By on March 10, 2014

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Recently, Mark Reuss told media that he would like GM to have an American wagon. If this happens, the prime candidate is the Chevy Cruze Wagon, which already exists – and is also offered with diesel engine and manual transmission. But what if GM wanted something more upscale? What if Reuss’ dream wagon is meant to be a Buick?

Several cars in the Buick line are siblings to European Opels (or Vauxhalls, in Great Britain). Two of them are also available as wagons – the Insignia Sports Tourer is basically Buick Regal Estate Wagon, and the Opel Astra Sports Tourer would make, with some re-badging, a nice Buick Verano Estate Wagon. The Astra/Verano is probably the better candidate for the American wagon, since it’s almost as roomy inside as Regal/Insignia (with seats folded flat, it actually has more cargo space), and is significantly cheaper.

Why not go all the way, and make it a sporty diesel, manual wagon. Last year, the Astra’s engine line-up was enhanced by addition of the 190hp 2.0 CDTI Biturbo version. Actually, it’s more than just an engine option – Biturbo comes as  a separate equipment level, somewhere half-way between ordinary Astras and the full-on sporty OPC version. It doesn’t have the same clever Hi-Per strut front suspension the OPC and GTC (that’s the three door hatch coupe version), but it’s been lowered, fitted with stylish 18” wheels and dual exhaust tips, special seats and a trick front spoiler.

The core of the Biturbo package is the engine. Two-liter diesel plant with common-rail direct injection offers some 190 horsepower and 235 lb-ft (320 Nm) sent to the front wheels through the six-speed manual gearbox. That puts the Astra Biturbo right on the border of the diesel hot hatch/hot wagon territory – but the Biturbo is not nearly so ostentatious. In fact, seeing that it’s not called the “OPC diesel”, it seems that Opel really wanted it to be more of a fast GT than a realy sports wagon.

The Biturbo’s exterior is quite restrained – no wings or flares or vivid paint to tell everyone you bought “the fast one”. Thanks to the slightly different front bumper, large (and really pretty) wheels and lowered ride height, the Biturbo looks more handsome than “ordinary” Astras, but unless parked beside one, most people will never notice why it even looks different. They’ll just like it a bit more than they usually like Astras. It makes for a wonderful sleeper.

Once you open the door, things change. The seats with red highlights and a silly “tire tread” motif seem incongruous with the discreet exterior. And I suspect that older people will have slight problem getting out of the front ones, since they’re really heavily sculpted.

But as the driver, you will probably love them. They offer lots of support, and even the base version is widely adjustable (you can add more adjustment as an option). I would really like to have an adjustable headrest, as it was too much forward, but overall, the seats are nice. And it gets even better once you reach for the wheel. The fact that it’s adjustable both in rake and reach is pretty much normal these days, but most cars are lacking in the range of adjustment. If you like to sit in the “proper” position, with the steering wheel high and close to your chest, and the backrest as vertical as you can bear, you run into all sorts of problems – usually with not enough range. In the Astra, it took me just a few moments to find a nearly perfect driving position. And the steering wheel’s thickness and diameter was spot-on as well, although the shape was not. I have never understood what was wrong about steering wheels being round… this ain’t no racecar, dudes!

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Remember everything you heard about the modern diesels being so refined you hardly even know that you’re not running on gas? This is not the case, even though the Astra uses a very sophisticated common-rail system. The Biturbo two-liter may sound more refined than the old N/A plants from W123 or W124 Benzes, but it isn’t that much quieter.

Shifting into first brings much more positive thoughts. The shifter action is light and quite precise. Maybe not the best in the business, but certainly pleasant to use. Leaving the parking lot, you notice the first difference between the Biturbo and ordinary Astra, in the form of loud scratching sound when the front splitter hits the ground for the first of many times. In the beginning, you drive slow and carefully to prevent this from happening. Then, you realize it’s pointless exercise and just wonder when you’ll rip it off (as I found out later, Opel employees bolted the splitter to the bumper to prevent journos from losing it somewhere).

From a European perspective, the Astra feels massive inside. Compared competitors like the Ford Focus or Renault Mégane, it seems to be just so much bigger – which gives you a feeling of safety, but also makes parking quite tricky. If you’re buying one, don’t forget to add both front and rear parking sensors, or, better yet, a back-up camera.

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I may have criticized the Tesla Model S for having no tactile controls, but the Astra is at the other end of the spectrum. There’s incomprehensible sea of buttons, captioned with confusing acronyms. If you’re new to the car, you will be hopelessly lost. I did find myself acclimating to this layout as I drove it, but I’d be worried if that didn’t happen.

Quibbles aside, the Astra is a nice car to drive. Even with the Biturbo’s stiffer suspension and on large 18” wheels, it’s reasonably supple. Hit the sport button and you’re treated to less steering assistance, quicker accelerator response and the red glow of the instruments – of, and the adjustable dampers firm up, making the ride a bit more brittle. Luckily, you can disable any of these. I really hated the red instruments.

While most of the diesel hot hatches seem stuck on getting the best Nurburgring lap time – and suffering for it in the real world- the Astra feels more grown-up, more comfortable . On our drive into the twisties, with sport mode on and the radio turned down, the Astra delivered a competent, but not exactly exhilirating performance. Handling was fairly neutral, even with the heavy diesel engine up front. Like most modern racks, the steering has a bit of a dead-zone on-center, but it’s well weighted. The clutch and gear change are all nicely done.

But American wagon enthusiasts need to temper their expectations. This is not a fiesty hot hatch like the Focus ST. It feels much more like a GT, at home on highways rather than back roads, and all its heft – perceived or real (it weighs about 3700 lbs) makes it feel like it was meant to be a Buick from the beginning.

The only trouble is that once you get to cruising speed and the engine noise fades into background, it’s replaced by even more unpleasant road and aerodynamic noise. At typical A-road speed of 50-70mph, it’s a bit annoying, but not terrible. At highway speeds of 80 or 90mph, it starts to bother you. And if you’re in the hurry and try to keep the Astra at 110-120mph, it’s hard to even listen to the radio.

Fuel economy is one area that doesn’t disappoint. At a typical relaxed pace (55-60mph on major roads), the Astra can get over 40 mpg. And only when driven really hard in the twisties, with the pedal to the metal on each and every straight and the speedo needle sometimes nudging 100mph, it barely gets under 20mpg. High-speed, cruising with speeds in the triple digits brought similar numbers.

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 But, would the diesel Verano (GSD, maybe?) be a good car for America? I’m not sure. First of all, the economics for a diesel passenger car rare make sense with fuel prices so low (yes, I know, resale and all that matters too). And as much as North Americans may fetishize the idea of a diesel performance wagon, I’m not sold on the tradeoffs in refinement that the Biturbo Astra requires. In Europe, this car costs as much as a Ford Focus ST wagon, which is much faster, much more fun and not much worse on fuel when cruising on the highway.

But if you’re really hell bent on getting a diesel, manual wagon, this would be a nice choice.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic, who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz and serves as editor-in-chief at www.USmotors.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives a borrowed Lincoln Town Car. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

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38 Comments on “Review: 2014 Opel Astra Manual Diesel Wagon...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    Forget the diesel, just bring the wagon as a Buick. Keep the stick, so the gear heads can fantasize about it – even though no Buick dealer will ever order one. There must be one with w Buick grill already in China, so it won’t take much..

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      Check out the Vauxhall VXR8 touring, looks just like the Regal except the emblem.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      I agree with keeping the stick, but gotta keep the diesel as an available option ala Cruze. This would be especially interesting if Buick had the presence of mind to allow for multiple variations; i.e., Grand National twin-turbo AWD version. Totally plush, CRD diesel Roadmaster. And of course, the Antartic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the C.B. and optional rally fun pack.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    190HP and 3700lbs would test the mettle of even the hardiest brown diesel wagon fan

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Opel Astra, you’re (Vera)no Buick station wagon.

    Unless it is going to have faux wood trim, a rear facing third seat, 10 FT of rear overhang, a pushrod V8 and a Vista skylight then don’t even try.

    I’m not saying that the conditions exist to bring back the Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon. GM does not have a BOF car platform. The Roadmaster Estate Wagon actively repels the soccer moms that actually buy these kinds of vehicles new. CAFE. New car buyer NVH and safety expectations.

    I’m just saying don’t tarnish its legacy.

    People don’t want premium wagons anyway. They want CUVs for that money. That’s why the Cruze wagon makes more sense. “You mean I can get the cargo space of an Escape, for $6,000 less?” If there mass-market wagon selling opportunity in the US then that is it.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I’d argue that people *do* want premium wagons, those that want them at all. I don’t think a Cruze wagon is going to be too hot just because mainstream buyers are very wagon-averse. I think that people that want a CUV will stretch their budgets to make it happen, and I think a Buick wagon would be appreciated a lot more by the kinds of enthusiasts that would buy wagons. What’s more, few buyers would expect—or even want—something like the Roadmaster.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        “What’s more, few buyers would expect—or even want—something like the Roadmaster.”

        If you think that is a refutation please re-read:

        “The Roadmaster Estate Wagon actively repels the soccer moms that actually buy these kinds of vehicles new.”

        I absolutely agree there is no market for a new Roadmaster Estate Wagon. I just don’t want to see its legacy tarnished by something else that has no market.

        “I’d argue that people *do* want premium wagons, those that want them at all.”

        Check out the Acura TSX Sport Wagon sales and let me know how that theory is working out empirically. The market for people that actually want wagons is infinitesimal.

        But then look at the b/c-segment hatchback resurgence. There is a HUGE market for people that want a CUV, but are willing to settle for something with the practicality of a CUV to get a lower price (and maybe better mileage) than a CUV.

        A Chevy Cruze wagon could score huge with that market.

        • 0 avatar
          fredtal

          For those of us who consider a wagon, the choices are few and far between. There is 1 Acura in the Houston area and another in Austin. A few V60 but no BMWs.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        If people wanted premium wagons, manufacturers would build them. The demand for wagons of any kind pretty much only exists on the internet with pretend dollars. Folks who want wagons these days can only buy used- myself included. I want a Saab wagon for my wife but there’s no way I would ever pay 40K for one brand new.

        Cars like the Regal, Volvos, etc are too expensive/don’t hold enough value to take the depreciation hit for, but not prestigious enough for folks who have the means to buy a 40K wagon. Those people would rather buy a fully loaded Highlander or a midlevel 328i. Even though a Regal might fit their wants and needs as good as either.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “You mean I can get the cargo space of an Escape, for $6,000 less?”

      And that’s exactly why mfrs don’t offer a wagon. When current fashion allows them to charge a premium for butched up CUV styling, why would they undercut that market with a cheaper alternative for the less fashion conscious?

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    yes to wagon.
    no to diesel.

    let go of the diesel. It’s a dead technology. there is no real value to it anymore. Used to be only journalists liked diesel, now it’s only old journalists who can’t let go of an outmoded idea.

    move along.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    On one hand, a Chevy Cruze wagon would offer customers a lot of space without the price-premium of a similarly-sized CUV. It would also allow the Cruze to compete with the Jetta on every level (although the Jetta Sportwagen is, of course, based on the older and better A5 Jetta). On the other hand, a wagon these days is sort of a distinguished, gentlemanly kind of car, and for that I think that Buick might just be the perfect outlet by which to offer one, a very nice one. The prospective Buick wagon would compete primarily with Volvo’s new V60 (which I saw at the auto show: gorgeous) and the Acura TSX wagon, just as the Regal competes with the S60 and TSX sedan. The Buick wagon wouldn’t need to have a diesel, but it would be nice to have. If it was anything like the Buicks that we already have, I’d sure get it.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      The “distinguished, gentlemanly kind of car” has always been a large grand touring coupé. Preferably with rear wheel drive, a sophisticated dual overhead cam engine, independent suspension all around and a rock solid unibody. GM has already nailed that segment:

      http://www.chevrolet.com/camaro-performance-cars.html

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    i’m not convinced diesel has a place since GM charge a $4,000 for it here

    and typical GM, they dont offer a version that makes sense, ie a manual or automatic 1,6 turbo gasoline four in the wagon (this is just a stroked 1.4)

    they could make it and it even might be coming but until that time

    also its only 3,300lb

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I can see a Buick badge on this car and as I have said before the driving dynamics of these common rail diesels suit the US driving style and expectations 100% perfectly… Except for those unfortunate and deeply convoluted “diesel” issues that seem to persist.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Americans don’t want wagons…so get used to the CUV’S since that is what all of you actually buy anyway. (getting worse here in Europe too)
    If you take a look at Curbside classics, you’ll find that former TTAC contributor Paul Niedermeyer (and father of former TTAC EIC Ed Niedermeyer) just bought himself one of the last TSX wagons, thereby (at least to me)permanently establishing it as a damn good car, purely objectively.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The TSX is indeed a good car. I don’t really like the design of it, though. The 3-Series wagon and especially the new V60 are more up my alley.

      • 0 avatar
        CRConrad

        @Kyree S. Williams: “…and especially the new V60…”

        The V60 isn’t new; it’s precisely as old as the S60. It’s only “new” to Yanks, in the sense that only now can they buy it.

        But every time before when that has happened, the Yanks haven’t been so easily duped as to call it “new” just because the dealers claim it is; they’ve usually hollered “Why are we getting this OLD car only now?”.

        Why the difference this time around?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Wasn’t the issue with the TSX wagon no V6?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It depends. For the other 10 potential wagon buyers it was the lack of a manual transmission.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          LOL, I forget how A) small this niche is and B) how MANY excuses they can make as to why they didn’t purchase one.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The lack of a manual put it out of any consideration for me. And note that I have bought TWO brand new manual transmission station wagons in the past 5 years. And had BMW been willing to sell me an F31 in that configuration with either engine I would have bought three.

          We wagon buyers are an uncompromising lot.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Well I think most of us can agree that doing market research on internet comment is futile. Still I see a lot of PT Cruisers and some Malibu Max, VW wagons, Chevy HRR so I’m thinking there is a market, how ever small, for an economical wagon. Harmonizing the European and American regulations would definetly go a long way to allow some niche markets to be served, which I think/hope is the future of the auto business. Otherwise we might as well go back to the original Model T “any color as long as it’s black” concept.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    The Insignia Sports Tourer is much better looking than the Astra, which simply doesn’t look like a premium car. Call the Insignia Sports Tourer a Buick Regal sport wagon, give it the 260 hp gasoline turbo engine and the good suspension parts, and I can see picking it over an Audi A4 wagon.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Have the bread and butter version as the “Estate Wagon” and call the version with a stick the “Sport Wagon”!


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