There have been scores of car-derived vans over the years, but few were as successful as the Astravan. The Vauxhall Astravan made its debut in 1982, at which time there were lots of car-derived vans, but by 2006 it was pretty much the only one left. It replaced the outgoing Chevanne, itself a car-based van using the Chevette platform. The Astravan is based very closely on the platform of the Astra Estate, but a bit of work by the Vauxhall designers allowed them to move the fuel tank and therefore create a longer wheelbase and a flat load space.
There is no doubt that modern light commercial vehicles (LCVs) such as the Citroen Berlingo or VW Caddy will give you more load space and payloads than the Vauxhall Astravan for a similar amount of cash, so why did Vauxhall persevere for so long with the Astravan? The answer is simply customer demand. Vauxhall says that around half of all Astravans were being sold to existing customers, generating a loyalty that other manufacturers would kill for. There was therefore no way that Vauxhall was going to kill off the Astravan until it absolutely had to. That moment came at the end of 2012, when Vauxhall announced that the Astravan was no more and would be replaced by the Combo.
It had to happen sooner or later, of course. The version of the Astra on which the Vauxhall Astravan was based had been out of production for three years. Small modern LCVs were now the product of extensive collaboration between firms to keep the cost down. These newer models offered more load space and payloads and were cheaper to buy and run, so there was really nowhere for the Vauxhall Astravan to go as it simply could no longer compete. In fact, it was a miracle that the Astravan lasted for so long, with a proud history spanning 20 years. The secret, perhaps, was in its car-like design and road manners. These new vans are all very well, but they look like vans, not cars. The Vauxhall Astravan, on the other hand, looks pretty much like an Astra estate with the rear windows panelled in. There are some alterations under the skin to the axles to take bigger loads, and the steering has been altered for similar reasons, but it looks and handles pretty much like a standard Astra.
That was the secret of success for the Vauxhall Astravan, and it was why so many customers kept coming back for more. For fleet managers, a van is perhaps just a platform to deliver loads in the most economical and efficient way possible, but for owners and drivers these numbers are only part of the equation. The other part is how enjoyable the van is to drive, and the Vauxhall Astravan certainly delivers on this front. It is fast on the motorway and nippy around town and can easily keep up with its saloon counterparts. It also looks good and can double quite easily as a two-seat car at the weekend. So for owner-operators it was a case of two birds with one stone. Now that it is discontinued, prices are coming down, so a used Vauxhall Astravan could represent a very good deal.