving test,back in 1990,these cars were everywhere but nowadays are a rare sight on our roads which is a shame as the MKI Astra was the very first performance FWD Vauxhall and the overall look of the car despite the 'boy racer' paraphenalia was clean and stylish.
Engine 0-60 Top Speed Power(BHP) Torque(lbft)
MKI Astra SR 1598cc 11.8s 104mph 88 @ 5800rpm 93 @ 3800rpm
MKI Astra GTE 1796cc 9.5s 116mph 113 @ 5800rpm 111 @ 4800rpm
MKII Astra GTE 1796cc 9.2s 118mph 112 @ 5600rpm 116 @ 3000rpm
MKII Astra GTE 1998cc 8.7s 127mph 122 @ 5600rpm 127 @ 2600rpm
MKII Astra GTE 16v 1998cc 7.4s 132mph 156 @ 6000rpm 150 @ 4800rpm
The MKII Arrives.
Released in October 1984,the MKII Astra was hailed as revolutionary on it's debut.It had a mu
ch more rounded style with 3-door,5-door and estate versions again being offered.The GTE,with bonnet vents,rear hatch-spoiler,side sills and last but not least - the digital dashboard looking right at home in the digital watch/Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy 80s but underneath it still used the same engine/suspension package as before.
Things were moving fast in the hothatch market and whereas the MKI was on top,the MKII faced such cars as the latest Golf GTI and Peugeot's 205GTI,the little French rocket was a little faster and handled better.Utilising first the LE and then the L3 Jetronic injection system from Bosch in the 1.8 variants,the later 2.0 models used the Bosch Motronic ML4.1 and M1.5 engine management system which controlled the fueling and ignition in one overall,intergrated system.In order not to be left behind Vauxhall decided to fit the 1998cc 20SE engine rated at 122bhp which did a little to improve on the 1.8GTE,having driven both and owned two 1800MKIIs though would say that the original 1.8MKII GTE was a better car as the engine revved harder and further than the later 2.oGTE.Performance figures don't always show the whole picture and can be misleading,to say the least,they are not as important on the road as they seem on paper and have nowhere near the significance that they bear down the pub.Also my 1.8 had a home-made induction system(see my K&N review),performance exhaust manifold and system,some home ported headwork and HL/LD cam so would obviously perform in excess of a 2.0GTE but all the same the even the standard 1.8 was an exceptionally sweet little engine.
All hail the coming of the XE.
It was clear that a slightly more powerful engine was not enough,especially when cars like Ford's Escort RS Turbo were on sale.Vauxhall's answer was a masterstroke.
When it comes to the 'engine to have' Ford used to rule the roost with their Lotus twin cam and then the Cosworth BDA series of engines but it is no longer the domain of the blue-oval because the GM came out with the XE.Based on the Family II
engine block the Cosworth designed 2.0 16 valve XE engine is a legend.Stepping out on a limb,I would say that the XE is the finest naturally-aspirated twin cam 16v on the go today - though fans of the K-series Rover engine may disagree!!
I don't include the mighty Cosworth YB's from Sierra,Sapphire and Escort RS Cosworths as these were turbo-charged.
First hitting the roads in 1988,the Astra GTE 16v was a much more complete car than the earlier 2.0GTE.Along with the new engine you also had a revised suspension/brake package with disc brakes all round and plush Recaro seats in the front.Apart from discreet,by hothatch standards at least,16v badging there is little externally to tell the 16v from it's earlier cousins having the same bonnet vents,skirts and hatch spoiler as the earlier car but the performance and the way it performs is in stark contrast.
Although it was intended from the off to be used in motorsport the XE used the later Bosch Motronic M2.5 management system when in the GTE which are geared more for emmisions than producing outright power,some later models might use the Siemens system instead.Built with motorsport in mind the XE readily accepts upgrades and can deliver nearly twice it's original horsepower.
r>Driving the GTE.
I have owned a couple of MKII 1.8GTE's and a GTE 16v and found with all of them that,as per usual,Vauxhall produce far superior engines to Ford and most other manufacturers aswell.All GTE's have good,positive steering.They let you feel where your front wheels are and what their doing,with good feedback even when cornering hard on the apex.They can suffer from torque steer when taking off quickly but no more than any other quick FWD's though they do understeer badly on wet roundabouts/cornering and aquaplane easily when driving through large puddles and standing water often leaving you a lot nearer the white line than when you entered the water.On dry roundabouts,especially,they can exhibit lift off oversteer not inherent in their bigger more stable cousin the Cavalier but this is normally when you enter the roundabout far too hard and then suddenly lift off the throttle so shouldn't happen to anyone driving at reasonable speeds - it can take you by suprise if you don't know about it,as I found out racing an RS Turbo and hitting a small roundabout in excess of 75mph but with quick reactions and some judicious opposite lock disaster can be averted.
The suspension on all variants seems a shade under-damped with the springs overcoming the dampers a little on long undulating country roads but overall they make very 'chuckable' cars with quick responsive chassis's.With well matched anti-roll bars they sit flat when cornering and don't suffer as badly from understeer as the Cavalier can or anywhere near as much as the Escort XR3,XR3i,RS Turbo(all of which I've owned,as well as an RS1600i).The brakes,however,are not so good being adequate rather than re-assuring with the later 16v there is
an improvement with all round discs but still not powerful.
The engines are bullet-proof in the hands of all but an idiot with the 8 valve OHC producing lots of power right up through out the rev-range.All Vauxhall engines love to rev but this is especially true of the XE,in fact if you have an XE engined Vauxhall or Opel and never take it past 5000/5500 rpm then your not using it properly.
All the engines found in the GTE will pull from low in the rev-range,evenly and with good throttle response.With the XE once you reach 4000rpm then things really start to happen and if you have enough road hold the throttle to the floor and keep in the same gear till you reach 6000/6500rpm it is then you will understand the greatness of this engine(this is without any of your fancy variable cam-timing and for those who start by saying that Vtec means valve timing,the valve timing is varied through cut gears on your cam - it is the variable cam which alters the valve timing in other words).
Both the 1.8's that I owned I fitted with a high lift/long duration cam which altered the power output.I used to be able to get power up to just over 7000rpm and in 5th with a long road the digital dash would read 125mph then stop although the rev-counter was reading less than 6000rpm with another 1000rpm at least to go.
Furnished with thick rimmed sports steering wheels,comfortable Recaro seats and plenty of room in the front they make easy,relaxed cars to drive long distances.They make for great 'back road scratchers' aswell being quick and light.The rear visibility is lacking though because of the rear-spoiler and big plastic pieces in the C-pillars.The gear change is fluid and not too knotchy without being porridge-like.
With the usual Germanic build-quality,sensible straight forward construction(i.e bolt-on
wings) these are still a sensible everyday car,the fuel consumption is reaonable,I used to get 30mpg overall and that was with caning it everywhere,while the insurance is a group 12,this is what they classed both my 1.8's - the 16v was a group 15,like my current Cavalier SRi16v,it would seem that 8 extra valves equates to 3 insurance grouping's more risk as all my Cavalier SRi's including the SRi130 were also classed group 12 but I defy anyone to insure an XR or RS at less than a group 15 and in the case of the XR's this is far less car for your money.
All in all I recommend any Astra GTE.They are all quick,reliable and inexpensive cars to run,they'll out perform the equivilent Ford,Peugeot,Citreon or Volkswagen.I've raced many GTI's,Saxo VTwhatever's and 205 GTI's and an Astra is the equal of them all,except the 16v which surpasses them even the Golf GTI 16v.The parts are plentiful and cheap while the tuning potential,especially of the XE,is endless.BB
Disclaimer - I neither endorse or condone any form of driving that is not within the law or the spirit of the highway code - what I do and how I drive is between me and the local Road Patrol Car - all too bloody often!!!!