Looking for three of the hottest properties in the upper-medium fleet diesel sector so far this year? Then look no further than this triumvirate: the Mondeo 2.0 TDCi, Mazda6 2.0 TSd and the Vectra 2.2 DTi.
And before you cry, 'What about the others?', I'll tell you why these are worth a look. Up until the end of March, the Mondeo has been the best-selling diesel in the fleet market, with 6,279 sales to date. This is an increase of more than 10% on last year.
The Vectra is up more than 12% at 4,747 on last year, when the old model was still on sale, while the Mazda6 is making great strides, spurred on by success at the Fleet News Awards 2003. According to fleet and remarketing director Jeremy Thomson, Mazda's fleet business is up 100% year on year, a figure that is almost solely down to sales of the 6.
In many ways, the Vectra is the odd one out of the three. The other two use more modern common rail units although the engines are not shared, despite Mazda's family ties to the Ford empire. The Vectra makes do with a good old-fashioned diesel. In terms of fuel costs, CO2 and tax, the dated diesel technology means the Vectra comes last. With CO2 levels of 176g/km, it lands in the 22% tax band for benefit-in-kind (BIK).
Coupled with the highest P11d here of £16,150, that means a bill for a 22% payer of £782 in 2003/04. For three years/60,000 miles' worth of fuel, it would cost £5,352.
The Mazda6 has relatively high emissions, although this is down to the set-up of the car: sportiness and responsiveness through tuning and short gearing produce emissions and cost money. In the 21% BIK bracket, it would cost a 22% taxpayer £712 for the year. Its fuel bill for the three-year period is close to the Vauxhall at £5,340.
For CO2 and fuel economy, the Mondeo is the leader by Paula Radcliffe margins. At 152g/km, it is taxed at 18% this year, which means the driver would have £502 worth of BIK to pay. And with its pence-per-mile figure of 7.82 over 60,000 miles, he or she would save £648 over the Mazda due to its £4,692 diesel spend.
All three cars are close on SMR costs, so not much to distinguish them there. But on depreciation, the Mazda6 reels in the ground it had lost on the Mondeo – and then some.
According to our pence-per-mile figures, based on CAP values, the 6 would lose £9,798 over the three years, while the more prosaically-badged and higher-volume Mondeo and Vectra lose £10,572 and £10,602 respectively.
As a result of this saving, the Mazda6 beats the Mondeo on wholelife costs in a photo finish, with 27.52ppm compared to 27.85ppm, although the Mondeo is better for the employee on tax.
Still coming round the last bend, while the other two are in the changing rooms, is the Vectra: higher wholelife costs at 29.17ppm and the largest tax bill handicap it.
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 115 LX
A brilliant car in so many ways. The range has been bolstered with the introduction of a more affordable 115bhp TDCi common rail diesel engine
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,490
CO2 emissions (g/km): 152
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £130
Insurance group: 8
Combined mpg: 49.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,350/28%
Depreciation (17.62 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,572
Maintenance (2.41 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,446
Fuel (7.82 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,692
Wholelife cost (27.85 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,710
Typical contract hire rate: £309 per month
Mazda6 2.0d 121 TS
New Mazda6 is winning friends everywhere, backed up by it being named Upper-Medium Car of the Year at the 2003 Fleet News Awards
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,420
CO2 emissions (g/km): 172
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 21%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 43.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,775/31%
Depreciation (16.33 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,798
Maintenance (2.29 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,374
Fuel (8.90 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,340
Wholelife cost (27.52 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,512
Typical contract hire rate: £348 per month
Vauxhall Vectra 2.2 DTi LS
A big, comfortable car which devours the miles with ease. However, old school diesel engine leaves it trailing its rivals in terms of performance and refinement
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,150
CO2 emissions (g/km): 176
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 43.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,600/29%
Depreciation (17.67 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,602
Maintenance (2.58 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,548
Fuel (8.92 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,352
Wholelife cost (29.17 pence per mile x 60,000): £17,502
Typical contract hire rate: £367 per month
FORD was late to the common rail diesel game but its TDCi range of engines and the 128bhp version in the Mondeo have won plaudits for their performance, economy and refinement.
Until now, the Mondeo was only available in one version but Ford has recently added a lower-powered model, offering 113bhp instead of 128bhp and replacing the old 2.0 TDdi unit. Not surpris-ingly, it is also cheaper. In LX trim tested here, the 115 model costs £15,645 on-the-road, compared with £16,320 for the 128bhp LX version.
Obviously the more powerful version feels quicker, particularly with its 'overboost' facility that offers up a reserve of torque for quicker overtaking. But the lower powered model does not feel significantly slower than its bigger brother.
While it does without the overboost facility, it still makes quick progress through the gears. As with all diesels, the key to quick progress is to change gear early and ride the wave of torque, rather than holding out to the red line before changing up.
And as with all Mondeos, ride and handling are first-rate, although our test car was equipped with optional 18-inch alloy wheels which impacted on ride comfort.
One downfall of the Mondeo is its gearbox – a notchy affair which is sometimes reluctant to engage gear. Otherwise the package is hard to fault, although the interior is now looking slightly drab. However this will be improved when the Mondeo receives a mid-life 'nip and tuck' later this year.
The Mondeo is superb – company car drivers have never had it so good.
MAZDA had been lacking in the fleet credibility stakes but its fortunes were largely revived by this model. The new 6 is a huge leap forward over the 626 for the firm in fleet terms. It was recently named upper-medium car of the year at the 2003 Fleet News Awards, with the judges praising its mould-breaking approach, excellent driving characteristics, low wholelife costs and great engines.
The 6 is good-looking and great to drive, as well as stacking up well in the wholelife cost stakes.
The diesel 6 tested here is the lowest-powered of the two engines offered, with 119bhp as opposed to 134bhp. But in driving terms, the lesser-powered 6 is good fun, retaining the 'chuckability' of the petrol 6 despite the heavier weight of the diesel. Also retained is the sweet gearchange – notably better than the shifts offered in its rivals here – and the quality of the interior.
Where the Ford and Vauxhall are somewhat glum affairs, the Mazda interior is a breath of fresh air, thanks to its extensive use of silver metal-effect trim on the dashboard and fascia.
On the road, the Mazda feels confident – the chassis is stiff enough to reward keen drivers without being uncomfortably harsh and the engine easily rivals the Mondeo for smoothness and performance.
The 6 also benefits from a generous equipment level and a quality feel, although the seats are a disappointment – better placed in a mid-1980s car than a 21st century model – and some of the interior plastics are a little flimsy.
WE have got to wait until next year for the Vectra to receive a common rail diesel powerplant, so until then the line-up soldiers on with a range of direct injection DTi oil burners – and we thought Ford was slow to the common rail party.
There is little difference between the Vectra 2.2DTi and the rivals tested here in the way the engines behave – particularly on the move – despite its reliance on older technology.
The Vectra was designed from the outset to be a mile-muncher and it fulfils this role well. The suspension is set up to be cossetting on major roads but on the twisty stuff it loses out in terms of composure against the Mondeo and Mazda6.
Try to push on in the Vectra on a challenging road and it is not really up for it. Although it is not much different in size than the Mondeo or Mazda6, it feels like a much larger car – the steering feel and high-waisted nature of the cabin make you feel as though you are driving something much bigger.
And the gearbox is outclassed in this company. While the Mondeo's gearbox has a notchy change and the Mazda6's is sweet in comparison, the Vectra feels like a bag of spanners – the shift action is loose and there is no real feel to it. But once again, when you stick it in fifth and cruise on the motorway this doesn't pose much of a problem.
But there are plus points in the Vectra's arsenal – it is roomy, well built and has a neat fascia incorporating a monitor housing all the essential vehicle information. Once the common rail engines arrive, the Vectra will pose more of a threat.
The Vectra was struggling from the moment the figures were put together. When the cars turned up to be compared, the situation did not change. It was much closer between the Mondeo and the Mazda6. For tax the Ford is the best, but the Mazda fights back on wholelife costs. Coming down to the overall package and the driving experience, the Mazda edges yet another victory.