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Diesel hatchbacks

Mazda

Review

The Astra has the strongest chance of being voted the sector's best of any mainstream Vauxhall saloon or hatch in years and now has a range of common-rail diesel engines, while the Mazda3, it is hoped, will follow the same meteoric path taken by the Mazda6.

The new Golf has been accused of being too expensive, but in this comparison that's not necessarily true, as its BIK price is only £200 more than the Astra. But no doubt specification is poor? Well, again that's not quite true.

The only major piece of equipment it doesn't have is air conditioning, which costs £495. It doesn't have alloy wheels, but for fleets at the cheaper end of the lower-medium spectrum, that's hardly a deal-breaker.

All are well-matched on safety, with front and rear curtain airbags and a plethora of electronic wizardry to keep the car on the road.

But it's the same old story when it comes to depreciation, where the Golf beats its competition to the ground and then stands on their necks for good measure.

To those who spend their lives peering into footwells and tugging at door bins, the latest Golf might have a few wobbly interior pieces and some of the plastics are not quite up to standards of the past, but the public at large aren't seeing it and, even if they do, they don't seem to care.

It should be as popular on the secondhand market as ever for its robust and classless image, according to our figures, despite the obvious cost-cutting internally. The Astra, on the other hand, is its match in terms of quality but still loses more than 2ppm more in depreciation, while the Mazda sits in the middle.

The result is that a figure of 13.48ppm sees the Golf lose £8,088 over three years/60,000 miles while the Mazda3, with a figure of 14.72ppm, loses £8,832 and the Astra at 15.67 ppm sees £9,402 lopped off its value. It's the only running cost area where any one car gets much of a lead over the others.

The Mazda3 is marginally better on service, maintenance and repair at 2.12ppm, while the Astra is next best at 2.20 and the Golf last at 2.29ppm, but the difference between first and last is only £102. Much the same can be said of the fuel costs, where the Mazda3 and Astra are locked together at 7.28ppm while the Golf is rated at 7.71ppm. That's a gap of £258 over 60,000 miles.

So it's no shock that the Golf wins on running costs, which is entirely due to its residual performance as it comes last in the other two categories. At 23.48ppm it would cost £14,088, while the second-placed Mazda3, at 24.12ppm, costs £14,472 and the 25.15ppm Astra is third at £15,090.

For a driver wanting the lowest possible tax bill, the 135g/km Astra and 143g/km Golf are the clear favourites as they are Euro IV compliant and therefore 15% while the 138g/km Mazda3 isn't yet and is therefore rated at 18%.

The Astra and the Golf would cost a 22% taxpayer only £41 a month in this financial year, while the Mazda3 would result in a monthly charge of £48, which makes all three pretty good value. But as it isn't severely hampered by miserly specification, wins on running costs and has good BIK tax levels, the Golf wins this section of the group test. SM

Mazda3 1.6 diesel TS
MAZDA'S lower-medium challenger has the smallest engine on test, but it's the most powerful. Well-optioned and cheap P11d makes it a strong competitor.

Delivered price, standard car (P11d value): £14,647
CO2 emissions (g/km): 138
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 5
Combined mpg: 56.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,225/36%
Depreciation (14.72 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,832
Maintenance (2.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,272
Fuel (7.28 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,368
Wholelife cost (24.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,472
Typical contract hire rate: £319 per month

Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CTDI Club 100
THE Astra finally gets a full range of common-rail diesels which, alongside sharp styling, good build quality and a decent chassis, make the Astra the best Vauxhall there is.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £14,742
CO2 emissions (g/km): 135
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 15%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 56.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,700/32%
Depreciation (15.67 pence per mile x 60,000): £9,402
Maintenance (2.20 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,320
Fuel (7.28 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,368
Wholelife cost (25.15 pence per mile x 60,000): £15,090
Typical contract hire rate: £302 per month

Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI S
THE Golf deals in known quantities: the diesel TDI is well-proven, the looks are classic Golf sharpened up and the interior echoes Touran and Polo. Residuals are as strong as ever.

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value) £14,942
CO2 emissions (g/km) 143
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05 15%
Graduated VED rate £115
Insurance group 8
Combined mpg 53.3
CAP Monitor residual value £6,375/43%
Depreciation (13.48 pence per mile x 60,000) £8,088
Maintenance (2.29 pence per mile x 60,000) £1,374
Fuel (7.71 pence per mile x 60,000) £4,626
Wholelife cost (23.48 pence per mile x 60,000) £14,088
Typical contract hire rate £312 per month

  • Mazda3 1.6 d TS
    IF you were expecting the Mazda3 to be a smaller version of the Mazda6, then you would probably be disappointed.

    It doesn't have the clean styling of the 6 and even the sporty details like the angled C-pillar and rear light clusters can't draw attention away from an overall appearance that is just a little clumsy.

    Inside, the Mazda3 continues its sporty theme with its cowled dials and red LED 'Knight Rider' illuminations on the audio system.

    While the interior seems drab in black – do Japanese car interiors ever stray from black and dark grey tones? – it is all very well assembled.

    The diesel engine in the Mazda does the most with the least in one sense. It produces 107bhp, but the 16-valve unit at 1.6 litres is the smallest of the three on test. It is also the quietest. We've become used to the Volkswagen pumpe duse clatter and the Mazda's engine seems much quieter under acceleration and does not sound anywhere near as brash as the Vauxhall.

    Sitting on the motorway at a steady 70mph is a stress-free experience with the engine whirring away quietly in the background and, when driving away from the main roads, it only becomes intrusive above about 3,000rpm.

    The Mazda3 has exemplary road manners, reacting quickly and precisely to steering inputs, and only unruly use of the throttle prompts the front tyres to temporarily lose traction with the road surface.

    The Mazda will not carry as much in the boot as the Golf or Astra – the figures suggest a deficit of about 50 litres with the rear seats in place – but there is little to choose between the three for passenger space.

    But the overall impression is of a car with fine road manners, good performance and excellent build quality. SH

    At a glance

    For

  • Engine refinement
  • Well equipped
  • Fuel economy

    Against

  • Smallest boot
  • Interior too dark
  • Awkward styling details

  • Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTi Club 100
    WHAT a transformation. With bold yet conventional styling, the new Astra is comfortably the best-looking vehicle on this test. The large headlamps, neat tailgate and attention to detail shows Vauxhall was aiming to give the new Astra the same level of perceived quality as the Volkswagen Golf.

    The solid feel continues inside with well-chosen materials, a robust feel and meticulous fit and finish.

    The Astra has the measure of the Volkswagen for interior finish and is probably slightly better. There seem to be fewer areas where cost might have been surreptitiously stripped out and the result is a pleasant and stylish interior.

    It comes with the same indicator/windscreen wiper functions as the Vectra and Signum, which we know how to operate but still can't see the point of.

    More importantly, the new Astra comes with a range of Euro IV-compliant common-rail turbodiesel engines and the 100bhp 1.7 CDTi tested here performs well, as well as being competitive on running costs.

    It's a shame it is the noisiest by some margin from inside the cabin. It rattles like diesels of old, making the whole car vibrate. Vauxhall can do better than this – the Vectra diesels are as quiet and refined as anything in their class.

    The Astra makes up for the engine's rudeness by being enjoyable to drive. The old Astra was never that bad, but was overshadowed by the more purposeful Ford Focus. The new Astra needed to be as good as the Ford Focus, the long-time class benchmark for ride and handling.

    It is impressive enough to edge out the other two cars on test, good though they are, with better steering than the Golf and a better ride than the Mazda3.

    At a glance

    For

  • Smart styling
  • Quality feel
  • Good to drive

    Against

  • Poor depreciation
  • Noisy engine
  • Those indicator stalks

  • Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI S
    WHILE the Volkswagen Golf has stood head and shoulders above rivals on running costs in recent years, the bread-and-butter models could never be described as fun to drive.

    The latest model changes all that. Still set up with a comfort bias, but with far more involving handling, getting behind the wheel of the Golf is now an enticing proposition.

    The 1.9-litre pumpe duse diesel in its latest incarnation is Euro IV compliant and while its 105bhp might be a few less than the Mazda3, it's more than the Astra and its 184lb-ft is ahead of both rivals. It endows the Golf with more than adequate performance for relaxed motorway cruising or a sudden burst of speed for overtaking.

    All three feel pretty evenly matched – benchmark figures suggest the Mazda does the 0-62mph dash 0.2 seconds slower than the Golf and Astra – and while the Astra is probably the most satisfying car to drive, it isn't by much.

    The Golf's electro-mechanical steering does offer an artificial feel in the way it changes weight and resistance with speed, but using it in favour of an electrohydraulic system saves fuel. It can also perform clever tricks like compensating for the camber of the road.Steering aside, the Golf is pleasant to drive in most conditions.

    The Golf's usual dependable quality is apparent inside and out, but where it used to be the class leader many of its rivals have caught up.

    Both the Mazda3 and Astra cabins seem well screwed together, with some expensive-feeling materials, so it's no longer the case that other cars aren't built as well as a Volkswagen. It feels solid inside, but at £15,000 it should.

    At a glance

    For

  • Peerless residuals
  • Classy image
  • Dependable feel

    Against

  • No standard air-con
  • Highest fuel consumption
  • Not a class apart any more

    Verdict
    FROM the driver's perspective, all three cars are closely matched, but there can be only one overall winner. The Golf's £1,000 running cost advantage over the Astra puts it in an unassailable position. The Mazda3 carries a wholelife cost benefit of nearly £400 over the Vauxhall.

    We like the Astra. It is thoroughly competent on the road, but it is let down by residuals that are uncompetitive against its two rivals. Choosing it makes more sense if you can get a significant discount.

  • WINNER: Volkswagen Golf 1.9 TDI S

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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