► Our review of the new Astra estate
► We test the new 1.6T petrol Q-car
► It's big, but is it clever?
Here’s a car for those who kick back against the modern craze for family-friendly crossovers and MPVs: the good old-fashioned, mid-sized estate car. The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer could be just the ticket for those who want a car capable of easily carrying out family duties without the penalty of a footprint far bigger than a hatchback’s – and with less of the tiptoeing height afforded by some of the loftier new shapes.
Despite the changes being wrought upon all sectors of the car market, with new niches rising and traditional stalwarts falling away, the humble C-segment into which the new Astra is pitched still accounts for 15% of all cars sold in the UK – it’s the second biggest market sector, making up 400,000 registrations a year. And 12% of those are wagons.
Think of this, then, as the Griffin’s answer to the Ford Focus and Skoda Octavia estates. The Astra Sports Tourer trails those two in the sales charts, but the new one is expected to pep up sales somewhat, especially after its hatchback sibling scooped the European Car of the Year gong at the 2016 Geneva motor show. We’ve already rated the Astra hatch; read our full review to see what we think of its more practical, boxier sibling.
Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer: the lowdown
No engineering degrees required here; this variant tacks a bigger back end onto the five-door’s regular wheelbase. It’s all about boot space, with a useful extra 40 litres – compared to its predecessor – swelling its seats-up capacity to 540. Stow the rear seats and that mushrooms to 1630 litres, a whopping 80 more than the previous model.
Those figures aren’t just for show. It really is a practical car, with no lip to impede loading and a simple, uncluttered rectangular loadbay. You can now order a waggle-foot-to-open tailgate for the first time too, which’ll be sure to entertain the kids and please hand-strapped parents on the school run.
Also impressing in the space race is the room offered in the second row of seats. There’s lashings of space for legs and heads and there’s a usefully shallow transmission tunnel to boost your chances of stashing children or adults three abreast back there.
Okay, so it’s roomy. But does the new Astra estate drive well?
After positive first impressions (slick looks, oodles of space, attractive prices), the interior is no longer the letdown of previous Astras. It’s hardly about to dislodge the best cabins in-class (sorry, they still belong to the VW clan), but the new dashboard is way neater than what went before.
It’s simpler, with less of the feeling of an explosion in a button factory, and the top of the dash is nice and squidgey to touch. There are still signs of penny-pinching, though – perhaps inevitable at this price – and the poor execution of the cupholders and the violently sprung 12v socket cover would send palpitations through a Wolfsburg fit-and-finish executive.
Ok, so we’re nitpicking. But we were left rather baffled by the 18 different functions on the multi-button steering wheel. Make that 19 if you include the horn operation. Or 20 if you remember the wheel’s original function… Is this really ergonomic progress?
A surprise Q-car: 200 horsepower in a sensible estate
Flick the key and the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6T 200ps Elite Nav reveals an ace up its sleeve. It’s the most powerful iteration of the range so far, with an imperial 197bhp lending it a surprise turn of pace. Especially in that stealthy, family-focused wagon bodystyle.
It’s refined and never feels devastatingly quick, but the raw figures suggest otherwise. Nought to sixty takes 7.2 seconds and its top speed is knocking on the door of 150mph. In a non-VXR Astra! It rides well on its 225/45 R17 Michelins and steers, handles and stops with insouciant precision. Neither sporty nor outright fun, but well judged and with enough precision to keep some interest for keener drivers. Just watch out for the thick A-pillars that create a blindspot, a common problem on Vauxhalls and Opels in our experience.
Think of this as an alternative to the 202bhp Peugeot 308 GT or Ford Focus Estate EcoBoost models with 180bhp. It’s very smooth throughout the rev range and the six-speed ’box packs a well-weighted gearchange; once full boost lands at around 3000rpm, it’s a remarkably fast estate.
The new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer impressed us as much as the likeable hatchback did. This is a well thought-through wagon and one we think more buyers should consider before they plough drone-like into the next fashionable SUV or MPV.
Maybe just not in this toppy 1.6 turbo spec. Its £23,415 price and relatively high emissions will make it a niche choice, while its startling performance will either represent a welcome Q-car brilliance outweighing the 142g/km and 45.6mpg penalty, or good reason to wait for the full-blown VXR version we hear is in development.
We suspect many buyers would prefer a lower-power petrol or diesel estate, with a correspondingly lower price. The Astra Estate range starts at £16,585 and that’s a lot of car for the money.