Good: handsome, great seats, lovely cabin, roomy, sharp steering, good quality.
Not so good: tiny fuel tank, cabin still has some cheap patches.
I reckon that, in the long and occasionally flaky history of the European Car of the Year award, the Astra's 2015 win was one of the most deserving. After all, it's not merely that the current Opel Astra is in and of itself such a good car, but also that it came on the heels of a really rather dull and uninspiring predecessor. Taken in that context, its sharp zestiness is more refreshing still.
My only beef with the hatchback Astra is its styling. It looks sharp at the front, but that weird back end with the bulky rear three-quarters and that odd shark's fin C-pillar just doesn't look good to my eyes.
Well, with a quick shazaam we can do away with all that by converting the Astra into this handsome Sports Tourer estate model, which does away with the awkwardness at the rear and adds a hugely useful 540-litre boot. It does also get a chrome finisher that has a slightly uncomfortable resonance of the Adam's pointless seventies-pimp-mobile-esque 'Landau Roof', but as our car was silver, it kind of disguised that fact, so we'll gloss over it.
That boot is exceptionally good: 540 litres is lots in a mid-size family hatch-based estate (albeit somewhat less than you'd get in a Volkswagen Golf Estate or Skoda Octavia Combi) and the floor is flat and uncluttered. The electric tailgate fitted to our bells-and-whistles Elite-spec test car was also a nice touch, and there's even a switch on the front door panel that allows you to adjust how wide it opens so that you don't bash it off any low-hanging obstacles.
The rear seats are reasonably roomy (certainly better than quite a few of the competition) and then we get to the front and the Astra's front seats that are actually approved by the German Aktion Gesunder Rucken (which translates as the Campaign for Healthy Backs). They're firm, supportive and in this spec, both heated and cooled.
Actually, the whole cabin seemed to have had the options book lobbed at it from a minimum safe distance. Our Astra had OnStar (GM's built-in on-call service centre that can help you in an emergency or just book tickets for the theatre if you fancy. They can also help you find parking or a hotel, or just program your satnav by remote if you get hopelessly lost), Apple CarPlay, clever LED lights that auto-dim to avoid dazzling surrounding traffic and more.
All of that is arrayed in a cabin that looks very classy, arguably better than that of the vaunted Volkswagen Golf and which has the likes of the Ford Focus and the new Renault Megane well beaten for quality. That said, there is still some cheap-oid plastic around the place, and there's also a slight tinny, boomy quality to the cabin at speed that makes it seem a little less high-quality than it should do. Certainly, the new Megane, although its interior isn't half so impressive, has superior refinement.
Part of that is tyre noise, but part is also down to the engine. Now, Opel calls this 1.6 CDTi unit the 'Whisper Diesel', but actually, in reality, it's more like the 'Faint But Constant Grumble Diesel.' It must be said that it's a vast, vast improvement on the clattery old 1.7 unit that it replaced, and by the general class standards it's very impressive from a refinement point of view, but whispering is a bit of stretch.
It does have decent economy, though. You'll easily manage 55mpg and you might even tickle it over the 60mpg mark. You'll need to, too as the 48-litre fuel tank really is a bit on the small side.
What the engine does have is oodles of power. Well, torque really, 320Nm of the stuff, which is a lot for a 1.6-litre engine. With a relatively light body, even net of the estate car extension, that makes the Astra a sparkling performer. The 0-100km/h time does not tell the whole story, as once you're rolling there's almost hot-hatch-like thrust in the middle gears, and you can really exploit the Astra's sharp handling.
The steering, which, along with the nose of the car, feels a little light and detached at first, comes alive on a twisty road, has excellent feedback by electric power steering standards and makes the entire car feel rather wonderfully agile. The moderately higher weight and differing weight balance of the estate also seem to iron out the hatchback's tendency to feel slightly too lively and not well-tied-down at the back. Make no mistake; this is an Astra that runs the class champ Focus very, very close for driver engagement honours.
OK, so this Elite model is pretty pricey (€34k), but you could honestly do without a lot of the toys (do you really need a power tailgate? Or a sunroof? Or chilled seats? Or leather?) so you could find a version that's much better value. With the handling, comfort, space and performance boxes all ticked as well, that makes this Astra Sports Tourer a hugely compelling, and practical, family car.
Ford Focus Estate: handsome, Mondeo-esque lines and a sharp chassis, but the Astra's cabin is superior.
Peugeot 308 SW: stylish and good to drive, with a lovely cabin layout.
Skoda Octavia Combi: utterly massive inside with hefty build quality. Not quite as much fun to drive as the Astra though.