The new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer promises to boost the appeal of the new Astra still further. Bolstering Vauxhall's 12.6 per cent of the UK market share (latest SMMT figures), 12,465 Astras were registered in September 2010, and a total of 38,220 new 5-door Astra Hatches have found UK homes since the model launched in December 2009.
As a result, the Astra Hatch is now the best-selling car overall in the Lower-Medium sector (YTD 2010) and during September alone topped both LM retail and fleet charts, taking 15.74 and 19.70 per cent of sales respectively. Like its Mid-Size sibling, the Insignia, the Astra is proving more popular with retail customers than ever, while still enduring as a firm fleet favourite by providing Vauxhall customers with a compelling mix of perceived quality and fine driving dynamics.
Illustrating the depth of Vauxhall's engineering and manufacturing excellence in the UK, the Sports Tourer will be assembled solely at Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire, while its new upper-body structure has been 100 per cent engineered at Vauxhall Engineering Centre in Bedfordshire. And like the recently launched Astra hatch, the Sports Tourer will feature key dynamic elements tuned for UK roads.
Practicality & Equipment
Packed with clever features, the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer maintains the hatch's wheelbase (2685mm), yet its superior packaging has allowed the maximum load length to be increased by 28mm to 1835mm, and its load volume by 30 litres to 500 litres with the rear seats up.
As well as boasting a cargo area with flat wall linings to fully optimise available space, a new FlexFold feature (standard or optional depending on trim level) allows each section of the 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks to be lowered at the press of a button housed in the walls of the cargo compartment. In addition, with the rear seat cushions folded up against the front seat-backs, the Sports Tourer has a completely flat load floor and a maximum load capacity of up to 1550 litres.
Completing the functionality of the rear cargo area is a two-touch luggage compartment cover. This easy access cover slides upwards and out of the way with a simple tap to load or remove smaller items. But for larger loads the cover retracts completely into a cassette, coming to a soft stop. When not needed, the complete assembly can be removed and stored below the load floor of the cargo space.
But improved interior practicality doesn't stop there. Compared with the current Astra estate, the Sports Tourer has an additional 25 litres of storage space in the cabin, 50 per cent more than before. And like its hatch sibling, the Sports Tourer also benefits from the option of Vauxhall's award winning Ergonomic Sports Seats, providing front occupants with best-in-class comfort.
The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer's exterior design aims to raise the bar in the compact-estate market, bringing a touch of class and dynamism, without compromising the car's high levels of practicality. The tapered profile, falling roofline and prominent 'blades' set into the sides of the car are complemented by a muscular shoulder line, which leads gracefully into eye-catching sculpted rear light units.
Inside, occupants will benefit from the same embracing, premium cabin as in the new Astra hatch, with features like the wraparound wing front fascia and unique ambient lighting.
From launch, Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer buyers will have a choice of seven frugal, yet lively engines, with an ultra-low emissions, Start/Stop-equipped ecoFLEX model available soon afterwards.
The petrol line-up starts with the 100PS 1.4i ECOTEC-4 with variable valve timing and sequential fuel injection, while a 1.6i ECOTEC-4 with 115PS is also available. The Sports Tourer's most powerful petrol engine will be the smooth and punchy 1.4i Turbo which produces 140PS, yet achieves a combined fuel consumption of 46.3mpg and C02 emissions of 144g/km.
A new ecoFLEX model will be available soon after launch and will be one of the first Vauxhall models to get Start/Stop technology. Based on the 1.3 CDTi 95PS engine, the ecoFLEX features a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) and variable geometry turbocharger.
Two 1.7-litre CDTis, with either 110 or 125PS, and a 160PS 2.0 CDTi, which combines high performance with 55.4mpg combined economy and emissions of just 134g/km, complete the Sports Tourer's diesel engine range.
From the start of the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer's development, Vauxhall's target was to maintain current levels of ride and handling enjoyed by the five-door hatch. As a consequence, its wheelbase remains the same at 2685mm, as do its front and rear tracks (1544 and 1588mm respectively).
Also carried over is the hatch's innovative compound crank/Watt's link rear suspension, which combines exceptional body control and ride characteristics and is unique to Vauxhall/Opel. For the Sports Tourer, the compound crank's settings have been revised, as have damper calibrations, to cater for the model's higher load capabilities without compromising the hatch's dynamics.
Vauxhall has also carried over the steering settings from the hatch, which are bespoke to all new UK Astras. This programme offers drivers a more natural feel, thanks to careful tuning of the car's electronic power steering system.
FlexRide, Vauxhall's adaptive suspension system, is also available as an option on the Sports Tourer. The system continuously adapts to changes in driving style and cornering speed. In Standard mode, FlexRide offers the whole bandwidth of settings available and adjusts to suit the driver's behaviour. In Tour mode, damper settings are relaxed to optimise ride quality, while in Sport mode, throttle and steering responses are sharpened, in addition to the adoption of stiffer damper settings.
For customers who tow, the Sports Tourer will be available with Vauxhall's electronic Trailer Stability Assist system, which subtly brakes individual wheels to maintain control of the trailer/caravan in emergency situations.
Range & Pricing
The new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer will enter UK showrooms on November 26, 2010 priced at just Â£16,575, over Â£500 less than the current entry-level Astra Estate, yet incorporating a long list of additional standard kit.
The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer range starts with the 1.4 (100PS) ES model, which gains an extra 10PS of power over the equivalent 1.4 Astra Estate. It also adds: air conditioning, curtain airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESP), Electronic Parking Brake (EPB), an aux-in socket and Active Safety Front Head Restraints, all as standard.
Better still, the Sports Tourer's premium over the 5-door hatch model starts from just Â£995, for which customers benefit from a larger cargo area (500 versus 470 litres, with rear seats up), despite retaining the same wheelbase as the new hatch.
Diesel pricing is equally aggressive, with the entry-level 110PS 1.7 CDTi ES Sports Tourer costing less than the outgoing 90PS 1.3 CDTi Astra Estate Life, yet packing more power and benefiting from sub-120g/km C02 emissions.
The Sports Tourer range comprises four trim levels: ES, Exclusiv, SE and SRi, but adds a variety of standard and optional equipment, including FlexFold, which allows each section of the 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks to be lowered at the press of a button housed in the walls of the cargo compartment.
Packed with clever features, the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer maintains the hatch's wheelbase (2685mm), yet its superior packaging has allowed the maximum load length to be increased by 28mm to 1835mm, and its load volume by 30 litres to 500 litres (when fitted with the optional tyre inflation kit) with the rear seats up. The cargo area's load height is just 630mm - a real boon when lifting heavy items over the rear bumper - and there is up to 73 litres of additional storage space beneath the cargo floor.
The Sports Tourer's cargo area has flat wall-linings, with no wheel-arch intrusions or side shelves to hamper easy access. The tailgate and load-bay are also exactly the same width, making loading a straightforward and hassle-free process. All Sports Tourers benefit from chrome tie-down loops and full carpeting in the cargo area, as well as a 12v socket and pull-down grab handles on either side of the tailgate.
A new FlexFold feature (standard or optional depending on trim level) allows each section of the 60:40 split-fold rear seatbacks to be lowered at the press of a button housed in the walls of the cargo compartment, without having to re-position seat belts or head rests. In addition, with the rear seat cushions removed altogether - a unique feature in this class - the Sports Tourer has a completely flat load floor and a maximum load capacity of up to 1550 litres.
Completing the functionality of the rear cargo area is a two-touch luggage compartment cover, standard on all models. This easy access cover slides upwards and out of the way with a simple tap to load or remove smaller items. But for larger loads the cover retracts completely into a cassette, coming to a soft stop. When not needed, the complete assembly can be removed and stored below the load floor of the cargo space.
The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer also benefits from the following two optional items:
Luggage Compartment Liner - The cargo floor carpeting, the tailgate opening and the rear bumper can all be easily protected by a new floor mat that has been rubberised on one side. This is tailored to cover the rear floor and can be unfolded/folded both longitudinally and transversely to cover parts of the cargo deck, including the rear seat backs when lowered.
DESIGN, ENGINEERING & MANUFACTURING
With lines penned by Brit, Mark Adams' design team, the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer aims to raise the bar for aesthetics in the UK's compact estate market, without compromising its high levels of practicality.
As with the Insignia, Astra Hatch and latest Meriva, a prominent 'blade' is reinterpreted into the sides of the Sports Tourer, complementing the car's tapered profile and falling roofline. A muscular shoulder line, which leads gracefully into sculptured rear light units, completes the picture
"Our key aim with the Astra Sports Tourer was to achieve a well-balanced shape that communicates the car's athletic qualities without compromising its functional capabilities," says Mark Adams, Vice President Opel/Vauxhall Design. "An estate's looks are traditionally characterised by functional requirements. With the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer we have created a vehicle that meets all those functional needs but wraps them in a beautifully tailored elegant design."
UK engineering excellence turns stunning design into production reality
Once Mark's design team had completed their work, 100 per cent of the engineering required to make the car a production reality was handed over to Vauxhall Engineering Centre (VEC), based at Millbrook in Bedfordshire.
Led by Engineering Group Manager, Andy Hitchcock, VEC's team started work on the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer's body-engineering in 2006, managing the design, development and validation of all its upper structure and closures before the car's final launch this year. Virtual engineering was used to prove panel formability, welding access, crash strength and durability/fatigue, before prototype parts became available late in 2009. At this point, each spotweld on the Sports Tourer's body was checked for position and presence, along with the fine-tuning necessary to ensure exceptional panel fit.
Since everything aft of the Sports Tourer's B-pillar is unique from the Hatch model, the engineering programme included complete re-designs of the C-Pillar, roof panel, rear side assemblies and the rear-end panel, as well as developing the car's all-new tailgate. Seals, trims and hinges were also designed and engineered by VEC's team.
While the functionality of these elements was VEC's responsibility, the team was also tasked with creating a structure that met the most stringent crash tests, ensuring that the Sports Tourer could, for example, pass Euro NCAP's 29 and 35km/h side impact tests with flying colours, which it achieved with ease.
Ellesmere Port - home of Vauxhall's compact cars for nearly five decades
For 46 years, Ellesmere Port has been the manufacturing home of every compact class Vauxhall sold in the UK, and is now set to become the sole factory for not only all RHD versions of the new Astra Sports Tourer, but also all Opel versions sold across Europe.
The current Astra is the tenth generation of compact car to be built at Ellesmere. It opened its lines to the original Vauxhall Viva HA in 1963, and went on to produce a further two Viva models, the Chevette and then each successive Astra in five door and Astravan form.
General Motors' plan to locate its revolutionary production facility at Ellesmere Port in 1961 was a vital shot in the arm for the economy in England's Northwest region. Based on a 440-acre, ex-RAF station, the plant now employs 2200 people and has, in total, produced nearly 4.5 million vehicles since that first Viva HA rolled of its lines
Today, the current Vauxhall Astra is the best-selling UK-built car in Britain, and thanks to Ellesmere Port's ultra-modern and efficient infrastructure - which in the last 17 years has received nearly Â£1 billion of GM investment - that success is set to continue.
SAFETY, INNOVATION & EQUIPMENT
With bi-xenon headlamps, AFL+ can be specified on all new Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourers, except ES and Exclusiv models, as part of a Premium Forward Lighting Pack. This also includes High Beam Assist, automatic headlight-beam switching, LED daytime running lights and headlamp washers. AFL+ includes a total of nine functions, each automatically engaged to suit prevailing road profiles and driving conditions
Occupant safety has played a major role in the new Astra Sports Tourer's development, and a comprehensive set of active and passive safety systems are standard an all models.
All Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourers are fitted with dual-front seat belt pre-tensioners, which provide over the shoulder and across the occupant's lap. They are pyrotechnically activated to restrain forward body movement in the event of a severe impact.
Other standard safety equipment includes two front airbags, two side airbags and a pair of roof rail-mounted airbags that cover the entire glass area between the A- and C-pillars. Three, three-point seatbelts are provided for rear seat passengers, and the front passenger-side airbag can be de-activated if the seat is occupied by a rear-facing child seat.
Whenever the airbags and pre-tensioners are deployed, a series of additional safety features is activated: the hazard warning lights come on; all doors unlock; the interior lights illuminate; and the heating/ventilation fan and fuel pump are both switched off.
The latest generation active head restraints, developed from those on the Insignia, are fitted as standard to all models, and provide enhanced protection from whiplash injuries if the car suffers a rear-end impact.
Other occupant safety features include:
Seatbelt reminder - with audible warning. Operates on both front seats
Vauxhall's target was to produce best-in-class seating for all new Astra models, with special attention paid to comfort, position, range and protection during an accident.
The front seats offer the industry's best range of adjustment, with fore and aft movement extending to 280mm. The driver's seat is also adjustable for height by up to 65mm and the steering wheel can also be adjusted for reach and rake, ensuring that drivers of virtually all shapes and sizes will feel comfortable and in control.
Ergonomic Sports Seats are offered as an option across most trim levels. The driver's seat features a six-way adjustment, a four-way adjustment of the powered lumbar support and an extendable seat cushion.
On SRi models, the Ergonomic Sports Seats are available in leather, together with heating for the front seats.
The new Astra Sports Tourer offers a class-leading choice of infotainment and communications systems. Audio packages offer four to eight speakers, ranging in power from 80 to 350 Watt's. A DAB-enabled radio is available with all trims. The complete range comprises one audio package and one navigation system:
CD 400 (Standard)
Seven premium speakers
Superb sound reproduction from auxiliary amplifier
Choice of connection via wireless BlueTooth
Illustrating Vauxhall's commitment to developing its cars specifically for British roads and drivers, the new Astra Sports Tourer has adopted the Astra Hatch's bespoke UK steering settings developed in conjunction with the Vauxhall Engineering Centre, based at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire.
And continuing Vauxhall's trend for innovation, its engineers have again employed the patented compound crank rear axle layout with Watt's link used in the Astra Hatch, which supports lateral forces during cornering. For the Sports Tourer, spring and damper rates have been revised to cater for the potential of heavier loads being carried.
The optional FlexRide adaptive damping system, first seen in the European Car of the Year-winning Insignia and rare in the compact class, adjusts the suspension character automatically depending on drivers' needs, while also offering three programmable damper settings.
Enhancing this sophisticated system is an increase in the Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer's torsional body stiffness of 18 per cent, and of 10 per cent in bending stiffness, compared with the outgoing Astra Estate, improving the car's handling and ride quality, as well as making a significant reduction in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
Advanced front suspension design and clever Watt's link at rear for superb dynamics
The Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer's suspension layout combines MacPherson strut front suspension with the Hatch model's clever compound crank rear axle with a Watt's link.
Front suspension is by MacPherson strut, with de-coupled top mountings that separate the paths of spring and damper loadings. To reduce unsprung weight and improve weight distribution, the combined strut carrier and the lower control arm are made from aluminium and the anti-roll bar is formed from hollow-section steel.
For optimum stability, the L-shaped control arm is attached through two bushings to the front sub-frame. The suspension geometry, and the tuning of the bushes, is designed to provide both lateral stiffness and longitudinal compliance for excellent handling and good ride comfort. The rearmost bushing of the L-arm is also hydraulically damped for excellent road isolation.
The Astra Sports Tourer's unique compound crank/Watt's link rear suspension system has many advantages over a multi-link design, including improved packaging, greater wheel camber stiffness and less lower suspension friction. It also creates less camber loss due to body roll, while the Watt's link ensures that lateral stability is maintained.
The torsion beam of the patented compound crank axle is attached between the trailing links, about half way between the axle bush and the rear wheel. The open, U-shaped profile between the attachment points has now been lengthened and the wall thickness generally increased to provide more roll stiffness. In addition, beams with different wall thicknesses are fitted to give the required roll-steer characteristics.
The Watt's link is carried on a small cross-member attached to the underside of the car, just behind the rear wheel centre line. It comprises a short, pivoting centre link with a ball joint at each end, to which the lateral links from the wheels are bolted.
In a straight line, the set up ensures excellent stability, but during cornering it minimizes lateral deflection in the same way a modern multi-link system would do. Vauxhall's engineers estimate that the new linkage absorbs around 80 per cent of all lateral loadings on the rear suspension. In addition, the Watt's link reduces axle bush loads to allow softer bushings, which further isolate occupants from road noise and vibration.