Let’s cut to the chase: the Astra is a very likeable car. Conventional in almost every respect, it’s been rising through the ranks for many years in Europe and is now a serious challenger to the brilliant-but-somewhat-flawed Ford Focus, which has led the market segment for nearly two decades.
And the Astra Sports Tourer, Opel’s latest estate car, is even better. You get the brilliant powertrains, pleasing handling and robust interior of the vanilla Astra, but with a potential 1,630 litres of storage space when you fold the seats down. If you’re not the kind of person to turn their nose up at a non-premium badge, the Astra is an excellent choice.
In fact, it’s only the badge that lets the Astra down in terms of image. The car is genuinely good-looking, upstaging the ageing Focus and its angular German rivals. Estate cars are seldom conventionally desirable (wait for the hot VXR version for that) but the Astra is pleasing all round.
That’s not to say that it matches the Germans in every respect, though. The interior has clearly been designed to be child-proof and is therefore less plush than more upmarket cars, but it feels like it will withstand the tests of family life.
This is hardly surprising given that estates are ostensibly all about practicality, and the Astra has plenty of it. Fold the seats down to create a van-like space, big enough for bikes and occasional garden-centre trips. The boot aperture itself is an unusual shape, though, and is awkward to wedge very large objects into. With the seats in place, the 540 litres of space you get is more than enough for day-to-day tasks.
Young families are a key target for Opel here. Some parents with young children like the elevated ride height of an SUV because of how easy it makes installing child seats, but if you don’t mind stooping then the Astra Sports Tourer offers Isofix mounts and enough space for grown-up children, too. The best all-round family car in the Opel stable remains the Meriva, though — if you want a do-everything family chariot, take one of these for a test drive.
However, it’s behind the wheel that the Astra Sports Tourer proves the biggest revelation. The driving characteristics represent probably the largest area of improvement for this particular model. Huge weight reductions make it much more nimble, as well as improving the ride quality and fuel economy.
Opel’s range of engines is impressive. The 1.6i 200PS (197bhp) petrol engine is particularly swift, capable of impressive tyre squeal and a reasonably brisk 0-100kph time of about 7.5 seconds.
The light steering detracts slightly from the overall feel of the car at speed, but this is fundamentally a practical, family orientated wagon, and around town it’s very easygoing to drive.
However, our test car had the optional larger alloys, which made the ride worse, while the parking sensors were somewhat hysterical.
Overall the Astra Sports Tourer is a decent all-round package, which will make a lot of sense for most families, but residuals aren’t necessarily the best in the business. However, good fuel efficiency and inexpensive servicing should keep running costs low.
Families who like the style and driving dynamics of the Astra — but need just that little bit of extra space — should look into the Astra Sports Tourer. But with incredibly strong competition from the French and German brands, as well as Hyundai and Kia, you can afford to shop around in this incredibly competitive family-car segment.