David Motton

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It offers more space and better cabin quality than its predecessor, but what tow car ability does the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer have? Let's find out

Overview

The latest Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer pulls offƒ a neat trick. It’s lighter than the old model, but provides more space for passengers and luggage.

Of course, reduced weight may improve economy and emissions, but it also makes for less favourable matching ratios.

More interior space is welcome, though. Vauxhall promises a step forward in cabin quality, along with safety and connectivity technology.

We’re testing the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6 CDTi BiTurbo in Elite Nav spec. It's a car that's been on Practical Caravan’s, a long-term fleet. But what tow car capabilities does it have?

Is it stable at speed and in emergency manoeuvres, despite its modest weight? And how well does it stack up as an estate car? Read on to find out!

Towing

We’ve said it before but it bears repeating – Vauxhall makes it unnecessarily difficult for customers to find out the kerbweight of its cars.

Just about every other manufacturer includes this important information in its brochures, but Vauxhall prefers to focus on the gross vehicle weight instead. Vauxhall does include the kerbweight in its handbooks, but you’ll need to know the engine code (not just its capacity and power output) to make sense of the information given.

It’s a mystery to us why Vauxhall is so unhelpful given the brand’s popularity among caravanners. Anyway, rant over!

Despite being the most powerful diesel model in the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer range, this tow car has a kerbweight of just 1435kg (including 75kg for the driver). This gives a modest 85% match figure of 1220kg.

It’s a fact of towing life that almost all new cars are lighter than the models they replace, though, and this weight still makes the Astra 81kg heavier than the Škoda Octavia Estate, for example.

The legal towing limit is 1700kg, so there’s nothing to stop more experienced caravanners towing tourers weighing between 85% and 100% of the kerbweight (both major clubs see 100% of the kerbweight as the sensible maximum for practised drivers).

We matched the Vauxhall to a 2008 Abbey Expression 560 with a Mass in Running Order of 1283kg, an 89% match. We had no concerns over stability when towing a tourer of this size and weight.

In strong crosswinds there were slight movements from the caravan, but these mostly ebbed away with no need for steering corrections from the driver. In still air the Astra tracked straight and true.

The Vauxhall backed up its respectable high-speed stability with a decent performance in our lane-change test. Even with the caravan sliding and rolling behind it, the Astra changed direction decisively and smoothly, never being pulled around by the wayward tourer.

Stability is matched to strong acceleration. Despite its modest 1.6-litre capacity, the biturbo engine has plenty of pulling power, with 258lb ft of torque delivered from 1500-2250rpm. Once peak torque arrives the engine pulls with determination.

We measured the 30-60mph acceleration at 11.3 seconds. The 50-60mph time of 10.1 seconds in fifth gear shows how flexible the twin-turbo diesel is.

Hill starts shouldn’t be a problem. This version of the Vauxhall Astra has an electronic parking brake, a feature that removes the need to guess how hard the handbrake needs to be applied.

There’s plenty of pull to cope with starting on a 1-in-6 gradient in the dry, although we wouldn’t be surprised if some more care is needed in the wet.

The brakes proved up to the job in an emergency, with a respectable stopping distance of 10.6 metres. We’ve tested some cars that stop more quickly, but plenty of others that take significantly longer.

It all adds up to a capable tow car. Yes, a little more kerbweight would benefit matching ratios and stability in crosswinds could be a little more secure, but overall the Astra is a sound tug.

Everyday driving

The Vauxhall Astra drives well in everyday situations. It’s neither the most sporting car of its kind, nor is it the most comfortable, but Vauxhall’s engineers have found a sensible middle ground.

One area that’s noticeably better compared with most recent Vauxhalls is the steering. Rather than a vague and sluggish response on either side of straight ahead, the Astra is much more crisp and immediate.

There’s not much feedback from the wheel but the steering is well weighted, light enough for easy parking but not so light that all sense of a connection with the front wheels is lost.

On country roads the Astra feels poised and in control. It corners neatly with little roll, although it isn’t as agile as a Mazda 3. The ride feels taut – sometimes a little too taut on shabbily surfaced roads – but for the most part it’s comfortable.

As you’d expect from a car with such healthy power and torque figures, performance is strong. The engine sounds strained when revved hard, but strong mid-range torque means that there’s rarely any need to go near the 5000rpm redline.

On the motorway, engine noise stays in the background, and wind and road noise aren’t in any way excessive.

More supple suspension would make the Astra better still, but the Vauxhall is an appealing daily drive.

Space

Vauxhall has done well to make the new Astra more practical on the inside than its predecessor, without becoming bigger on the outside.

We can’t see too many complaining about the Sports Tourer’s interior, even if it isn’t the roomiest car in the class.

Up front, the dashboard shows a welcome step forward in fit and finish compared with the previous-generation Astra. There are some hard plastics on the lower doors, but for the most part the cabin has a solid and upmarket feel.

The touchscreen infotainment system is pretty easy to use, and the air-conditioning controls have been kept separate.

Drivers of most shapes and sizes should find a comfortable position, with a wide range of adjustment for the seat and wheel. However, thinner front and rear windscreen pillars would improve visibility at junctions and when parking.

In the back, the Astra has plenty of head and legroom, even for tall adults. There are some useful touches, such as the two USB ports between the front seats for charging phones and tablets. However, it’s a shame there are no air vents in the door pillars or between the front seats to keep rear-seat passengers cool.

The boot’s 540-litre capacity is well beaten by the Škoda Octavia Estate’s 610 litres or the Honda Civic Tourer’s 627 litres. However, the Civic’s capacity includes space under the floor, so the Vauxhall’s main cargo compartment is more competitive than it first appears.

There’s also no load lip to lift bags over. In addition, the boot floor is low to the ground, making loading and unloading easy.

The back seat is split 60/40, and folds down at the flick of switches either side of the tailgate. With the seats lowered there’s a slight slope to the load floor and 1630 litres of space.

So, it trails the Octavia Estate in terms of outright space, but the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer is nonetheless a very practical car.

Running costs

Elite Nav spec makes this the top-of-the-range diesel Astra Sports Tourer, with a price of £24,255. That’s broadly in line with the price of a mid-spec Volkswagen Golf Estate.

According to our colleagues on What Car?, haggling should drop the price by more than £2000, making the Astra even better value than it first appears.

Your money buys a long list of standard kit. Unsurprisingly, the ‘Nav’ bit of the model name means that sat-nav is included in the price.

Front foglights, 17in alloys, leather trim, heated front and outer rear seats, cruise control, all-round electric windows, and OnStar (which offers in-car connectivity including Wi-Fi) are included. Safety kit is comprehensive, and the Astra has earned a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.

For a car with a respectable turn of speed, the Astra promises excellent fuel economy with an official combined figure of 67.3mpg. Towing on a mixture of roads, from suburban streets to country roads to motorways, we saw a 29.7mpg average.

Resale values aren’t especially strong, with What Car? predicting that the Astra will be worth just 38% of its list price after three years and 36,000 miles. However, the Astra’s keen price, generous equipment and economy all count in its favour.

Technical specs

Engine size1598 cc
Kerbweight1435 kg
85% KW1220 kg
Towball limit75 kg
Maximum towing limit1700 kg
Power158.0 bhp
Torque258.0 lb ft
Official MPG67.3 mpg
CO2112 g/km
30-60mph11.3 seconds
30-0mph10.6 m

Verdict

We were happy to welcome the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer to our long-term test fleet.

Yes, it’s relatively light. But the same goes for most of its rivals. Matched sensibly, it tows very well.

It would score even more highly if it were a touch more resistant to crosswinds. Otherwise we can find little to complain about.

The engine strikes a good compromise between pulling power and fuel efficiency, and the Astra coped easily with our toughest testing manoeuvres.

It’s a satisfying car to drive every day, too. Sharp bumps and inconsistent road surfaces reveal a firm side to the Vauxhall’s suspension, but overall it rides comfortably enough.

The benefit of this taut feel is able handling when the road starts to twist and turn. Refinement is good, too, without too much engine, wind or road noise on the motorway.

Anyone trading in an old Astra will immediately spot the improvement in cabin quality. The interior is appealing, and the finish is generally of a high standard.

There’s plenty of space, too, whether travelling in the front or the rear. The boot opening is wide and there’s lots of luggage room. Not as much as the biggest boots in the class, perhaps, but enough to keep most families happy on tour.

It is good value, too, and running costs should be low.

So it’s not a clear class leader, but the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer is among the best family estates.

Conclusion

Pros

  • It proved powerful, practical and efficient
  • Spec levels are good and it's keenly priced

Cons

  • It's a touch light? But so are its rivals
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