Vauxhall Astra Tourer - iDrive

It's time to look beyond the badge

Vauxhalls sell despite its name, rather than because of it and that makes the company’s UK sales success all the more remarkable: one-in-eight cars leaving British showrooms carry a griffin badge.

For some reason – Clarkson’s infamous review of the old Vectra, some dull models in the past, a lack of celeb glam, maybe – Vauxhall is a name that carries little cachet. And yet, it sells lots of cars, which rather suggests that, like a fine racehorse labouring under a weighty handicap, it has to try just that bit harder to beat the opposition.

So it is with the new Astra estate, or “Tourer” as the firm likes to call it. “Tourer” is a name traditionally associated with BMW estates, so maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised to see that the Astra estate, from most angles, resembles a shrunken 3-Series Tourer, right down to the “Hofmeister kink”, long a BMW hallmark – the characteristic way the window line kicks back at the rear. Indeed, returning from the Geneva motors I was struck by how many manufacturers want to ape the BMW style. Sad, but true.

That said, it is not entirely bad thing. Astra estates used to be boxy and boring and this isn’t. It’s stylish, in a plagiaristic sort of way and the version I sampled felt sporty, though it isn’t that fast in absolute terms. It was superbly finished and gives nothing away to a Golf for quality. Indeed it isn’t so far behind a BMW. In a fiercely competitive sector, Vauxhall is obviously striving for the elusive premium feel as well as the looks of the upmarket German brands. I particularly liked the soft lighting for the vanity mirrors, a feature I first noticed on a Range Rover about a decade ago and which has now trickled down from the exec cars, like sat-nav and electric parking brakes.

By the way, the Astra Tourer also takes plenty of clobber (1,550 litres worth) with the rear seats folded and the carpet in the boot was plusher than the one in my living room. My only niggle was with the “hill start assist", where the electric handbrake is automatically engaged to stop the car rolling back on an incline, which it did, but only for a few seconds. It seemed futile to me. Mind you, if it was in a BMW I would probably hail it as a superbly intuitive technical leap forward. Such are preconceptions – and they remain Vauxhall’s big problem.

VAUXHALL ASTRA SPORTS TOURER

Price: from £16,575 (£21,955 1.4T SRi tested)

Engine capacity: 1364cc (4cyl, 16-valve)

Power output (PS @ rpm): 140@4900

Top speed (mph): 125 0-60 mph (seconds): 9.5

Fuel economy (mpg): 46.4

CO2 emissions (g/km): 144



THE COMPETITION

The obvious one will be the new Focus estate, though not out for ages yet. For now the VW Golf or the Renault Megane offer much the same package. Though old now, the Skoda Octavia estate offers, pictured, more space and better value. Kia’s cee’d SW is assured for 7 years, and Hyundai’s i30 for 5, against Vauxhall’s 100,000 “lifetime” warranty.

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