After many years of being one of the also-rans in the hatchback stakes the latest version of the Vauxhall Astra has impressed everyone with good ride and trim quality and a very smart new suit of clothes. I often prefer estate car versions of hatchbacks and the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer (tested here in SRi Nav, 1.6i 200PS Turbo S/S trim) is no exception.
Of course, the term 'estate car' has long since been forced into the history of the motor car by manufacturer hyperbole, but that is what a 'Sport Tourer' is. In a world dominated by crossovers and SUVs it makes a nice change to be out and about in something as sleek and useful as this, especially as this particular version has a sting in the tail.
Why It Works
The regular Vauxhall Astra five-door, after a very long gestation period, is now one of the best hatches available and is finally seeing off that old badge snobbery by virtue of being a properly good car. In Sport Tourer mode it gets better still simply by virtue of being more practical.
There's no less than a capacious 540L of luggage space with the rear seats up. There's no lip to impede loading with a rectangular load bay. Our car came with oner of those horrible tyre kits but there is a wheel-well under the floor should that be your preference.
In the cabin the designers have done a great job of squeezing out as much space as possible, making the vehicle a true five-seater. There’s more headroom and legroom than before and the seats are comfortable. I was able to fiddle about and achieve a very good driving position and still leave leg room for a normal-sized person behind me.
Vauxhall have finally sorted out the dashboard in the cars and this one is modern and easy to use with an 8” screen that's clear and has all the functions we expect these days although the steering wheel is getting a bit cluttered – a rather common complaint these days.
At £24,370, this fully-loaded model is good value and comes with Vauxhall's OnStar concierge service as standard (optional elsewhere). Briefly, this service has been heralded as a high-tech revolution for in-car technology. It effectively offers you your own personal assistant able to download route guidance directly to the sat-nav system or ring the emergency services in the event of a crash – it also brings a WiFi hotspot and the ability to control certain car functions via your smartphone. A great idea that is well worth looking at come purchase time.
What I Don't Like
Car manufacturers – all of them – are these days guilty of offering option lists so long that by the time a prospective customer has finished poring over them (and spending even more money) their chosen model has been superseded. The test car came with something called a PowerFlex Bar. It costs forty-five quid and as far as I can see is a shaped piece of plastic attached to the cascading dash.
It is designed to hold other things, like smartphone holders, of which there is an array as a convenience to drivers. Our PowerFlex was fitted with a Fragrance Diffuser (£40) which perfumes the air. There was an on/off button which didn't do much and after about five minutes of wafting it was detached and put in the boot. As Mrs DriveWrite said, “It can't possibly smell nicer than me anyway” and who am I to argue with that?
As ever, for nitpickers, there's some plastic evidence in the nocks and crannies of where money has been saved and personally I wasn't keen on the upholstery although the seats were supportive enough. Nevertheless the interior overall is functional and, I dare say, family proof.
A Spirited Drive
For those who don't know a 'Q' car is it, like a covert, unmarked police car, is a vehicle that hides a powerful secret. Sure, our Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer has a 'Turbo' badge and Sri badges on the side but otherwise, to the untrained eye, it looks like a regular model.
In fact lurking under the bonnet is a powerful 197bhp petrol engine which whips the car to 62mph in just 7.2 seconds and on to 146mph (where allowed). Suddenly, this routine family estate becomes something of a driver treat. My initial reaction was a little uncertain (and I said as much elsewhere).
The car jostled and pattered and I felt the set-up was too soft to cope when I first switched lanes for a fast overtaking manoeuvre. On balance though I suspect that the rotten road surface was to blame and, on smoother surfaces, the Astra settled down and proved to be a quiet smooth and very swift cruiser.
It's a hard balance to strike, that mix of performance car and family shuttle, but the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer does it well. Vauxhall reckon that 45.6 miles per gallon is possible but it really isn't for the simple reason that the car is too much fun to pootle about in. The manual six-speed shift is crisp and the clutch light. For me there was maybe too much brake pedal travel but you get used to these things.
If frugality is your watchword in life then with prices starting at under £17k you can avail yourself of other engines and trim levels whilst still enjoying the practical nature of this likeable motor. There's a goodly range on offer so something for everyone then. The days of other brands at similar prices seeming to offer a little more badge superiority are gone. The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer is a winner – especially with this engine.
Author: Geoff Maxted