► Latest Astra Sports Tourer estate tested
► Petrol, diesel and PHEV flavours driven
► A pretty decent all-round effort
Yes, it’s the latest Astra estate. But can it do enough to trouble our list of the best estate cars or even our favourite best hybrid estate cars? It’s in with a chance, actually, because the Sports Tourer is comes hot on the heals on an impressively accomplished Astra hatch. Forward of the B-pillar, it’s business as usual with Vauxhall’s distinctive ‘Vizor’ up front and a far more chiselled shape than its rather anonymous forebear.
Move rearwards and the increased wheelbase is focussed on improving boot space, with no big jump in rear legroom as you’d find in rivals such as the Golf Estate, just a little bit more headroom. Elsewhere things are once again familiar, with the same twin-screen dashboard and same choice of powertrains under the bonnet.
So what engines does the Astra Sports Tourer get?
If you’ve got Castrol pumping through your veins, you won’t find anything too exciting here. Unlike the Golf and Leon estate models that have circa 300bhp R and Cupra versions respectively, the most potent version of the Astra will be the 222bhp plug-in hybrid shared with numerous other Stellantis PHEVs.
We’re yet to sample that, although we have tested the lesser 178bhp PHEV and it’s good enough to make our list of the best hybrid estates. We’ve also tried the punchiest pure petrol packing 128bhp and the identically powerful but usefully torquier 1.5-litre diesel (though diesel is not currently offered in the UK for lack of popularity reasons). If you’re in no hurry, a 109bhp version of the petrol is also available on entry-level Design trim.
Whichever engine you pick, it’s the front wheels that exclusively receive drive via a six-speed manual gearbox on the conventional petrols or an eight-speed automatic that’s optional on the unleaded drinkers and standard on everything else.
I’m feeling sensible, tell me about the boot
According to Vauxhall. the Astra Sports Tourer gives you 597 litres of boot space with standard 40/20/40 split rear seats up and 1,634 litres with them folded down. Those figures sink to 516 and 1,553 litres respectively if you opt for plug-in hybrid power.
You’ll find the Golf, the Leon and the Astra’s own family rival, the Peugeot 308 SW all have more room, while the Skoda Octavia Estate thrashes the lot of them.
However, Vauxhall say that’s only part of the story. The Astra Sports Tourer has a boot with a usefully square shape and handy features, especially if you tick the box for the Intelli-space variable floor. It does the standard low level for maximum capacity and higher level for easier loading, but also can be sat at 45 degrees to either separate luggage or make grabbing stuff from beneath easier.
What’s more, there’s room for the parcel shelf under the floor regardless of what height it’s at, and there’s also a smaller panel that hides the first aid and puncture repair kits near the back seats. In effect, it means you don’t have to empty the entire boot to deal with punctures be they in skin or rubber.
Unsurprisingly the PHEV’s battery pack means the boot floor is effectively always in the higher position in these variants, with a smaller cubby for handily storing your charging cables. That’s a useful space-saving feature that’s not guaranteed in the world of plug-in hybrids so deserves an additional merit badge here.
Can I get my family in as well?
The Astra wagon uses its extended wheelbase to increase boot space rather than rear legroom. Headroom is improved thanks to the stretched roofline but taller folk will find their knees close to the backs of the front seats, especially if there’s another vertically gifted person in front of you.
Front space is fine, with plenty of adjustment in the seat and enough air between you and your passenger to make sure you won’t be rubbing elbows. Storage space is plentiful, with a good spread of lidded cubbies, cupholders and slots to stick all your odds and sods.
I suppose the dash is touchscreen central
Mercifully there are still plenty of actual buttons and knobs that make changing temperature, volume or setting the cruise control easy. It’s certainly preferable to the touchy-feely Golf and 308 in terms of usability and avoids looking drab, too.
More in-depth functions do require you to delve into the central touchscreen, no issue given its snappy responses and sharp display. Rival systems from Kia and Ford are arguably easier to navigate, although it knocks the socks off Volkswagen Group’s buggy software and hardware.
There’s also a good spread of soft-touch plastics with the harder stuff pleasantly textured and robustly screwed together. It’s a cohesive and easy to use interior that’s only slightly let down by some slightly flimsy buttons beneath the touchscreen and a digital driver’s display that’s sharp, but nowhere near as configurable or easy to read as VW’s superior system.
Does it all fall apart on the road?
No, but neither will it provide thrill-a-minute handling. Let’s start with the good; the steering weights up reassuringly as cornering forces increase and has an agreeable pace to it, too. Grip levels are strong, with the Astra predictably running wide should you be too enthusiastic.
We honestly couldn’t tell if the manual gearbox was genuinely snappy or whether the sheer novelty of rowing our own held some sway, but we found it good fun to slam the lever around, nonetheless, and threading the needle through a sequence of roundabouts is certainly more of a pleasure than a chore in one of these.
Body roll is well contained and it’s certainly capable enough in the twisties. It probably isn’t something that’ll have you chomping at the bit for a B-road blast once the initial familiarisation period has worn off, though. If that’s your bag, a Ford Focus or Seat Leon feels appreciably more agile if we’re talking cooking models, a Golf R will generate greater grins if you’re after performance in a compact yet practical package, while a BMW 3 Series is still the premium driver’s choice.
The Astra Sports Tourer PHEV’s extra bulk doesn’t do the plug-in version any favours in the bends. But while it feels a little less willing to change direction, compared to plug-in rivals it’s one of the better ones. An Octavia iV is positively boaty unless you opt for the vRS although the related 308 feels a little sharper still.
And what about the bumpy bits?
If comfort is your bag, we’d stick to the 17in wheels if possible as they help smother surface imperfections noticeably better than the larger alternative.
Either way, the Astra certainly has tighter body control than the Peugeot 308 SW petrol and the Octavia Estate, something that you’ll appreciate on the undulations encountered on country roads over here.
The Astra estate can feel a little as if it’s running out of ideas over rougher sections of tarmac. If it avoids being crashy that’s a matter of only just, as the kind of rubbery bump absorption that German manufacturers seem to love so much just about takes the edge off the worst imperfections.
Unlike the Golf Estate, there’s no adaptive damper system available to help ramp up the comfort.
Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer: the CAR verdict
While the old Astra was something of an appliance, the latest version replaces dreary with a shot of desirability. It’s a handsome thing in the metal while the interior cleverly blends modern tech and traditional physical controls in an appealing fashion.
It’s decent if not particularly dynamic to drive and the boot has plenty of useful features to make up for a slight shortfall in space compared to rivals. Given that the PHEV sits in the 8% BIK company car tax rate and greatly improved residual values make for appealing PCP deals, it’s a strong if not quite class-leading compact estate, and generally one that should make most journeys more of a pleasure than a pain.
Spec details are for the plug-in hybrid version