Priced from £16,585 on-the-road

Priced from £16,585 on-the-road

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Vauxhall can't seem to catch the Focus and Golf but the addition of the new estate is giving the griffin logo brand a strong sales boost, the Astra pulling past the VW Polo in June to become the UK's sixth best selling model.

While the June passenger vehicle market dipped by 0.8%, Vauxhall had three cars in the top ten, which was two more than the Volkswagen Group - the often overlooked number one OEM in Britain - and an additional model compared to second placed Ford of Britain. 

At the end of the first half of CY2016, the Fiesta leads, with 68,833 sales, followed by the Vauxhall Corsa (42,356), Focus (38,715), Golf (37,577), Qashqai (33,656), Vauxhall Astra (28,406), Polo (28,000), Mini (all models combined: 24,293), Vauxhall Mokka (22,462) and C-Class (22,069). 

Had the Sport Tourer not become available, the Polo would have kept the Astra from the number six slot, which demonstrates the importance of this additional body style to GM Europe in its largest market. It's also a timely boost for EP, GM-speak for the Ellesemere Port plant in England's north west, with all the uncertainty created by the result of the EU referendum over a month ago.

The Corsa might be Vauxhall's best seller but the Astra is key to GME's manufacturing operations in the UK. Gliwice in Poland also builds this model, but all three versions of the Sports Tourer are made solely at Ellesmere Port: Vauxhall, right-hand drive Opel and left-hand drive Opel. Production commenced in February, which was 3-4 months after build of the five-door hatchback got underway. Exports go to 25 other European countries with 52% of production heading outside the UK. There might also be shipments to NZ and Australia later in 2016.

There is a wide variety of engines available for the new estate, and this car will eventually be one of the many GM models to be fitted with a new 1.6-litre diesel. Opel's Tychy engine plant in Poland will produce this engine from 2017. A six-speed gearbox and turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine from the Adam and Corsa are two other powertrain novelties for the latest hatchback and estate Astras.

The new wagon is claimed to be up to 190kg lighter than the outgoing model. The bodyshell weight was reduced by 20 percent from 357 to 280 kilograms. Additional, chassis-related measures resulted in a further 50 kilograms being shed. These include high-strength and ultra-high-strength low-weight steels, compact subframes as well as weight reductions to the front and rear axles.

This was the first new Opel/Vauxhall to be available with OnStar, GM's personal connectivity and service assistant. This offers a broad range of safety and comfort services. For example, if an airbag deploys, OnStar is alerted and an advisor will then contact the vehicle to determine whether help is required. If there is no response, emergency responders are sent.

According to Vauxhall, drivers and passengers can reach OnStar 24/7 and 365 days a year, no matter whether they need roadside assistance or any other service. Furthermore, OnStar also makes the Astra a 4G LTE mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. Up to seven devices, from smartphones to tablets, can be connected simultaneously.

The car I tried came with the 1,598cc diesel and it was in 110PS form. Torque is 300Nm and that's delivered at 1,750-2,000rpm. Zero to 62mph takes 10.6 seconds, the top speed is 121mph and CO2 emissions are an almost unbelievable 89g/km. Losing all that weight is one of the main reasons for the incredible number but how about this - the Extra Urban average is 91.1mpg. In the real world, you're obviously looking at a less eyebrow-raising figure but even the worst official average, Urban, is 74.3mpg. Combined is 85.6. 

I was a big fan of the old Astra estate, especially after I drove one to the 2013 Frankfurt IAA and came home to south west England with neither a numb bum, sore back nor even a smidgen of dislike for this red biturbo estate. It was a good reminder of the fact that Vauxhalls are engineered as well, if not better than so many other German cars - on an autobahn this model felt immediately at home. 

Back in the UK, where the roads tend to have higher crowns for quicker rain-drain as well as more abrasive bitumen, the suspension set up of the former Sports Tourer was better than quite a few other C segment rivals. And so it continues with the new model. The boot will take as much as 1,630 litres of gear with the seats down, or 540 with them raised, and even on the run home from a garden centre with multiple bags of top soil piled high (and outside the wheelbase), it was hard to notice much deterioration in handling or roadholding. The loading/unloading height is also handily low and that's despite there being a well for the spare wheel under the boot floor.

About the only thing I'm not too keen on with the Sports Tourer is its side profile and that applies also to the hatchback. Is all that angularity an improvement on the old car? You can't say the designers were more occupied with boot space than styling as while 540 litres is a competitive volume, it's nowhere near as good as the class leading 642 of the Honda Civic Tourer. As often noted, looks are specific to us each, so while I prefer the lines of the Golf Estate, what's to say so many others won't instead go for the Astra or indeed, the Focus estate.

GME: now profitable, but what about sales numbers?

The latest statistics from ACEA show a European (EU27+EFTA) market up by 7% in June but Opel/Vauxhall underperformed, its combined registrations rising by 0.5% and market share dropped from 7.2% in June 2015 to 6.8% at present. However, for the year to date, share was stable at 6.7% and overall deliveries were up by 8.2% to 541,155 passenger vehicles versus just 500,291 for H1 of 2015.

The Europe-wide numbers will no doubt please a certain Mrs Barra, with Opel-Vauxhall's total rising at a faster rate than that for Ford of Europe (H1: +5.3%), even if the blue oval brand is still ahead with a total of 565,879. Remember too that June was the month when the Megane hit the French market so GM's brands did well to maintain an improvement - Renault's Europe-wide share surged by 21% to 9% versus 8% in June 2015. Meanwhile, the VW brand dropped from 11.8% in June 2015 to 11% in June and Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Jeep registrations surged but Groupe PSA brands flatlined or fell so there are some fascinating shifts taking place across Europe just now.

A facelifted and renamed Mokka may come too late (October) to prevent Opel-Vauxhall from retaking its place ahead of FCA (550,851 sales in H1), not to mention potentially being overtaken by BMW Group (up 16% and outselling GN Europe in June and a YtD tally of 533,541 BMWs and Minis). Daimler is a long way back, on 483,162.

What's coming next for the Astra?
The GTC, which is now five years old, will not be replaced. Why not? Blame the popularity of crossovers and SUVs for the decline of the segment in which the three-door hatchback competes. Another car which will likely be eventually phased out with no successor is the four-door Astra, which Opel markets with RHD in the Irish Republic and in LHD form in certain other EU markets (there is no Vauxhall). This is another vehicle class which is in decline even though some rivals, such as Renault, are trying a different tactic by calling the Fluence replacement the Mégane Grand Coupé. This will be sold in Northern Africa, Australia, the Middle East and some countries in western, central and eastern Europe.

Given the age of the current Astra, we won't see its replacement until 2021 and even the mid-life facelift is still two years away. But it's likely to shift to GM's C1xx architecture, as introduced by the new GMC Acadia (model code: C1UG) and Cadillac XT5 (C1UL). This is expected to steadily step in for Delta 2, which is the basis of most of GM's global C segment/Compact models, with the Astra known within General Motors as 'J-car'. Thus the development codes of D2JO ('Delta 2 platform, J-car, Opel') for the five-door hatchback, and D2JOW (Wagon) for the Sports Tourer.

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