Well, having previously had a 1992 Mark 3 1.4mpi, I can say that Vauxhall have got their act together regarding build-quality. This car is unbelievably quiet and smooth, and infinitely more solid than my rattly-old MK3 was. I feel very much safer in this car, and I'm less frightened of touching things for fear of breaking them.
Vauxhall's help from Lotus in designing these has paid off. The MK3 suffered from notoriously poor handling, especially in the wet. In contrast, this car can be thrown around corners at break-neck speeds and will still cling to the road. In fact, its handling competes well with that of our Jaguar X-type.
I only have the 1600 single-point injection unit (8-valve), and it's a little underpowered for the car's size. It pulls well for an 8v 1600 in 3rd, 4th and 5th, but I suspect the flywheel's too large because 1st and 2nd are very unresponsive, which could cause problems getting about town. My other complaint is that 5th gear is too low. At 70MPH the engine's doing about 3600RPM where my 1.4 did about 2900. 5th should be geared for economy not acceleration. As a result of its 5th gear ratio, it really doesn't like going over 80 (not that I do that anyway - but you can really tell if your concentration lapses in this one...).
Running costs are very low. I get 50mpg from petrol, and being a Vauxhall aimed at the fleet market, the parts are cheap as chips. Changing the timing-belt is a pain in the backside though, because you have to remove the shielding from the farside inner wing, undo some of the engine-mounts and support the engine on a jack. I can't remember having to do all this on my 1400.
Inheriting some of its features from the tried-and-tested NV, NZ and SE engines of the 1980s and 1990s, I would expect this little SZR unit (although a little bit restrained) to be extremely durable and would be surprised if it did not manage 250k miles. Similarly, if it's anything like its predecessors, it will probably develop a major coolant-leak, but still not seize. If it is anything like my previous car, it will run for a couple of hundred-thousand miles without any break-downs at all. Seeing as this is the 8v unit and not the 16v, this is very likely.
As far as bodywork goes, it's easy to get spray-cans and touch-up tubes as the same flame-red has been churned out for about 20 years. However, the paint doesn't seem very resistant to stone-chips and looks very thin, so touch-in and wax often. Vauxhall still haven't sorted out their abominable rear wheel-arches either, so I predict these rusting and bubbling within 5 years. I'm going to try to waxoyl them this summer...
Some people remark that this car is boring, particularly the interior. I think it's at least as nice as in the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, or other competitors. It's comfortable and functional, with plenty of cubby-holes and storage. I think the front-end of the car looks quite good, with very bright headlights, like determined eyes. The rear looks nice when you get one equipped with Vauxhall's discrete little SXI/SRI-style spoiler.
In short, if this car is in your price-range, it'll be exactly what you want. It does everything you need and does it well. It's cheap and enjoyable to drive and solidly built. When I want to drive a performance sports-car I borrow the Jaguar. When I want to go to/from work, or down the motorway, there's nothing better than my trusty Astra.
With fuel economy comparable to my girlfriend's 1-litre Toyota Yaris, and insurance that's £200 cheaper (even though I'm male), yet the extra size and power of a 1.6, you really can't go wrong with one of these.