The same can be said of its successor, the Xsara estate, a smooth-lined car in which the boot looks part of the whole, rather than a bolt-on-box, but this car faces much tougher competition. Vauxhall's new 2.0-litre Di diesel engine is a revelation in the Astra estate, and the car itself is a quantum leap ahead of its predecessor.
The ungainly, but practical Peugeot 306 estate still offers one of the best turbodiesel engines around, while the new Ford Focus will offer a new turbodiesel engine to complement one of the best received driver's cars for years. Against this sort of competition the Xsara has its work cut out. It's not a bad car by any means, indeed it has many attributes to commend it, but these don't necessarily make it better than its rivals.
The Astra, for example, feels heavier in construction than the rather lightweight Xsara and boasts a better engine, while the Focus should handle better than the Citroen so long as Ford's estate version matches its hatchback's on-road performance.
This leaves the Xsara with few places to go other than competing on price, and here it scores strongly. At ú14,945 on-the-road for the 1.9 TD SX estate it's ú1,000 cheaper than the ú15,920 Astra 2.0 Di CD estate, ú1,300 cheaper than the ú16,320 Peugeot 306 GLX 1.9 TD and ú350 cheaper than the better-specified Focus Focus Ghia 1.8 Tdi estate.
Price differentials of this magnitude matter greatly in this budget-conscious, essential-user sector of the fleet market, and the Xsara's fuel economy (currently 43.5mpg) helps its running costs further. Drivers footing their own fuel bills will also enjoy this frugal consumption, although they may be disappointed at the relatively meagre specification for quite a high trim level - with ABS and a passenger airbag as options (although its is understood twin front and side airbags are to be introduced soon as standard) and air conditioning the only discernible luxury.
Overall, regardless of the Xsara's practicality, there's no ignoring the fierce competition it faces ahead, and its traditional values of being a competent all-round estate are now the bare minimum required to succeed in this fiercely-fought sector of the market, particularly with impressive new rivals from Ford and Vauxhall.