Lots of drama Down Under secures Sebastien Ogier his sixth straight WRC title
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Behind the fancy name, an Astra estate, I presume? Correct. The Sports Tourer is the inevitable wagon sister to the likeable (yeah, we’re as surprised as you are) Astra hatch which beat off the Mazda MX-5, Volvo VX90 and Jaguar XE, among ithers, to win the European Car of the Year 2016 crown. As our very own juror Paul Horrell has already explained, this is a gong it deserved not because the Astra is stunningly remarkable in any way, but because it’s a wild improvement over its predecessor and spot on for what many, many thousands of car users want from their daily transport. And is the estate – sorry, Sports Tourer – more of the same? Yes, broadly. In fact, having driven it back-to-back with the new Astra hatch, it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. Grafting a greenhouse onto the back hasn’t made the Astra noticeably more echoey and resonant inside – it’s still impressively quiet. Honestly, it’s Audi-quiet. Really? Audi is the pertinent brand to bring up here because the Astra, like the new A4 and Q7, doesn’t make any great claim to being a driver’s car. That’s left to the likes of Ford and Mazda in this class, just as BMW largely owns the game in the posher saloon segments. Instead, the Astra is unashamedly more soundproofed, softly damped, and pleasingly trimmed. It’s a high-quality cabin, extremely well insulated, and simply a very comfortable, agreeable place to spend long, long journeys. Like trudging the motorways of Europe as a part of a company fleet, say? Spot on. Small estate fleet cars, bought by companies for their employees rather than private, retail buyers is a 400,000-large market in Europe. Eighty – yes, eighty – per cent of Astra Sports Tourers will be thusly purchased. So the fact it’ll chomp through a three-hour motorway slog with such impeccable manners makes this as fit for purpose as, say, an Ariel Atom is for hooning around a track day like a demented go-kart. Engine highlights please. Where’s my VXR? Hah-hah, behave. Vauxhall doesn’t put the VXR badge on its wagons. If you want to go quick, your best bet is actually a 1.6-litre diesel version. This is not a wind-up. The Bi-Turbo motor is a real gem, using two-stage turbocharging to minimise lag, boost the powerband, and propel you to 62mph in less than 10 seconds and offer 67.3mpg. Really strong engine, this. Even past 3000rpm, where plenty of four-pot diesels start to sweat, this one’s still pulling, and doesn’t lose its composure. On the petrol side of the playing field, the 1.0-litre, three-pot turbo remains a peppy little gem. The highest praise I can give it is that a couple of times while stationary, I twisted the key attempting to start the motor, only to spot the rev counter sitting happily at 900rpm. Ah. It’s already running, idiot. That’s one hell of smooth-running three-cylinder. It’s practical too, right? Yes – the boot’s 540 litres large in regular, five-seater mode, which is up 40 litres on the old car. Flip the rear seats down, and though they don’t lie absolutely flat, the 1640-litre load bay is up 80 litres on the last Astra, and a miserly 10 litres less than a VW Golf Estate. The new platform has also carved out more headroom inside, plus a chunk more legroom for the back seats, while taking up no extra space on the road. And is it any fun whatsoever to drive? It’s not bad at all, mainly because it’s leagues lighter than before. Spec a new Sports Tourer sparingly and Vauxhall reckons it’ll be up to 190kg lighter than the old car. That’s a huge saving that makes handling, braking, agility and fuel economy night and day better than the old car. The average weight saving model-for-model is a still-mighty 130kg. Bravo indeed. Difficult car to get excited about, the Astra Sports Tourer, even with its clever OnStar dial-up assistant party piece. But cars like this will basically move half a Britain over the next decade. So it’s good to know the millions of miles undertaken behind its plusher dashboard will be comfortable, efficient, untaxing ones.