Skoda Octavia Estate vs Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer
New Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer takes on the accomplished Skoda Octavia Estate. Which of these load-luggers best combines space, comfort and value for money?...
Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6 CDTi 136 Tech Line
List price £20,170
Target Price £18,811
Sleek looks, a big boot, masses of passenger space and the cheaper company car.
It’s a simple remit: deliver enough space and practicality to cater for luggage-laden family breaks, but also be enjoyable and comfortable enough for everyday commuting. The new Astra Sports Tourer looks promising on both of those fronts and the 1.6-litre diesel, tested here, is also great value for private buyers and company car drivers alike.
However, it has Skoda’s cavernous Octavia Estate to beat, which we’ve lined up in more powerful, but also more expensive, 2.0 TDI 150 form. Both cars are tested here in their most business-oriented trims, which prioritise low list prices and lots of kit, but offer less tempting finance deals for private buyers than are available elsewhere in these models’ respective line-ups.
What are they like to drive?
The Astra 1.6 CDTi 136 doesn’t have a direct equivalent in the Octavia range. We previously tested the same engine in the Astra hatchback (Dec 2015) against the Octavia 1.6 TDI 110, so here we thought we’d line the Skoda up in more potent 148bhp 2.0 TDI form.
Unsurprising, this means the Octavia is the faster car; in our tests it dispatched the 30-70mph sprint in 7.9sec compared with the Vauxhall’s 9.0sec. The Skoda’s engine is also stronger at low revs, although the Astra doesn’t feel at all choked in the higher gears around town, and it’s responsive enough for relaxed everyday use. Both of these cars will easily keep up with fast-moving traffic on A-roads and motorways, and both accelerate smoothly without any unpredictable surges.
Try to corner quickly and the Astra feels more agile; its front tyres grip the road better than the Octavia and there’s less body lean. However, while the Vauxhall’s quick, light steering makes the car feel quite darty, the steering becomes numb and vague midway through bends, which doesn’t inspire confidence. The Octavia's steering is slower, but it weights up more consistently.
Both cars are composed on the motorway and are easy to thread through traffic, but the Vauxhall rides marginally better. It’s a bit choppy over patchy town roads, but it softens sharp-edged potholes more adroitly than the Skoda and is more settled at high speeds, too.
Refinement is a mixed bag in both cars. Wind noise is kept to a minimum in the Astra, but road and engine noise are a noticeable background din at all times, and too much engine vibration can be felt through the pedals and steering wheel. Meanwhile, the Skoda generates a lot of suspension boom around town, although that noise does fade away at higher speeds. Overall, the Astra loses out to the Skoda for refinement due to its noisier cruising manners and more recalcitrant gearshift.
What are they like inside?
Both cars have masses of space up front so will accommodate even very tall drivers. The Octavia has slightly more comfortable seats, and comes with adjustable lumbar support as standard; you have to pay £250 for it on the Astra.
The colour touchscreen forms the focal point of each car’s dash, but it’s the Skoda’s interior that feels more solidly put together – and it is more user-friendly, too. There’s no major issue with the Astra's dashboard layout, but the Skoda’s infotainment system is marginally more intuitive, and its steering wheel controls are also more logical. The Octavia's boxier shape and slimmer rear pillars also give it the edge for over-the-shoulder visibility.
With more space in the rear seats than you get in the already roomy hatchback versions of these cars, both are easily able to carry a couple of six-footers in the back. The Astra edges the Skoda for rear head room, while the Skoda offers a touch more leg room, but both are very roomy choices. However, the Skoda gets a central rear armrest with two cupholders; surprisingly, the Astra doesn’t and you can’t even add this handy feature as an option.
The Octavia also wins for sheer boot space – and by some margin. Its deeper load bay gives it 610 litres of room with the rear seats in place, compared with the Astra's 500 litres. That said, the Vauxhall’s boot floor is flush with the load lip, and its seats fold flat to further extend that smooth floor. However, it’s disappointing no height-adjustable floor or underfloor storage is offered – even as an option.
Meanwhile, the Skoda has a less than ideal stepped floor when you fold down its rear seats, and there’s a big lip at the entrance, which will irritate you if you’re trying to slide heavy items in. However, for £150 you can add a variable-height boot floor that will, quite literally, iron out these problems. The Skoda also has a through-loading hatch (not offered in the Astra) in the middle rear seat that allows you to stick long, thin items through into the passenger area. You can also drop the Skoda’s rear seats using levers mounted in the boot, whereas in the Astra you have to do this from the rear side doors.
Add to this the standard bag hooks and one-touch release tonneau cover that Skoda throws in, which are missing from the Astra's repertoire, and it’s a clear win for the Skoda on practicality.
What will they cost?
These trims are aimed primarily at company car users, so the fact the Astra is the cheaper option – saving you almost £700 in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax over three years over its rival – is a big deal. The Vauxhall also costs £41 a month less to lease, which will be enough to convince plenty of fleet providers.
However, private buyers should also consider these trims if they’re buying outright because it’s the cheapest way to get a sat-nav and a few other desirables as standard. The Astra is cheaper to start with, but will actually cost you more in the long-run due to its heavier depreciation and higher servicing and insurance costs.
Of course, most private buyers will want to take out finance, which is where these trims become less recommendable. If you want to pay monthly on a PCP, you’d be better off going for the better-equipped Octavia SE-L or the Astra in SRi Nav trim. These will cost £250 and £312 per month respectively over three years, after a £4000 deposit and with a 10,000-mile annual limit.
Both the Astra Tech Line and the Octavia SE Business come with a sat-nav, a multi-function steering wheel, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control. Vauxhall only includes manual air-con on this trim, which means you can’t set a specific, automatically maintained cabin temperature like you can in the climate control-equipped Skoda. The Octavia also gets rear parking sensors, whereas the only way to get these on the Astra is to fork out £450 on a pack that also brings front sensors. That said, the Astra does get dusk-sensing headlights as standard, which cost £175 on the Skoda.
Neither of these cars has been crash-tested by Euro NCAP in estate form, but the Skoda has a driver’s knee airbag and rear side airbags can be added for £285; neither are offered in the Vauxhall. Automatic emergency braking is also a cheaper option on the Octavia at £315, although the £795 you pay for it in the Astra also brings lane-assist and traffic sign recognition.
This is a seriously close-run thing. The new Astra Sports Tourer has a lot going for it, including its sharper handling and lower company car and leasing costs. Yet the Skoda has a usefully bigger boot with more standard convenience features, plus it’s faster, easier and more relaxing to drive and has a nicer interior. Given the likely priorities of buyers in this class, that just gives the Octavia the edge.
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1st. Skoda Octavia Estate Rated 4 out of 5
For Strong engine; composed handling; huge boot; comprehensive kit
Against Boomy suspension noise; slightly unsettled ride
Verdict A brilliant family estate, and worth the small premium
2nd. Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer Rated 4 out of 5
For Cheaper company car; sharper handling; loads of rear space
Against No rear armrest or variable boot floor; mediocre refinement
Verdict A highly recommendable family estate, just not the best
Specifications: Skoda Octavia Estate 2.0 TDI SE Business
Engine size 2.0-litre diesel
List price £21,265
Target Price £19,936
Torque 236lb ft
Top speed 134mph
Official fuel economy 67.3mpg
True MPG 52.5mpg
CO2 output 110g/km
Specifications: Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer 1.6 CDTi 136 Tech Line
Engine size 1.6-litre diesel
List price £20,170
Target Price £18,811
Torque 236lb ft
Top speed 127mph
Official fuel economy 74.3mpg
True MPG 51.6mpg
CO2 output 101g/km