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Astra Sports Tourer 1.7 CDTi Exclusiv (110ps) ecoFLEX

Click to view picture gallery“Goodbye Estate, Hello Sports
  Tourer! For many years Vauxhall’s
  boxy-but-practical Astra estate
  models provided faithful service
  as solid workhorses. Now, in true
  fairytale tradition, the Astra estate
  has transformed into a handsome
  lifestyle model that is smart
  enough to take you to The Ball

AT FIRST GLANCE you can easily be deceived into thinking that, like other brands
' 'lifestyle' models, carrying capacity has been sacrificed on the alter of good looks. Not so. The illusion of less is just that an illusion; conjured up by some nifty styling around the tail that, combined with the tapering glasshouse, creates a wraparound 'fastback' look.

But lift the wide, high-opening tailgate and you'll find that this smart new 4.7-metre long Astra with a 500-litre boot has more cargo space than the longer and larger Insignia Estate: 1,550 litres versus the Insignia's 1,530. Okay, so it's only 20 litres more but that's still more and a lot of load space for a little lugger.

“Lift the tailgate
and you’ll find that this
smart new 4.7-metre
long Astra has more
cargo space than
the longer and larger
Insignia Estate:
1,550 litres versus the
s 1,530.
Okay, so it
s only
20 litres more but that
still more —
and a lot of load space
for a little lugger...”
Tumble the easy-fold 60:40 split rear seats and you have a level loadbay floor easily accessible thanks to a low rear sill also convenient to sit on during family picnics.

The upright boot sides both have slim but nonetheless handy recessed cubbies and there's some additional hidden storage space under the boot floor that even a Revenue officer might find hard to spot lift up the stacking three-section floor and you can access a 35" x 35" tray approximately two inches deep with a strong three-position divider. Beneath lies a space-saver spare wheel.

More versatility can be added should you need it: a moulded heavy-duty loadbay liner and Vauxhall's FlexOrganiser (a rail-mounted nets-and-dividers system to keep loads safe and contained) are both available.

Like all the carrying features, the load-cover is also well considered: it can retract, extend level or ride up with the tailgate for easier access to the rear section of the boot. A first aid kit and warning triangle are also provided. Even shutting the lid is easy for everyone (including the sinistral who walk among us) thanks to a handle either side of the tailgate.

Climb aboard and the outer upmarket look is mirrored by an equally upmarket feel. The cabin is pretty much a smaller version of what you'll find inside the Astra's bigger brother, the Insignia. There's a wraparound fascia with faux alloy trim on the traditional white-on-black dials, centre stack and steering wheel; the switchgear feels good and it's all well laid-out and smartly assembled.

While there are a lot of switches and buttons on the centre stack, they are grouped logically and their functions easy to recall. The optional SatNav (£835) presents clear graphics and verbal directions are spoken in good time for the driver to react.

It's roomy in the front and there's good headroom ever for taller drivers. A good driving position is quickly set courtesy of comfy and supportive cloth-upholstered seats, decent rake and reach adjustment of the multifunction (cruise and audio) wheel, height adjustable driver's seat, and adjustable height front seatbelts. And the headrests have large push-to-release buttons on the side to make up/down adjustment easy far better than the fiddly, nail-breaking catches you find on many other cars.

Visibility out is generally good although some drivers may find they need to get used to the heavy A-pillars. On the move the cabin is a pleasant place to travel in and is quiet and well insulated from both road and engine noise. An electrical parking brake ensures good use can be made of the sliding centre front armrest; it also cuts driver tasks as it releases automatically as you drive away.

“Power comes from a
108bhp 1.7-litre ecoFLEX
s strong, fit for purpose
and fuel efficient:
the official figure is
62.8mpg on the
combined cycle —
our week
s real-life
driving saw an average
of 51.1mpg
There's also a hill-assist feature that makes driving off on a slope much easier and the well-sited left footrest comes into its own when 'in the cruise'.

The wipers, incidentally, wipe from the centre out and clear a large area of the front screen not something the average buyer checks on a visit to the showroom but definitely a 'plus' much appreciated during the UK's wetter months.

The 'quick-order' AirCon does a good line in both hot and cold air. Also welcome is the (selectable) large digital mph readout in the driver's information centre.

Finally, there's a good supply of storage boxes and cubbies (including a fair-sized, illuminated glovebox) peppered throughout the cabin; one is particularly intriguing the sliding lidded bin behind the gear lever has a false floor that folds back to provide extra depth; left down, it offers a safe haven underneath for hiding away small valuable items such as a wallet.

Doors open wide and once in rear passengers also enjoy good knee, foot and headroom; and three can fit in side-by-side although there's no centre armrest to make it more comfortable for just two. There are net magazine pockets on the front seatbacks. The rear seat is set low for the average adult, this puts the door capping level at shoulder height which combined with the 'sporty' glasshouse, means shallow rear windows.

Some passengers really liked the 'cosiness' this creates; others felt hemmed in. So try before you buy. Also, in Exclusiv trim you only get wind-up rear windows no real hardship but some PlayStation-generation youngsters might be puzzled by them!

Core equipment on the £20,120 Exclusiv this is only the second best of four specification levels (ES, Exclusiv, SRi, SE) includes AirCon, daytime running lights, powered front windows (both one-shot auto up/down), electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors, cruise control, central locking, radio/CD with MP3 and Aux-In, electric parking brake, drive-away automatic central locking, multifunction steering wheel and 60:40 spilt rear folding seats.

Additionally there's a full set of airbags (front, front-side and full-size curtain), active-safety front head restraints, Electronic Stability Programme, Vauxhall's comprehensive 100,000-mile lifetime warranty, roof rails and alloy wheels.

“Grip is good and it
feels planted
and precise, cornering
steadfastly and
steering well enough
to let you hold your
chosen line and thread
through bends smoothly
while carrying your
speed with you
Power comes from a 108bhp 1.7-litre ecoFLEX turbodiesel that puts out a healthy 191lb ft of torque from 1,700rpm. It's strong, fit for purpose and fuel efficient the official figures are 62.8mpg on the combined cycle, 51.4 for the urban and 72.4mpg extra-urban. Our week's real-life driving saw an average of 51.1mpg.

Seventy in top gear calls for an unstressed 2,000rpm on the rev-counter and it feels as though it will cruise peacefully and tirelessly all day at the legal limit. Emissions are a cost-cutting 119g/km which means you won't pay a penny for your first year's road tax and then only £30 a year thereafter.

Also standard is a six-speed manual 'box and making the most of the six ratios is no hardship because the change action is nicely positive. Acceleration from standstill to 60mph takes 12.2 seconds and the top speed is a perfectly acceptable 113mph.

Proof of the Sports Tourer pudding is how well it drives in spite of its load-lugging capacity. Potential customers will be glad to learn that it's genuinely good to drive thanks to a well-controlled body and a suspension set-up that's been tuned specially for our second-rate roads.

Grip is good and it feels planted and precise, cornering steadfastly and steering well enough to let you hold your chosen line and thread through bends smoothly while carrying your speed with you. In other words, it's sharp enough to be enjoyable tackling 'interesting' roads. Ride comfort is equally likeable lumps and bumps are smoothed out without fuss.

There's much to recommend this practical and very likeable estate, sorry… Sports Tourer: it's a good all-rounder both for work and family use; it also looks smart and serves up reassuring handling plus low running costs, all made even better by a comprehensive 100,000-mile lifetime warranty. A fine 'Griffin' for the Family Guy!

Astra Sports Tourer 1.7 CDTi (110ps) Exclusiv ecoFLEX | £20,120
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-60mph: 12.1 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 51.1mpg
Power: 108bhp | Torque: 191lb ft | CO2 119g/km