Astra rockets into space race

Vauxhall's Astra Tourer
Vauxhall's Astra Tourer

By Nick Jones

Bidding goodbye to space shuttle Atlantis as it completed it’s final mission, I was driving a Vauxhall Astra estate.

So what? Nothing exceptional about that, I hear you say, but this was the latest Sports Tourer version and, linking to the last flight of Atlantis, I was keen to check out just how much space there was inside.

Okay, so it’s a tenuous link, but when people buy estate cars internal space is a key criterion.

If you have a growing family there may come a time when you have to choose between a bigger hatchback, an estate or MPV.

With better styling such as swooping roof and waste lines and all the comforts of your standard car, estates, or tourers as some manufacturers call them, are gaining in popularity, particularly among people who don’t yet feel ready for that step up to the people-carrier.

Few manufacturers don’t offer estate versions of their best-selling runabouts nowadays and very close attention is paid to the detail of the styling – they need to look right for one to go into the garage and to persuade punters to shell out the extra pounds for the privilege.

Millions of Astra’s in one form or another have been bought over the years, many of them estates. So Vauxhall isn’t boldly going into unknown territory with the Sports Tourer, although it may be hoping it will launch the marque into higher orbit among its peers.

But is this a star performer?

You do get a vast array of engine options on the Astra, both petrol and diesel. You can have a 1.4-litre petrol for instance, which churns out nearly 100 horsepower or a more powerful turbo version with 140 horsepower or a beefier 1.6-litre that sits in the middle with 115 horsepower.

Or if you want to go down the diesel route, then a 1.3-litre CDTi eco flex sits at the bottom with 94 horsepower, right up to a punchy yet frugal 2.0-litre 160 horsepower engine, with a 1.7-litre sitting somewhere mid-ships.

You can expect over 65mpg from the low-end diesel, but even the 2.0-litre achieves 50mpg, with emissions registering at 156/km. The petrol versions are pretty frugal to, the 1.4-litre achieves 50pg, and even with the added poke from the turbo it can return 45.

Vauxhall should be commended for keeping the Astra looking good, and like an Astra hatchback, except for the extra room in the rear quarters.

It shares the hatchback’s wheelbase, so the extra bit at the back is all overhang and styling.

Benefits therefore are three centimetres in load length over the five-door version and over 500 litres of load space.

My test car had the FlexFold seating system, which allows both sections of the 60:40 split rear bench to be folded down at the touch of a button.

It means quite simply, that you don’t have to keep opening the rear doors and fold them all by pulling a lever and trying to get them to fall like dominoes!

With all of the seats folded, the Sports Tourer gets a fully-flat floor and has a load capacity of over 1,500 litres, a good result in the space race, which is what Vauxhall set out to achieve.

Mix that with the fact it has pockets and cubby holes aplenty throughout the car, and you have a family hatchback that is more than capable of transporting all and sundry to destination without the fear of leaving something or someone behind.

As I mentioned before, the easiest thing in the world is to get a ‘bigger’ car, but as the Astra Tourer has proved, big is not always better.

Indeed, with prices starting at just £17,270, (an increase of just £900 over the five-door version) it may well pay you to stick with the family hatch and save yourself some money.

That seems like a great idea to me, especially when the base car is such a good launch pad.