We’ve only had it a couple of weeks, but our trusty Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer has already clocked up well over 1000 miles.
But there’s much more to come.
Arrived on the fleet: July 2012
Fuel consumption: 45.9mpg
Firmly established alongside the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf as one of the UK’s favourite medium-sized cars, the Vauxhall Astra in its current form has been around since 2009, with the Sports Tourer following on a year later. However, with the recent announcement that production of this British-badged car would remain at the Ellesmere Port factory in Merseyside, it’s a good time to take stock and re-evaluate the most ‘British’ car in its sector.
Of course, we wouldn’t advise anyone to go and buy a car on patriotic grounds alone – not even in what has been a special year for the UK. Far from it. Any car needs to stand (or fall) on its own merits. But given the consistent success of the sixth generation Astra, we’d say that the buyers have voted with their feet.
It might be a stylish thing, with a swooping roofline, but the Sports Tourer is actually a very practical estate. With a 500 litre luggage capacity with the rear seats in place, it’s up there with rivals from Ford and Volkswagen. That extends to 1550 litres with the rear seat backs folded and the bases removed. We love the easy access load cover – when it’s extended, a tap on the handle rises it out of the way, on D-post rails. Just remember to drop it back before you drive off though, as it obscures rearward vision in this position.
In SRi form, the Sport Tourer comes impressively equipped, with air conditioning, USB/iPod connectivity, 17in alloys and cruise control as standard – but the all-singing infotainment system is an £855 option, while our rain sensing wipers cost a hefty £230. In truth we’d sacrifice the latter for electric rear windows. The interior feels well put together, with an enveloping dashboard design that really looks quite appealing. The centre console is stacked with buttons, but it’s easy to navigate and in terms of tactile quality, it’s not far off the Volkswagen Golf – overall it’s a convincing effort.
The driving position is good, with logically positioned major controls. However, the front seats are on the firm side of supportive and unless you get the driving position spot-on, backache will kick in prematurely. We’d also criticise visibility – the A-posts are far too chunky and seriously hinder progress at angled junctions. But this is a fault shared with the Ford Focus.
Performance from the vocal 122bhp turbodiesel is lively enough if you’re prepared to keep the turbo spinning, but be prepared for throttle lag if you’re a lazy gearchanger. But once in its long-striding sixth gear, motorway miles slip by effortlessly.
In the first week of Astra ownership, we’ve already covered 1200 miles. First, we burned a tankful running from home, then across the captivatingly beautiful Yorkshire/Lancashire border across the Pennines from Hebden Bridge to Burnley towards that place I know so well – Blackpool. It certainly proved to be an interesting day, backing up my opinion that the Astra is a consummate B-road tool – not because it’s especially quick or full of feel, but simply that it grips well, and disguises its speed quite well. Cracking on in the hills, the speed which it catches dawdling tourists is quite impressive.
As befitting SRi badging, it has a well-damped but slightly firm ride. Steering weight and accuracy are good and the change quality from its six-speed gearbox is excellent. Overall the Astra feels like it’s taking on the Focus head-on as the driver’s choice in its sector. You can corner with confidence and enjoy ample amounts of grip.
In the end, after a day’s ‘work’ on Britain’s best A- and B-roads as well as the car’s natural stamping ground – the motorway – clocking up a mere 450 miles, the Astra put in a 50mpg all-round performance, which we shouldn’t grumble about, given that this was an ‘enthusiastic’ introductory drive.
A couple of days later, we were packing up the Astra again, this time heading for Dover. A nice extended weekend taking in Reims and the Champagne region was just reward for a car that seems to revel on the motorways. On our trip, we once again mixed up minor roads, routes nationales and autoroutes, averaging just over 45mpg in a weekend of lots of stop-start motoring. The French drive revealed a weird idiosyncracy with the Astra – plugging in the iPhone isn’t isn’t always successful, with it intermittently not being read by the otherwise impressive infotainment system. Frustrating, when you want to rid yourself of the spectre of French radio…
Overall impressions so far, are very good indeed. List prices are high, although if you’re looking for a new Astra, it’s going to be reasonably easy to chip down the dealer before taking your order – but with 119g/km CO2 emissions and real world consumption of at least 50mpg, it should be cheap to keep this Sport Tourer on the road. One thing we hope Vauxhall fixes for the facelift is individual rheostats for the instruments and infotainment system. Even in night mode, it’s far too bright and it can’t be dimmed unless you turn down the dashboard lighting. Annoying to say the least.
As the miles pile on and the familiarity increases, our impressions of the Astra Tourer continue to warm – it’s clearly a car designed for hard-working professionals that just works.