Vauxhall’s current method of chassis development – done on UK roads and concentrating predominantly on one baseline setting rather than producing different ‘comfort’ and ‘sport’ configurations and retuning for different wheel sizes – has served the new Astra with mixed success.
We’ve been moderately impressed by the handling and ride of mid-range models but disappointed by more powerful ones, so it’s becoming clear that there must be a dynamic sweet spot in the range – a point at which kerb weight, wheel size and performance are mixed just so.
The Astra CDTi BiTurbo juggles supple comfort, handling precision and tautness of body control well enough to feel like it could be that sweet spot.
It’s far from dynamically perfect and doesn’t do anything particularly clever to deliver its blend of pragmatism and poise – but neither does it need to.
The ride is medium-firm but slightly longer in suspension travel than most rivals, so it’s absorptive without feeling soft, and yet the car’s dampers and anti-roll bars haul up unwanted body movement well enough to make the car handle fast corners and uneven roads perfectly tidily, with consistent grip levels, predictable responses and good directional stability.
Although precise, the steering feels woolly and slightly light and doesn’t deliver any contact patch feedback to speak of. The exception, of course, is when all 258lb ft is being transmitted onto the asphalt with any steering angle or camber in the mix; then (and contrary to Vauxhall’s promise of automatic Drift Pull Compensation) the car will steer itself left or right a little, tugging at the rim in your fingertips.
The steering could be better, then, but the car’s underlying handling response and cornering balance are both good, so it’ll corner as quickly as you’re likely to want.
In order to conjure any real driver appeal, the car would need to steer more engagingly and perhaps also ride with a more nuanced kind of body control at high speeds. As it is, the ride begins to become brittle and excitable when you really delve into the car’s reserves of grip and wheel control on a testing B-road, and it therefore doesn’t inspire you to drive with ever-greater keenness.
But then driver engagement was probably quite rightly placed a way down the order on the Astra Sports Tourer’s list of dynamic priorities. Comfort, ease of use, sure-footed precision and stability are all more important qualities, and mostly they are delivered well.
The Astra Sports Tourer isn’t a car you’d drive quickly for the hell of it, but its handling is benign and pleasingly competent if the need arises. Light controls and slightly grabby brakes are its biggest offences — and they’re not significant ones in outright terms.
Hustle the car into a corner and your approach line may be muddled a bit by the over-assisted brakes, but once you’re used to the vagaries of the middle pedal you can stop the car smoothly enough. It turns in and holds its line better than you’d imagine it will, then it gently understeers as it runs out of grip, just as you — and the Labradors in the boot — will want it to.
And it will do all of that with the stability and traction control systems activated, both of which work away imperceptibly until really needed. The latter quells with particular effectiveness the inevitable wheelspin that the 258lb ft of torque might otherwise cause, keeping your cornering line neat and tidy on exit.