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.