Astra Caravan y2K model year.

In the winter of 1999-2000 I had cause to make a number of extended trips in the Estate version of the venerable Astra small family car. Normally, we were fully laden with as much as could fit into or on top of the car.

What you get with this car is a reasonably capable load carrier but one which can not really be used for extensive long trips.

The internal load-sapce is OK but not as great as the Ford Focus. It beats the Ford though when you take into account the roof bars. Unlike the curved nightmares on the Focus, the Astra roof bars are straight and you can lash down a large flat load with no problems.

Quality seemed to be a weak feature though. Of the four examples which I drove, two had faults. One car was brand new and the fuel gauge was not working and another car had a broken fuel filler cap. Tbhe latter is a problem on rental cars but really, the mechanism should be simple enough to use and well enough put together that it does not fail after six thousand kilometres.

So what was it like to drive? Well, like most cars in this class, the ride and handling were boringly adequate and Euro-standard. However, some problems did become clear after an extended run.

The seats were not comfortable enough to allow you to drive for more than a couple of hundred km at a time. They caused me to have pains in both the lower back and thighs.

One other gripe about the interior concerned the standard fitment radio. I have never seen anything so hard to tune in to a station. The scanning function was fine if you just wanted to let the device find you something to listen to. However, if you wanted to tune in to a specific frequency, the whole business was a ghastly hit and miss affair and all too often, after finding the signal, the set would decide to wander off again of its own accord.

Unladen, the performance of the smaller petrol engined models was barely adequate on the autobahn. The car would have real trouble maintaining a 130kph cruise in the presence of even a slight gradient or a head wind.

Worse than this was the fuel consumption on such a run. In my notes, I described the fuel tank as catastrophicaly small and I stand by that. Unladen, you hardly get into top gear on the autobahn when the needle begins its downward sweep and I couldn't get 500km out of a fill up. That is really dreadful but worse was to come when the car was laden.

It was then not possible to maintain even 100kph on gentle upslopes. Leaving it in top just saw the speed decaying and changing down to fourth merely slowed the rate of deceleration. It was often necessary to drop down to third gear and use full power just to keep the thing going faster than 95kph.

Of course, this had a dire effect on the already limited fuel endurance and the extra stops really strung out the journey times.

The exception to this was the diesel version. The range was much greater. My journey was broken into 500km legs and I was filling up at the end of each leg with over a third of a tankfull still unused. This was also true of the journey sectors on which the car was fully laden. Indeed, under those circumstances, the torque of the diesel really told and the performace was much better than the gasping petrol engined versions.

Would I buy one?

Well, I have doubts over the quality and I'd certainly not consider the petrol engined versions. But, a diesel with some replacement seats and a decent radio would be worth considering.

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