The estate car is dead… Long live the Sports Tourer.
Vauxhall has recently extended its CoTY 2016 award-winning Astra range with the addition of some all-new load-luggers, but are they worthy of the Sports Tourer name?
The Astra is most definitely Vauxhall’s answer to perpetual motion, isn’t it? Rather like post boxes and corner shops, they have been street furniture for years – decades, in fact, as it was 1981 when the very first Astra dropped off the Ellesmere Port assembly plant’s tracks. At the launches of the hatch and now this more capacious model, Vauxhall very much traded on the heritage aspect of Astra, and rightly so too. However, this all-new Astra is a car for today and tomorrow, not only that but it’s the second time this model has won the coveted Car of the Year in its lifetime.
We’ve spent a lot of time with the new Astra in hatchback form and formed the opinion of it being good… in fact, very good. It doesn’t hit you right away and we can imagine a few potential test drivers not cottoning on – especially with a French-polished and blow-dried salesman chuntering away in the ear like a toddler who has just learnt to talk. A day, maybe a couple, is what’s required to appreciate this all-new car. The problem is that Vauxhall has been retailing worthy but very much also-ran vehicles for so many years in a world where second best doesn’t cut it.
Many AROnline readers may know that Mike Humble sold new Vauxhall cars for some time. Even though they have always been easy-going cars to sell and own, they have previously lacked the driving talent of offerings like Ford Focus and the perceived all-round quality package of a Golf. Back in the day, the Astra always used to sell in good numbers to retail and fleet consumers purely on cost rather than any real distinction or ability. However, this has changed and, if he was still selling in that Middlesboro’ dealership today, he would be in for making some serious commission.
The Sports Tourer features a comprehensive range of petrol and diesel drivelines from a spirited 1.0 turbo triple with 105PS through to this model featured – the 200PS 1.6 SRi Turbo. For those old enough to recall, the SRi title conjures up mental images of nippy Novas and other fuel-injected rapid Vauxhalls – halcyon days of fast motoring for the masses. However, in recent years the title has been diluted to little more than just a trim level, but we’re pleased to say that the Vauxhall SRi is back… even if it doesn’t quite emulate a Carmine Red five-door Cavalier with an optional Irmscher styling kit.
The advantages of the new Tourer include a shedding of up to 180kg of weight and the standard-fit OnStar driver support feature – you need to Google this as its more far reaching than you could imagine and is worthy of an article of its own. The car also features a few more inches of interior space and more room for the luggage thanks to its restyled cabin and all-new seat design – despite the exterior dimensions being the same as the outgoing model. Even the raw steel used to form the shell is a new product especially created by GM and TATA engineers.
It’s a clever and talented vehicle in which most of the tech-spec hides under the skin but, for the driver, it represents a driving environment which is possibly the safest and technologically advanced ever known for a volume mass-produced car. When it comes to driving, the Astra has performance that was once only the privilege of the VX-R model. The tried and tested sprint to 60mph is claimed in 7.2 seconds and the car will knuckle down and blast onwards to a maximum of well over 140mph – and, boy, is it smooth with it, too!
Refinement is very good indeed though slightly spoilt for rear passengers on rough surfaced roads. My passengers often complained about road noise in the back on broken or rough surfaces – that’s often symptomatic of estate cars generally, but I think it can be improved on. An ergonomically sound facia, snug and supportive seats and a really sweet gear change quality with nigh on perfect pedal positioning make for a cracking drive be it around town or along the motorway but budding back-road Brundles will notice a real lack of steering feel at the rim – it’s also a bit too light.
Handling and ride are generally very good. Despite 200PS, the SRi gets the power onto the tarmac well without too much interference from the traction control. It jostles and patters around on bad roads at low speed but, rather like my thoughts on the rear cabin noise, that tends to be the norm these days. That said, it’s never overbearingly firm and, once you reach more progressive speeds, the ride settles down to be rather smooth – as it’s title says, it’s a Sports Tourer and worthy of those two words in every respect.
Passenger space is fine and the cargo area extends to well over 1600 litres which is right up there with the very best in its class. It’s not as clever as stowing or hiding stuff away as our other British-made Tourer – the Honda Civic but, whereas the Civic boasts a slightly whacky marmite interior, the Astra won’t offend or scare off those with traditional or conservative tastes. Far from being boring though, the Astra has some neat styling cues which make it stand out – these include the swooping aluminium trim over the rear side windows and, in 200PS SRi flavour, a snappy pair of rear tailpipes.
Build quality is decent with exacting shut lines, meaty-sounding doors and superb paintwork application. Our only concerns with fixtures and fittings included slightly cheap feeling column stalks, a lack of a rear centre armrest and an oddments tray to the right of the steering wheel that feels bitterly substandard and reminded me of the sort of incidental plastics you would have found in an early 1990s Hyundai. Oh, and that gear lever is way too big and shaped a bit wrong – but at least it operates one of the slickest transmissions we have experienced in recent years.
So there we have it, a fine car and worthy of the recent CoTY award. Very smooth, very refined and very clever with laugh-out-loud performance and sensible fuel economy to boot – but it’s a Vauxhall and, despite its real appeal and ability, the brand is too often ignored by car fanatics and enthusiasts these days.
And that’s a shame… The new Astra range is superb and testimony that our British workers can, and do, produce a winning, first-class product.
More on Mike’s own website which concentrates on new British automotive products.