What can I say, I tested the 1.8, and liked it but the turbo was the one for me. I love it. The car goes like stink, The front wags its head like a dingo with a baby, but only under full acceleration, and from a standing start, it's not uncontrollable though, just fun.
The traction control was great in the snow and ice recently, as it's the first car I've had with such electronic gizmos, I couldn't say how it compares, but I liked it and it felt a lot safer than my previous steed.
The ride is firm, but then as with all performance cars it needs to be, the turbo starts to wind up at a little over 2k, it doesn't give you a punch in the back but is fairly progressive, making for a more refined drive, not all whiz pop. A quick look in the rear view lets you know you're really shifting though, as it just leaves the rest for dead. Keeping around the speed limit is a constant struggle.
I got a good deal - £17,800.00 including leather, make sure you get at least that if not lower, good luck, I had to haggle hard. Can you believe it, £17.8k for 150+ mph motor with leather, aircon, electrics, four usable seats and a nice size boot. There is no car quicker for the money. NONE. Believe me I looked. There are some nice cars coming up which could also be worth looking at, the Civic Type-R and the Focus RS will be be good and should be used for comparison.
I was looking at the Clio 172, 306 GTi-6, Leon Turbo, Impreza, Focus (2.0 Ghia) and Mercedes 200. The 172 had the smallest boot I've ever seen (except for an x19 :) ). The 306 is a run out model so will look very dated very soon. The Leon looked very crappy inside, although was good VFM. I figured I was still too young for the Merc, and nothing could match the top end of the Astra. It's stupid really, I'll probably never max it, but it's great down the boozer to say your motor does over 150 :) The Imprezas are fabulous cars, and have four door practicality, however it was 6k more expensive, lacked top end, and is very expensive to run. They are now becoming a common sight and people are wise to their performance, and thieves (scum of the earth) can't get enough of 'em. The Astra is a real wolf in sheep's clothing, this alows you to retain anonymity, which is my preference (I've even lost the turbo badge off the boot).
In summary, "It's a fast Astra" is an insult I've heard, well yes, but it is a nicer shape (thanks bert) and I really like it. There are more practical cars - Focus, faster cars (although not under £25k) - Porsche (not Boxster), cheaper cars Clio, Leon etc, more stylish cars Audi TT and also exotica, but it is my humble opinion that the ACT has the correct blend which suits me. :) ) You could do a lot worse.
P.S. Has anybody chipped one yet?