Vauxhall Astra Sport Tourer

THERE’S nothing worse than being bounced around inside a car as you go about your business of driving from A to B via roadworks at C, writes Rob Auchterlonie.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 29th November 2010, 2:27 pm

So if you get a chance to drive the new Astra Sport Tourer and you’re impressed with the ride, say a big thank you to the blokes at Millbrook.

They’re the ones who’ve used their expertise to make sure the car you buy is one that can cope with the many vagaries of the UK road network.

The Vauxhall Engineering Centre based at the Millbrook testing facility in Bedfordshire got the nod to engineer the neat new upper body structure of the new Tourer. And neat it most certainly is, with a wide and low look to give it a premium appeal.

Led by Engineering Group Manager Andy Hitchcock the VEC team started work on the car back in 2006, using virtual engineering to prove panel formability, welding access, crash strength and durability. It was a major rework, and the finished product, which goes on sale in late November, is testament to the skills of the Bedfordshire engineers.

They were also responsible for the bespoke UK steering settings that it shares with the Astra hatch and makes it a better bet for UK roads and UK drivers. Get behind the wheel of one and you’ll fully understand what I mean because there’s a feel and fluidity to the steering that makes the Astra a joy to drive. Even the German Opel chaps use UK roads and VEC expertise to hone the handling of their cars which, given the quality of the average autobahn, must seem to Hans like he’s driving on air.

Sports Tourer comes with the optional FlexRide adaptive damping system, first seen on the Insignia and rare indeed in the compact sector of the market. It adjusts the suspension automatically depending on the driver’s needs and has three programmable damper settings.

The fact that the Tourer is significantly stiffer than its predecessor estate makes a real difference to the handling and overall ride quality, as well as reducing the levels of noise, vibration and harshness.

A run down the A1 on the UK launch gave it the chance to show up well in the sort of environment that many Sports Tourers will live – as that of a motorway mile muncher, which it accomplished with aplomb.

Vauxhall’s design guru Mark Adams says that while a Sport Tourer is usually thought of as a workhorse, in the way the good old fashioned estate car was, with the new car they feel there’s a good balance of style versus function.

The new roof line looks a lot lower than it actually is so while there’s a bit of deception in the styling the truth is there’s a lot of interior space available.

And it’s cleverly useable. Open the tailgate and all you have to do to drop the seat backs is pull a lever on the side panelling. No need to lean forward and fumble with a catch on the seat back.

Also on the kit list is an electronic parking brake which frees up space on the centre console. It’ll hold the car on gradients up to 30 per cent and automatically comes off when the car moves off.

There are four trim levels in the range – ES, Exclusiv, SRi and SE – which all have ESP, six airbags, air con, daytime running lights and front electric windows.

There’s a choice of seven engines available which are on average 13 per cent cleaner and more economical than their predecessors.

Astra is an important car to Vauxhall’s fortunes – one of their three in the UK Top 10 sellers, along with Corsa and Insignia. It’s not just a fleet car either, finding favour with a lot of user-choosers for its smart looks and user friendly antics.

The estate the Sports Tourer replaces took 12 per cent of Astra sales but they’re confident the smart newcomer will build on that.

I thought the Insignia Sports Tourer had the rear of the year, but if you’re in the market for something equally as smart but of a more compact nature, then there is definitely a new kid on the block...

AT A GLANCE

Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.7 CDTi SRi ecoFLEX

£21,980 (range from £16,575 to £24,300)

1686cc, 125ps, 280Nm

Max speed 120mph, 0-60mph 11 secs

Annual VED: £0 in year one, £30 (C) in subsequent years

Fuel: urban 51.4, extra urban 72.4, combined 62.8

Fuel tank 12.3 gallons