What is it?
It’s the estate version of the current Vauxhall Astra, called the Sports Tourer. We've driven 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 even 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.
There’s heaps of new tech as well. 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 wifi 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, as well as 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 whisper-quiet "Whisper" diesels used elsewhere in the range. Even so, it's mechanically smooth when you rev 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.
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.
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, while motoring along the French Autoroutes we found road and wind noise pretty hushed, too.
On twistier Alpine sections of road, the Sports Tourer’s decent dynamics come in to play. The springs are firm enough to keep bodyroll 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 wooly 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, soothing out the worst of general lumps and bumps.
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, too. At 530 litres with the rear seats in place, it’s good enough for the annual family holiday, and at 1630 litres with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded flat, it’ll manage less glamorous jobs like trips to the tip. And loading it is easy, thanks to the wide boot aperture and low floor height.
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 Focus for dynamics and practicality: it's both good to drive and spacious. It's 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.
We’re yet to drive the 134bhp diesel in the estate, but if it’s anything like as good as the hatch version, it’ll most likely be the diesel to buy with its better blend of performance and economy. However, if you fancy a bit more pace with your space, this 1.6 CDTi 160 is well 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; Top speed 137mph; 0-60mph 8.4sec; Economy 67.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 112g/km, 22%