Review: Vauxhall Astra Tourer long-term test

Review: Vauxhall Astra Tourer long-term test
Review: Vauxhall Astra Tourer long-term test

We rate the Astra Tourer on looks and practicality in our first month with it

The growth in popularity of the SUV and its low-fat relation the crossover could have been the death knell for the small estate.

It is difficult for all but the largest SUVs to compete with the large estate car for usable space, but the C-segment variety – extended versions of the likes of Ford’s Focus and Volkswagen’s Golf – are easily matched by jacked-up offerings with pseudo-off-road styling packs and sophisticated all-wheel drive systems.

And if crossovers and SUVs have proven anything over the last few years it’s that they are desirable to buyers.

As Professor Dale Harrow, dean of the School of Design at the Royal College of Art and acting head of its Vehicle Design programme puts it: “If you’re a young person, or if you see yourself as a trendy older person, you’d probably much rather see yourself in a small SUV.”

No uptown frump

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The C-segment estate niche has always been one that puts practicality over frivolity, value for money over aesthetics and a glance through the classifieds at mainstream offerings from as recently as eight years ago will show a familiar pattern of a manufacturer taking a perfectly good looking C-segment hatch and ruining its looks by bolting a boxy rear end to the chassis.

Look at a 2007 Focus, a 2006 Astra or a 2008 Octavia Estate for prime examples of uptown frump.

So perhaps it’s the challenge to sales presented by the burgeoning crossover segment that’s prompted designers to think outside of the box and put more effort into styling.

Take my current long-term test car, the Vauxhall Astra Tourer. Far from ruining the design of the car, the tourer rear end looks like a natural extension of the car’s flowing lines.

In fact, I’d go so far to say that the tourer configuration improves the looks of what is already a handsome vehicle, the longer roofline, the folds and creases scored into the flanks of the bodywork combining in an elegant package.

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The trend for better looking estates extends beyond Vauxhall though and, on looks, the Astra must compete with similarly improved offerings from old foe Ford, in the form of the Focus Estate, Peugeot’s 308 SW, Hyundai’s i30 Tourer, Seat’s Leon Estate and Skoda’s Rapid Spaceback.

The segment has never looked better and only Volkswagen and newcomers Dacia (with the Logan MCV) seem to have stuck with the ruler and set-square as the design tool of choice.

“Manufacturers are upping their game in face of competition to make their product more desirable,” says Dale Harrow.

“The models from five or ten years ago are very much still vans with windows. It’s gone beyond that and they are now more desirable products.”

Plastic fantastic

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Inside the cabin, the Astra is a significant step forward compared with older iterations.

The sleek lines and broad expanse of the dash, echo the exterior design and the elegantly-proportioned centre console creates a feeling of spaciousness to rival cars a class above.

The switchgear materials are well chosen and feel almost on a par with more premium offerings and the layout, generally, is practical, user friendly and free of clutter in comparison with button-heavy competition.

Overall though, while some of the cabin materials illustrate yet another step upmarket for Vauxhall, others do not and the cabin lacks the premium feel in evidence from some of the competition.
“With Vauxhall and Ford there is a sense of being designed down to a price and, in a way, some of the brands that have come through very strongly – like Hyundai and Kia – have more of a feeling of quality,” observes Dale Harrow.

In the Astra, this is particularly in evidence below the steering wheel level, where the plastics used fail to match the quality of those higher up the dashboard.

Our test car comes in SRI Nav trim, which means supportive sports seats are added alongside various tech upgrades and bigger alloy wheels against models further down the pecking order.

Practical magic

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Legroom for rear passengers is excellent – even behind a tall driver – and, as you would expect from an estate car – the boot provides ample luggage space.

It seems to have been designed with families in mind and the wide-opening doors mean easy access to buckle in children, while the buckles themselves are easy to access even when trying to negotiate a child’s booster seat.

It isn’t the largest boot in the class, 540 litres with the seats up compared with Honda’s class-leading Civic Tourer’s 640, but it’s more than enough for most and with the seats down it expands to 1,630 litres of usable space.

The FlexOrganiser pack – a sub-£100 option – is a must if you’re looking for an all-purpose family workhorse. It adds nets and a variety of easy to use clip points to stop smaller loads rolling around the boot when you don’t have it packed to the gunwales. Without it, put your Tesco Metro shop in there at your peril.

Verdict: Design and practicality

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It’s not a perfect design, the short, low bonnet means parking nose-in is a challenge if you’re tempted to turn off the parking sensors (you might be, more on that next time) and the bolt-on cabin diffuser is a fiddly, pointless addition that leaves you without anywhere to put your mobile phone.

On the whole, the Astra Tourer is a good-looking and practical choice that will get few complaints on usability from family users.

“If you look at the design work, in terms of the proportions and the quality of it, you can’t knock it,” summarises Dale Harrow.

  • For our verdict on the turbo-charged 1.0-litre Ecoflex engine, driving experience and technology levels in our test car, read month two of our long-term test.

Why manufacturers stick with estates

The challenge to sales presented by the more fashionable crossover could be what has prompted manufacturers to put more effort into the design of their estate
line-up.

But it’s those same manufacturers that are flooding the marketplace with crossovers and SUVs – so why persevere with the estate car, if more people are buying trendy alternatives?

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“To turn a saloon car or a hatchback into an estate car is relatively cheap, there’s a few extra pressings – you’re not having to design a vehicle from scratch,” reveals Dale Harrow, dean of the School of Design at the Royal College of Art and acting head of its Vehicle Design programme.

“To make these derivatives doesn’t cost a great deal of money. The outlay is small and you can get the investment back. It is a very simple, low-cost exercise and manufacturers will break even on the sales quite quickly.

“These cars are derived from volume product, which is where the money is for a lot of brands.”

“Every manufacturer is after market share and even a small percentage of market share is valuable.”

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