Vauxhall is hoping to increase its presence in the compact estate sector with the latest Astra Sports Tourer. MPVs and 4x4s might offer more interesting options for family buyers but the solid, practical virtues of a good estate are not to be under-estimated. This one's cleaner, more frugal, more practical, higher-tech and sharper to look at than before. It's a better package all-round.
When what you need to fit in your car just won't, you need a bigger car. Family hatchback owners confronted with this nightmare scenario have a number of options at their disposal. They could take the rugged route with a compact 4x4, choose the versatility of a mini-MPV or step up to a medium range saloon. Alternatively, they could turn to an extended version of the family hatchback they already have. The estate car isn't the trendiest or most exciting option but when you need a little bit more room, it does the job. Vauxhall's Astra Sports Tourer is little more than an extended Astra hatch but it could be all the car you need, especially in latest generation form.
Many of the leading lights in the family hatchback sector have an estate version. Focus, Golf, Peugeot 308 - the manufacturers of all these models see the value of tagging another few centimetres onto the rear of the five-door hatches to give customers the option of extra carrying capacity. Vauxhall has a history of following suit with its Astra but like its rivals, sales of Astra estates have traditionally been way down on those of the standard hatchback versions. The compact estate market looks likely to remain a niche one but with flashy Sports Tourer branding, this generation Astra estate could be destined to take a bigger slice of it.
Like the rest of the Astra Sports Tourer, the suspension is shared with the Astra hatchback. Reducing this latest model's weight by up to 200kgs has had a significant effect on the way this car drives. It now soaks up bumps better and turns into the bends more easily, aided by a stiffer chassis and torque vectoring that helps with cornering traction. As before, this Vauxhall does without the kind of independent rear suspension system you'd find on a rival Ford Focus Estate, instead favouring a neat Watts linkage system that claims to reduce sideways motion between the axle and the body of the car as you go through the corners.
Under the bonnet, those in search of petrol power have an up-to the-minute range of options. We'd suggest you bypass the most affordable 100PS 1.4-litre engine in favour of the lighter, more responsive and much more efficient 105PS 1.0-litre ECOTEC turbo three cylinder unit. If you need more power, there are a couple of 1.4-litre Turbo powerplants offering 125 or 150PS, plus a top 200PS 1.6 Turbo option. Diesel drivers get Vauxhall's refined 1.6-litre CDTi 'whisper diesel' unit with a choice of three power outputs - 110, 136 or 160PS. The 110PS ecoFLEX variant delivers class-leading efficiency figures - 91.2mpg on the combined cycle and 82g/km of CO2.
The Sports Tourer bodyshape further extends the now-sportier styling of the seventh generation five-door model. The slightly arched sloping roofline gives this estate derivative a longer appearance - an effect further enhanced by the divided C-pillar. The rear view aims to combine practicality with a bit of elegant design, but overall, the emphasis is on a stable, robust and safe stance, with the muscular rear-wheel arch contours and the divided rear light clusters adding to this impression.
This latest generation Sports Tourer has the same dimensions as its predecessor, with a length of 4,702mm, a width of 1,871mm and a height of 1,499mm. Despite that, it offers much more space for passengers and luggage. The driver can enjoy 26mm of additional headroom and passengers in the rear have 28mm more. The Sports Tourer's total cargo capacity is now 1,630-litres with the rear seat folded, this thanks to more efficient packaging.
At the wheel, the characteristic fascia element is what Vauxhall refers to as a 'blade'-style panel that stretches right across the cabin trimmed in piano black with a neat chromed edging. Beautifully integrated into it is an Intellilink infotainment screen that can be either 7 or 8-inches in size.
There's a price premium of around £1,000 for the Sports Tourer estate version over its five-door hatchback stablemate and that means you'll be paying from just over £16,500 to around £21,000 for mainstream versions. At the affordable end of the petrol line-up, it's well worth trying to find the £700 premium Vauxhall asks to graduate from the entry-level 1.4-litre 100PS unit to the far more responsive and efficient three cylinder 1.0-litre powerplant. Want a diesel? Well there are no duffers in the Astra black pump line-up any more - even the base 110PS 1.6-litre CDTi unit (priced from around £18,000) is impressive. Most buyers though, pay the necessary premium (around £700) to get themselves this engine in pokier 136PS guise.
Conventional automatic transmission is only available on the 150PS 1.4-litre petrol Turbo model or the 136PS version of the 1.6-litre CDTi diesel - for a premium of around £1,300 over the manual variant. However, at the bottom of the range, you can get a simpler 'Easytronic' set-up - essentially a manual gearbox without a clutch - on the 1.0-litre petrol engine for a premium of just £400. Standard equipment across the range includes alloy wheels and an Intellilink colour infotainment touchscreen compatible with the latest Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems, via which you can duplicate the functionality of your smartphone handset onto your car's infotainment screen to access maps and message reading. We particularly like the 'OnStar' personal connectivity system that offers destination downloads, wi-fi access, a vehicle tracking system and automatic emergency response in an accident.
You're not going to find an Astra Sports Tourer model that's going to cost you a huge amount to run. Even the 1.4 petrol turbo is likely to return around 50mpg with a light right foot, while of course the 1.6-litre CDTi diesels will manage much more. If operating costs are your biggest worry then step forward the 1.6 litre CDTi 110PS diesel ecoFLEX model, a car capable of around 90mpg on the combined cycle while emitting not much more than 80g/km of CO2.
Sadly Vauxhall have dropped their 100,000 mile 'lifetime' warranty and now offer a standard three year 60,000 mile effort; the industry standard in other words. Residuals may be marginally improved by a promised extra focus on quality - we'll wait and see on that. As usual, you can help yourself in terms of model depreciation by exercising a little restraint when it comes to ticking boxes on the options list. It's very easy here to get up towards a £25,000 car without too much effort. Stick to the essentials that will make the vehicle more appealing to its potential second owner and you shouldn't do too badly.
With all the other options facing family car buyers in the modern marketplace, the compact estate car is sometimes overlooked. Admittedly, it's not the most exciting option next to the plethora of tough-looking compact 4x4s and MPVs with their elaborate seating arrangements but it is reassuringly simple in what it offers and surprisingly practical too.
Vauxhall's improved Astra Sports Tourer seems to fit the bill very nicely in this regard, especially in this latest generation form with its extra efficiency, additional space, greater connectivity and sharper looks. If you're in the market for a car of this kind, it should be on your shopping list.
Choose from 8 different Vauxhall Astra grades.
Images for illustration purposes only