Sports Tourer? What's wrong with the word estate? We like estates. They're nearly always better to drive than the SUVs people tend to buy instead. The best of them send good visual messages too. The best of them speak of having it all: fine dynamics, space enough to have a life, and a slinky fuselage. For us, the word estate does not connote anything negative. Why does Vauxhall insist on ‘Sports Tourer'?
Because of the old Vauxhall Astra Estate, and all the many generations of Astra Estates before that. They were so boxy that, merely by replacing the rear-end glass and omitting the back doors, behold, you had an Astravan. The Astra Estate sold to working fleets. It was the dreary wheels of commerce.
The new one shows an equal devotion to the carriage of bulky exhibition materials between trade shows across the nation. Its flat-floored cargo bay is actually bigger than an Insignia wagon's, provided you go to the obsessive lengths of replacing the spare wheel with an inflation kit and you leave the rear seat cushions back at the office. And it's not just space, it's easily used space, with a versatile load-cover and electric latches for the backrests.
But, playing to the rest of us, it's remarkably handsome. The tailgate has a classy swoop to it, the lights snake their way around the corners and there's a shoulder line over the rear wheelarches that, if viewed from the correct angle, is almost foxy.
The new Astra is too bloated as a hatchback. It's long without being roomy. The Sports Tourer makes sense of it, by liberating the space without losing the car's other attributes.
Which are? Number one, it drives well. This SRi has a well-controlled chassis. It corners with authority, making well-damped and accurate progress through roads that are tricky enough to be interesting, even when you don't have much power. The only issue is the steering, which goes where you aim it, but feels very electric. In other words, feels of very little at all.
It rides nicely too, even with the SRi chassis on biggish wheels. That's a vast improvement over the old Astra. And it's quiet. The cabin is one of the better ones in the class: nicely assembled, free of gimmicks, but not dull.
Be careful choosing engines. The 1.4 Turbo kicks out 140bhp and with better than average civility. But that's the top petrol at the moment. GM is still a year or more from its new direct-injection petrols to compete on power and economy with the Ford EcoBoost and Mini/Peugeot/Citroen 1.6s. The Astra's other petrols struggle in a car this heavy. If you want performance and can take a bit of rattle, go for the 1.7 or 2.0 diesels. But then things start to get a bit more expensive...
We like: Our bum doesn't look big in this
We don't like: Only one decent petrol engine
TopGear verdict: Small estates don't sell well, but if it saves you buying a big one, why not?
Performance: 0-62mph in 9.5secs, max 125mph, 46.3mpg
Tech: 1364cc, 4cyl, FWD, 140bhp, 148lb ft, 1407kg, 144g/km CO2
Tick this on the options list: DAB radio, £155
And avoid this: Plasticky leather, £1,025