Customers want it bigger, better, cheaper, wider, faster, newer, rounder, higher or more versatile, with that individual something that makes the driver stand out from the crowd.
In this demanding and constantly-changing market, Vauxhall is clearly doing something right, with its claim to have the highest number of single-badge deals in the fleet market.
Part of the reason is that the firm has opened the floodgates when it comes to choice for drivers. From Agila and Corsa through Meriva, Astra, Zafira, Vectra, Signum, Omega and Frontera to the VX220, Monaro and Tigra, there is something for most tastes.
Adding to this growing choice list this year will be the new Astra estate – a fleet favourite with 80% destined for business sales – answering the bigger/wider/longer need so well that it is now the size of the previous generation Vectra. Blessed with the well-received front-end of the five-door, its rump has morphed into a class-leading luggage-eater, based on a lengthened chassis so rear-seat passengers also benefit from more room.
It measures 4,515mm, 266mm more than the five-door and a full 227mm more than the old estate. Width is increased as well, with the new model hitting 1,794mm if you knock off the wing mirrors, 40mm wider than the outgoing estate.
Compared to the five-door, it is also 40mm higher at 1,500mm. Another key area of growth is in the wheelbase, up 89mm to 2,703mm.
Put that all together and you get 1,550 litres of cargo space with the back seats folded, or 470 litres with them in place. There is a flat load area with smooth sides and the boot floor sits at about knee height.
When the seats are fully down, the area is billiard table smooth, but there are options to increase versatility levels even further.
The optional FlexOrganiser system is a net barrier across the boot space which can slide back and forth along rails running the full length of the loadbay. There is also a floor net available and a neat spring-loaded compartment cover that retracts at the tap of a handle.
Rear seating can be 60/40 split, or 40/20/40, you can have a fold-flat front passenger seat to give you 2.7 unbroken metres stem to stern for long items and you can even ask for a sliding rear bench, which travels 60mm, allowing you to make an individual choice about the balance between rear legroom and boot space.
Even if you don’t have it, rear passengers get 26mm more legroom than the old model. This is all contained within a rear end that blends well with the longer car, set off by a chrome strip the width of the back end, housing the electronic tailgate release, sporting a prominent crease that begins life at the front of the car.
To haul your luggage along, engines and suspension options are carried over from the five-door.
Petrol engines start with the 90bhp 1.4-litre, rising to a 105bhp 1.6 and a 1.8 offering 125bhp, topped off by a 2.0-litre turbo throwing out 170bhp, which could whip your luggage to 60mph in 8.3 seconds and on to a top speed of 135mph.
Diesel drivers get four options, with two 1.7-litre CDTis, offering 80bhp and 100bhp, along with two 1.9-litre units, pushing out 120bhp or 150bhp. The torquey 150bhp 1.9-litre diesel isn’t far behind the turbo, passing 60mph in 8.6 seconds and topping 128mph.
A five-speed box is standard on all petrol models bar the turbo and the 1.7-diesels – the rest get six-speed boxes. Add £995 for auto.
There are five specification levels, starting with Life, offering the 1.4 for £13,045. Other levels include Club, Design, SXi and SRi. Top of the range is the 1.9 150bhp Design at £18,695.
Specification at each level is generous, considering the increasingly demanding tastes of fleets and private buyers alike. Life offers ABS, electric front windows, remote central locking, air-conditioning, stereo/cd, load compartment cover and standard integrated roof rails.
Club adds 15-inch eight-spoke alloys, curtain airbags, steering wheel mounted audio controls, electric mirrors, FlexOrganiser side rails and body coloured side mouldings and door handles.
Design comes with 16-inch wheels, electric rear windows, trip computer, rain-sensitive wipers, silver roof rails and tinted rear glass.
SXi matches Club, but has sports suspension, 16-inch wheels, sports seats, chrome-effect centre console, aluminium pedals, front fog lights, sports instruments and leather steering wheel.
In addition, SRi would add electronic stability programme, 17-inch wheels, sport switch, which speeds up steering and throttle response, alarm, trip computer, silver roof rails and rear tinted glass.
Options are generous and well-priced. As one Vauxhall executive put it: ‘We want people to buy the options so that they can get the most out of their cars.’
Among them are the Towing Pack, including Hill Start Assist, so drivers can pull away without rolling back on hills, trailer stability programme, which makes towing easier, self-levelling suspension, cruise control, tow bar and tyre pressure monitoring, all for £350. Rear parking sensors, a worthwhile investment, cost £350.
Other options available include interactive driving system with continuous damping control, a claimed market first. There is also electronic stability programme, traction control and cornering brake control.
Drivers can also choose adaptive forward lighting, which turns with the steering wheel, and tyre pressure sensors. Entertainment includes the choice of seven audio units, including digital radio and cd-player with MP3.
The car goes on sale on November 1.
Behind the wheel
WITH a good-looking five-door Astra already out and a stunning three-door on the way, you have to hand it to the designers at Vauxhall.
Even the estate, traditionally the slightly dowdy sibling in the range, has undergone something of a transformation, benefiting as it does from the great-looking front end and a backside that doesn’t spoil the party.
The rear headlights reflect the eye-catching front set and the crease in the middle of the bootlid is a nice touch.
Opening and closing the tailgate is a simple affair, with a well-placed grab-handle so you don’t get your hands dirty. The FlexOrganiser is a nice, low-cost option at just £50 that breaks up the large boot space effectively.
For the majority of fleet drivers, the diesel options will be their first port of call. The 1.7-litre 100bhp unit betrays its diesel origins at start up and is quite vocal when accelerating, but in turn offers flexible and strong acceleration, particularly when you keep the revs above 2,000rpm, providing surprisingly quick point and squirt acceleration which would keep the 2.0-litre turbo on its toes.
The five-speed gearbox provides just enough resistance as you push through the gears and slots easily into place.
The 1.9-litre, tested in 150bhp format, offers even more in the way of outright grunt, but is smoother and less vocal. On local roads, you don’t need to make much use of the six-speed gearbox and instead can opt for a middle ratio and let the flexible engine do all the work.
At motorway speeds, both engines settle down to a distant hum, while wind noise and road noise are well suppressed, offering comfortable long distance cruising, with no noise to suggest there is so much extra space in the back.
The 2.0-litre turbo needs to be kept on song above 3,000rpm to really get the best out of it, but once there offers very rapid acceleration, although I preferred the low-down grunt offered by the diesel models. Controls fall well to hand and the steering is nicely weighted, while the indicator settings carried over from the Vectra has been altered to make signaling changes more intuitive.
Following up from the successful five-door launch, the new estate adds to a powerful force in the lower-medium sector that will ensure Ford has to put every effort into retaining the market-leading crown of the Focus when the new one is launched.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||90/5,600||106/6,000||125/5,600||170/5,200||80/4,400||100/4,400||120/4,000||150/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||92/4,000||111/3,900||125/3,800||184/1,950-4,000||125/1,500-2,800||177/2,300||206/2,000||236/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||110||115||123||135||104||112||118||128|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||44.8||42.2||36.2||31.0||57.6||56.5||47.9||47.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||151||161||187||218||132||135||159||159|
|Transmission: 5sp1.4/1.6/1/8 petrol 1.7 diesel; 6-sp 2.0 Turbo 1.9 diesel; 4-sp auto 1.8|