Published on Saturday 30 April 2016 16:00
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall is hoping to increase its presence in the compact estate sector with the latest Astra Sports Tourer. MPVs and 4x4s might offer more interesting options for family buyers but the solid, practical virtues of a good estate are not to be under-estimated.
When what you need to fit in your car just won't, you need a bigger car. Family hatchback owners confronted with this nightmare scenario have a number of options at their disposal. They could take the rugged route with a compact 4x4, choose the versatility of a mini-MPV or step up to a medium range saloon. Alternatively, they could turn to an extended version of the family hatchback they already have. The estate car isn't the trendiest or most exciting option but when you need a little bit more room, it does the job. Vauxhall's Astra Sports Tourer is little more than an extended Astra hatch but it could be all the car you need, especially in recently revised form.
Many of the leading lights in the family hatchback sector have an estate version. Focus, Golf, Megane - the manufacturers of all these models see the value of tagging another few centimetres onto the rear of the five-door hatches to give customers the option of extra carrying capacity. Vauxhall has a history of following suit with its Astra but like its rivals, sales of Astra estates have traditionally been way down on those of the standard hatchback versions. The compact estate market looks likely to remain a niche one but with flashy Sports Tourer branding, this generation Astra estate could be destined to take a bigger slice of it.
Like the rest of the Astra Sports Tourer, bar the bit behind the rear wheels, the suspension is shared with the Astra hatchback. Traditionally, the Astra has had a simple torsen beam suspension at the rear end while rivals like the Focus and Golf used more advanced fully-independent set-ups. Today's Astra, however, uses a Watt's linkage rear suspension that helps distribute cornering forces more effectively than a conventional torsion beam while retaining the cost and space saving advantages.
To be honest, the budget-level 1.4 or 1.6-litre normally aspirated entry-level petrol units represent older and resolutely unremarkable Vauxhall technology, even if the performance they offer (rest to sixty in 14s on the way to 105mph in the case of the base 87PS 1.4 16v variant) will probably be enough for most. Unfortunately, the far superior 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol turbo units are limited to customers for the sporty SRi trim level. And GTC coupe buyers who get a 280PS 2.0-litre powerplant in the top-of-the-range VXR hot hatch.
Diesel drivers must specify a five-door hatch or a Sports Tourer estate to get the entry-level 95PS 1.3-litre CDTi unit, but all Astra bodyshapes get the 1.7-litre CDTi engine,, with a choice of either 110 or 130PS outputs. In 130PS guise, sixty from rest is 10.4s away en route to a maximum of 126mph. Quieter and more modern in the 1.6-litre CDTi powerplant, offered in 110 and 136PS forms. I can't really see much point in going beyond this to the 165PS 2.0 CDTi diesel, but it is tempting, if you can afford it, to look at the top-of-the-range Astra diesel, the potent 195PS BiTurbo unit, capable of rest to sixty in just 7.8s on the way to 141mph.
Design and Build
The improved Astra Sport Tourer we're looking at here gets a smarter front grille, with a repositioned logo-bar in the upper section and a re-styled lower section too. Neater front indicator lamps and a fresh design of fog lamp complete the front-end revisions. The rear has also been refreshed, with sleeker rear-panel styling complemented by a chrome lower moulding.
The wheelbase of this estate variant is identical to that of the Astra hatch, so the extra capacity that this model gains inside is all the product of an extension to the rear overhang. The maximum load length rises by 28mm compared with the five-door car to 1835mm and the 500-litre volume is a 30-litre improvement. So the Sports Tourer Astra gives you extra space -but we sort of knew it would. What are the other benefits?
The boot has flat sides making it easy to slide bulky items in and higher specification versions of the Sports Tourer are fitted with the FlexFold seating system. This allows both sections of the 60:40 split rear bench to be folded down at the touch of a button inside the boot. It means that you don't have to traipse around to the back doors to fold the seats before loading. With all of the rear seats folded down, the Sports Tourer gains a flat load floor and a total capacity of 1,550 litres. There's a further 25-litres of space in cubbyholes and pockets doted around the cabin, if you can find them.
Market and Model
Buyers get the usual wide range of engine options and trim levels, not to mention a bulging options list. Standard equipment on all Astras includes ESP, six airbags, air conditioning, LED daytime running lights and electric windows. Amongst the available options, there's ambient mood lighting that lights up areas of the cabin with bulbs hidden in the trim, ergonomic sports seats and adaptive front lights which adapt to the weather and road ahead.
Cost of Ownership
Vauxhall headlines the fact that this improved Astra Sports Tourer features one of the most economical engines ever fitted to this model, with the most frugal variant, the 'ecoFLEX' version of the 1.6-litre CDTi 110PS diesel, delivering a 99g/km CO2 return and 76.3mpg on the combined cycle. Not long ago, this would have been noteworthy in this class: now, it's more par for the course. As with rivals, Vauxhall has been able to slash running costs thanks to implementation of a Start/Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights.
The cheapest versions with 1.3 or 1.7-litre CDTi diesel power do without this, but otherwise it's standard across all the ecoFLEX diesel models. Which explains why a 1.6-litre CDTi variant with 136PS on tap is able to deliver figures that comparably-powered rivals struggle to match - 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2. Better in fact than the figures you'll get on a Start/Stop version of a more feebly-powered entry-level 95PS 1.3-litre CDTi diesel Astra - 68.9mpg and 109g/km. Even the 141mph 2.0 CDTi BiTurbo flagship model manages 55.4mpg and 134g/km.
Unfortunately, Stop/Start is a rarer feature to find in the petrol line-up - which is why the figures achieved by mainstream five-door hatch variants are unremarkable - 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2 from the entry-level 100PS 1.4-litre petrol version or 44.1mpg and 149g/km from the 115PS 1.6.
With all the other options facing family car buyers in the modern marketplace, the estate car is sometimes overlooked. Admittedly, it's not the most exciting option next to the plethora of tough-looking compact 4x4s and MPVs with their elaborate seating arrangements but it is reassuringly simple in what it offers and surprisingly practical too. Vauxhall's improved Astra Sports Tourer seems to fit the bill very nicely. It's just an Astra hatchback with an extended rear and a few other practical features but that's precisely what some buyers will want.