IT'S no exaggeration to say that the Astra has been one of the best-loved cars in the United Kingdom during its four decades on our roads.
More than three million of them have been bought by us in those 40 years with more than 25 per cent of British motorists having either owned or driven one, according to Vauxhall.
Despite the dash to trendy compact SUVs, the family hatchback sector is still an incredibly crowded and competitive area of the new car market, with noteworthy competitors such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf also enduringly popular choices.
So, to ensure the Astra remains among the pre-eminent pack in its class, Vauxhall treated the current seventh generation to a mid-life upgrade towards the end of last year - although you'd be hard-pressed to notice at first glance.
Cosmetic changes were deliberately kept to a minimum, with the previous design having proved popular with buyers, but the more eagle-eyed observers will notice the tweaks to the grille and front bumper which sharpen up the look just enough to ensure it feels fresh and up-to-date.
The key changes, however, have occurred beneath the bonnet, where a completely new range of downsized petrol and diesel engines are focused on increasing efficiency and cleanliness without impacting performance.
All are three-cylinder units which come paired variously with a six-speed manual, continuously variable or, for the first time in a Vauxhall, a nine-speed automatic transmission and cut carbon emissions by up to 19 per cent and fuel consumption by up to 21 percent over the previous versions.
Our car featured the top-powered 145ps, 1.4-litre petrol unit which comes exclusively mated to the continuously variable transmission and will shift the astra from 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 130mph while returning around 50 miles per gallon on average.
It's a lively engine, with some decent low-end punch, which proves equally adept in stop-start urban traffic or effortlessly eating up the miles on the open road - where the Astra proves a relaxed and refined cruiser for a hatchback.
Thanks to some effective chassis upgrades it's also an enjoyable drive, with new dampers and re-calibrated steering contributing to some agile and nimble handling while the car grips well and stays settled and flat even when pushing on through sweeping bends.
It all feels quite engaging from behind the wheel, while that tweaked suspension offers a comfortable and pliant ride over the vast majority of surfaces. The only real fault is a little excess road noise creeping into the cabin at motorway speeds.
Typically of Vauxhall a wide choice of trims are available to suit all budgets and tastes, with prices starting from £18,885.
SRi Nav sits mid-range and offers good levels of equipment including a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system which includes, as the name suggests, navigation as well as digital radio, Bluetooth and Apple and Android smartphone connectivity.
This is supplemented by sports front seats, cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, LED headlights, air conditioning and automatic lights and wipers.
The Astra adds a fair dollop of compact family car practicality to the decent kit levels too, with ample head and legroom in the back, and a boot which, at 370 litres, is big enough to cope with most day-to-day needs. Load capacity rises to 1,210 litres with the 60/40 split rear seatback folded down.