What is it?
It’s the estate version of the current Vauxhall Astra, the Sports Tourer. Specifically, this is the most potent diesel in the range: a 1.6-litre twin-turbo that produces 158bhp.
Vauxhall has put the new Sports Tourer on a crash diet, saving weight by using high-strength steel in the body and fitting a lighter exhaust and smaller wheels. It’s done the job: the new model weighs up to 190kg less than the old car, which should make it a much more agile thing to drive.
Unlike most cars, which seem to grow with every new iteration, the designers at Vauxhall have kept the Sports Tourer's dimensions roughly the same as before. However, by stretching the wheelbase and playing with the packaging, they’ve created more interior space - so much so that the Sports Tourer is now on par with the roomiest rivals, including the Skoda Octavia Estate.
Read our review of the Vauxhall Astra range here
There’s heaps of new tech, too. New optional features include adaptive LED headlights and a powered tailgate with hands-free opening and closing. MirrorLink and Apple CarPlay are standard, giving better integration of your smartphone with the standard 8.0in infotainment screen.
It’s even got OnStar, which delivers onboard wi-fi for up to seven devices. On top of this you get 24-hour access to a call centre that will provide emergency assistance in the event of an accident, plus it will download addresses to the sat-nav, so you don't have to fiddle with the screen while driving.
What's it like?
This engine, which is only available on SRi and Elite trims, isn't one of the new subdued 'Whisper' diesels used elsewhere in the range. Even so, it's mechanically smooth when you work it, and although it gets a bit boomy past 3000rpm, it’s not unpleasant to rev out. The only issue is some vibration through the controls at around 2500rpm and at idle.
It performs well, though. The two turbos are differently sized; there's a smaller one for quicker low-end response and a larger one for extra surge at higher revs. The upshot is good pick up from 1500rpm through to 4000rpm, at which point it feels spent. Initial response is no more tardy than that of the lower-powered diesel, which is something that can't be said for some high-output versions of the single-turbo diesels in competitors' cars.
The six-speed manual is not the most precise gearbox we’ve tried, but it’s light and the ratios feel well spread. For cruising, the leggy sixth gear keeps the engine quiet, and when travelling at motorway speeds road and wind noise was pretty hushed, too.
On twistier sections of road, the Sports Tourer’s decent dynamics come into play. The springs are firm enough to keep body roll well checked, and the damping – no doubt aided by the reduced weight – is nicely judged to remove any extreme vertical movement, even on undulating sections.
The nose turns in sharply, but the steering could do with more sparkle to tell you what the front tyres are up to. The Astra's woolly brake pedal, while ultimately effective at stopping you, lets down what's clearly a car that's had some engineering budget thrown at it. This is frustrating because it feels like it wouldn't take much to shift this Astra from good to dynamically great.
Diesel Astras seem firmer and more prone to fidgeting over patchy roads than the petrols, and this version is no different. That said, it manages to keep the right side of the comfort line, smoothing out the worst of general lumps and bumps. But, as with other Astra Sports Tourers we've tried, the rear suspension can be noisy.
You get a fine driving position with loads of adjustment, although if you go for the SRi model, we’d recommend the optional lumbar adjustment (standard on the Elite), without which the seat backs feel a little flat.
The enlarged cabin pays dividends, offering enough space for four large adults, or five if the rear passengers don’t mind some thigh rubbing, and the boot is a decent size. At 530 litres with the rear seats in place, it’s good enough for the annual family holiday, and at 1630 litres with the 40/60 split rear seats folded flat, it’ll manage less glamorous jobs like trips to the tip. Loading it is easy, thanks to the wide boot aperture and low floor height. It's just a shame there's no centre armrest or ski-flap available for longer items.
Like the hatchback, the new Sports Tourer feels more polished inside than before. The spread of buttons that were scattered across the dashboard of the old car have been replaced by thoughtfully grouped controls and a mostly fathomable infotainment system. Meanwhile, the use of plusher trims and chrome highlights help distance it from the likes of the Ford Focus, nudging it further towards Skoda's Octavia in terms of quality.
Should I buy one?
The new Astra Sports Tourer is an easy car to recommend, slotting in neatly somewhere between an Octavia and Ford Focus for dynamics and practicality. It's both good to drive and spacious, the consummate family hack which also offers a sprinkling of enjoyment when you've ditched the kids at a sleepover and it’s just you and a clear road in front.
Ultimately, the 134bhp single turbo version of this engine will be the diesel to go for. It may not be quite as quick, but it feels brisk enough in everyday life and should prove to be a bit more economical. However, if you fancy a bit more pace with your space, this 1.6 CDTi 160 is worth a test drive.
Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi 160 BiTurbo SRi Nav Sports Tourer
Location France; Price £23,385; Engine 4 cyls, 1598cc, twin-turbo, diesel; Power 158bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 258lb ft at 1500-2250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1435kg; 0-60mph 8.4sec; Top speed 137mph; Economy 67.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 112g/km, 22%