Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer sports new image
The Sports Tourer tag raises the image of Vauxhall's smart Astra 'estate', says Andy Russell.
We like our estate cars and many drivers choose them for their looks rather than load-lugging abilities.
Estate cars have become more desirable, partly down to car-makers rebranding what was a workhorse into something more exotic, doing their very best to not actually call them estates, instead making them a lifestyle statement – Avant, Sportwagon (one word or two or even just SW), Touring, Tourer, Sport Tourer and, in the case of the cargo-carrying versions of Vauxhall's Insignia and new Astra, Sports Tourer.
These new names spice up the estate car market, just as the manufacturers have made the cars themselves more attractive and appealing. Long gone are the days when the estate version of a model just had a boxy back-end and tended to be lower-specification versions.
Long ago, my wife had a Vauxhall Astra estate as a company car – a Mark I so you can tell how long ago. As a holdall it was great, but when it came to styling the best thing was that it was a horrible mushy pea green which meant that you did not look at it for long… nor rarely washed it!
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The Astra has come a long way and the sixth-generation of this fleet and family favourite is a very different car even from its immediate predecessor so it makes sense to emphasise the fact by dropping the boring 'estate' tag.
The Sports Tourer, built only at the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire, has been a long time coming after hatchback and there's still a sporty three-door model to come.
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With its sleek, swooping lines and strong contoured body curves flowing back to the sloping roofline and rounded back-end there's no denying this a very good-looking car but it's not style at the expense of practicality. Little wonder Vauxhall sees the potential to build on the 7,000 Astra estates – 12pc of Astra registrations – sold a year in the UK.
In fact the only thing that is square about the Astra Sports Tourer is the boot. Deep and flat-sided it offers up to 500 litres of space – 30 more than the previous model – with the rear seats up. Flip the 60/40 split cushions upright and fold the rear seat backs flat and load volume grows to a maximum 1,550 litres. There's also a shallow underfloor storage compartment.
A two-touch luggage compartment cover slides up and out of the way with a simple tap for easy access for small loads or, for larger loads, retracts completely. When not needed the cover can be stored below the load floor. Useful options are a full-size luggage compartment liner – a mat, rubberised on one side, that unfolds to cover the whole floor – and the FlexOrganizer – nets and foldaway dividers mounted on rails along the sides of the boot to separate and secure loads.
And compared to the previous estate the Sports Tourer has 25 litres more cabin storage space, just as well given that the glovebox is small.
The wide range of low-emission, high-economy engines means there something for everyone with 100PS 1.4, 115PS 1.6 and 140PS 1.4-litre turbo petrol and 95PS 1.3, 110 and 125PS 1.7 and 160PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels.
The popular 110PS turbo diesel is geared for economy and can feel a little flat at really low revs but once rolling it's punchy enough to keep up a good pace yet able to top 60mpg driven gently.
The hatchback's chassis is carried over to the estate and, with the aim of making the estate as good to drive, suspension settings have been tweaked to cope with carrying heavier, larger loads. The ride is impressively smooth, coping well with poor road surfaces. The new Astra is more agile than its predecessor but still not as sharp as its key rival the Ford Focus.
The interior is classier than the previous Astra, following the design cues of the Insignia. Flowing curves, a centre console swooping down to the front seats and, depending on model, lots of lovely metallic highlights make the dashboard more interesting. But while the dials are big and clear and major controls easy to find and use, there's a plethora of small buttons on the centre console for the audio and heating and ventilation systems which need a good eye and a steady finger to find your way around them – you will get used to them but they're not immediately obvious.
Available in ES, Exclusive, SRi and SE, the Astra Sports Tourer, despite coming in at �500 less than the previous model, carries a high price tag compared to some rivals but, being a popular fleet car, expect a discount.
Nor is equipment as comprehensive as some rivals. All come with stability control, six airbags, air-conditioning, daytime running lights, electric front windows and heated door mirrors, roof rails and electric parking brake. Exclusiv adds cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, upgraded trim and load sill protection but you have to move up to SRi or SE to get alloy wheels and a multi-function trip computer, front fog lights and the FlexFold seatbacks which can be lowered at the press of a button in the boot.
The Astra Sports Tourer, like the bigger Insignia, is a great-looking estate, both inside and out, without sacrificing space for style.
VAUXHALL ASTRA SPORTS TOURER 1.7 CDTi 110PS EXCLUSIVE ECOFLEX
Price: �19,810 (range from �16,950 to �23,595)
Engine: 1,686cc, 110PS, four-cylinder, turbo diesel
Performance: 0-60mph 12.2 seconds; top speed 113mph
MPG: Urban 51.4; extra urban 72.4; combined 62.8
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 13pc
Insurance group: 13 (out of 50)
Warranty: Vauxhall Lifetime 100,000-mile warranty
Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,698mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,013mm; height 1,535mm