The Vauxhall Astra is one of the best-looking hatchbacks, but average dynamics and performance hamper its overall appeal
First DriveFrugal 1.6-litre diesel Astra estate has the zest to match its decent chassis and good looks
First DriveDespite a raft of tweaks aimed at achieving impressive frugality, this Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTi Ecoflex Exclusiv still offers an engaging driver experience
What is it?
The Astra hatch is currently the UK's best seller in its class. Seems the range is more significant than perhaps we thought. And now, majoring on that UK dimension, Vauxhall launches the rather svelte Sports Tourer, the new name for what used to be called Estate.
What's it like?
It's built exclusively at Ellesmere Port as is the Opel version for export to Europe, and the transformation from hatch to estate car was a UK project.
The new body pressings went straight from computer to production tooling, with no physical prototypes in between. That's brave.
A falling upper window line, forward-leaning rear pillars and a wraparound rear window make the Sports Tourer appear sleeker than it is, but the reality is that there's more load space in here than in an Insignia estate, with a maximum load capacity of 1550 litres (versus 1530 litres). The tailgate aperture is bigger, too, thanks to non-intrusive hinges.
This is Vauxhall's practical load-carrier, with high-spec models' rear seat backrests foldable at the touch of an electric switch. That creates an upward slope at the front of the load bay, but you can make it fully flat by flipping the seat cushions forward first. There's a shallow storage area under the boot floor, with a movable aluminium divider. Cargo-carrying options include a moulded liner for the load bay and the FlexOrganiser, which uses rail-mounted nets and dividers to keep loads secure.
Should I buy one?
This is a useful estate, then. It's also remarkably good to drive, provided you choose the right engine and chassis combination. The best one is the 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine, a torquey device whose power peak of 138bhp arrives at just 4900rpm, matched to the slightly firmer SRi chassis on its standard 17in wheels.
It rides beautifully, steers with consistent response and weighting and handles with an easy fluidity we hadn't really found in Astras to date. By contrast the non-SRi, fitted with optional 18in wheels, feels more fidgety despite softer suspension and loses the steering sweetness. Vauxhall's engineers – the settings are UK-specific, incidentally – agree.
Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.4 Turbo SRi
Price: £20,350; Top speed: 125mph; 0-62mph: 9.5sec; Economy: 46.3mp (combined); CO2: 144g/km; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls in line, 1364cc, 16V turbo petrol; Power: 138bhp at 4900rpm; Torque: 148lb ft at 1850-4900rpm; Gearbox 6spd manual