19 October 2006
Author: John Mahoney
|Category:|| Light van Prices: £9995-£15,207 Key rival: Ford Connect|
Our test Vauxhall Astravan arrived with the words "the ultimate driver's van" emblazoned down its flanks. That's some statement for a range to live up to, but making its job a little easier is this, the flagship model 1.9 CDTi Sportive, the fifth incarnation of the iconic fast-lane dweller.
Endowed with the most powerful engine in its range, it certainly looks the part. Our test van ditched the humdrum look-a-like alloys for the optional real thing (£250) and "star silver" paint (£295), the irony being that LCV manufacturers have woken up to silver as a paint option just as white's back in vogue in the car world.
Inside, the "Sportive" lives up to its name with a pair of armchairs with bigger side bolsters. Thanks to its Astra roots the van also receives the finest and best quality van interior ever to be seen in an LCV.
It's here that we began to spot a new car-derived van trend. In addition to the aforementioned options, our Sportive had cruise control (£170), Bluetooth (£255), a digital CD player (£550), auto wipers and trip computer (£300). Add the obligatory parking sensors (£300) and the optional extras cost soars to more than £2100, and that's before you add a six-speed auto (£1100) and satnav (£850).
It all points to the sort of people who drive Astravans. Nowadays it's more likely to be senior managers racing about in them than the humble employee, and obviously Vauxhall are out to satisfy the boss. It's especially important to help tempt the suits-and-rigger booted brigade away from rugged pick-ups.
But what's it like to drive? First, let's make it clear: on car terms it's not sporty, but on van terms it's what a Lamborghini is to a Smart. No van will be quicker to drive on a twisty roads and nothing more car-like to drive, save the odd supermini-derived van.
The 1.9 CDTi brings less gear changing thanks to more torque, and overall a more relaxing driving experience than the less powerful but impressive 90PS 1.3. Unfortunately, Vauxhall still lacks a solid full-height bulkhead, meaning there's an unpleasant drone and tyre noise enters the cabin.
As much as we tried to disprove the smug graphics, by the end of our drive we couldn't help but admit that the Astravan is indeed the ultimate driver's van. However, we couldn't help thinking that a more appealing prospect would be a VXR-developed van - then not only would it have the ultimate sporting van title, but it would also have a chance of being a damn fine sports vehicle - period.