First Drive: Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer

Elegant-looking Astra Sports Tourer is a capable practical and refined compact estate car

So often the forgotten son in a car’s line-up, the once humble estate is experiencing something of a rebirth. It’s all thanks to a nifty bit of rebranding, as ‘utility’ has been replaced by ‘lifestyle’ in the minds of those charged with convincing you to buy one.

Even ‘estate’ has become a dirty word in some quarters. The current buzz phrase is ‘Sports Tourer’. Ironically, some such cars have been getting smaller as rooflines have become more streamlined and greater attention has been paid to appealing to keen drivers. The end result: enlarged five-door hatchbacks with little meaningful load space.

Vauxhall’s load-lugging Astra might carry the Sports Tourer name but, refreshingly, company bosses still see the merits of selling estate cars capable of carrying more than a tin of beans.

For too long cars like the Astra have been largely the preserve of company car drivers, where low costs and even lower frills have been the priority when securing sales. Now, with ambitions to move the Astra estate mainstream and attract buyers using their own money, the car’s streamlined appearance and Germanic build quality and refinement are equal to its 1,550 litres of boot space.

There’s no radical departure at the front style-wise for the Sports Tourer over its hatchback cousin, making it instantly recognisable as the rounded and sophisticated-looking Astra that’s taken the fight head-on to Ford’s Focus.

Predictably it’s at the rear where everything is new. Boasting more than a passing re-semblance to its larger Insignia stablemate, the Astra Sports Tourer balances the need to look attractive with the ability to hold more than a few bags of shopping.

The car’s clamshell tailgate opens wide to reveal a low load lip complete with protective scuff plate. The carpeting errs on the side of durability and there’s a convenient underfloor compartment for hiding valuables.

With the rear seats in place the Astra’s official carrying capacity is a generous 500 litres. It only takes a second to flip out the seat cushions and fold the seat backs forwards to boost capacity to the aforementioned 1,550 litres, leaving you with a flat load area.

Assisting you is a load cover that can be retracted fully or, unusually, slid up on its runners to enable hassle-free loading. The complete mechanism can be unclipped and stored if you need to accommodate bulky items. Further enhancing the Sport Tourer’s abilities is a load bay free of wheel arch intrusion.

The end result is a car that feels every inch a versatile holdall but one that doesn’t come across as compromised in terms of refinement or build quality – there’s no hint of utility here. The same is true for rear seat passengers, often the ones that fair the worse thanks to stylish yet space-robbing streamlined roof designs. Vauxhall’s designers have ensured that there’s room for both in the Astra. The car’s rounded and aerodynamic profile still leaves enough headroom for those in the back.

And what of the rest of the car? It would be easy to glibly say that the Sport Tourer drives like a regular Astra hatch. Yet that’s exactly how it behaves. With its well-weighted controls, sophisticated ride and high quality cabin ambience the Astra wagon is, in the real world, no different from its five-door counterpart. All of which is good news, especially when the Astra is loaded up – ride, performance and refinement doesn’t suffer.

It’s also clear that Vauxhall is serious about tempting private buyers. With cabin fit and finish that should worry Volkswagen plus a generous list of standard kit available depending on trim level – curtain airbags, electric handbrake, air-con, audio unit with MP3 player compatibility – the Astra Sports Tourer is anything but a stripped-out fleet manager special.

That said, the car’s engine line-up is weighted towards saving money. Modest capacity petrol and diesel units dominate a range mirroring what powers the Astra hatchback. Of note is the fleet-friendly 1.7 CDTi diesel, which offers a solid blend of performance and above average economy along with modest CO2 emissions for high mileage users. A 1.4-litre turbo petrol unit offers greater refinement for buyers with more modest travel aspirations.

The compact estate market might be a small one compared to that of traditional family hatchbacks or small people carriers, but cars like the Astra Sports Tourer offer buyers seeking conventional load-lugging abilities a comparable, no compromise, ownership experience. Vauxhall’s elegant small wagon is a deceptively practical and enjoyable car to own and drive.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer Exclusiv 1.7 CDTi ecoFLEX, from £19,400. Range from £16,600.
Engine: 1.7-litre diesel unit developing 110bhp.
Transmission: Six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 113mph, 0-60mph 12.2 seconds.
Economy: 62.8mpg.
CO2 Rating: 119g/km.

By Iain Dooley

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