Which is why the latest crop of lower-medium estate cars – the real bread and butter workhorses of any fleet – will be so welcome to your high- mileage drivers.
Why? Because they’re so good and so much better than the models they replace.
Take Vauxhall’s latest Astra estate. It’s got great styling, a well-designed interior and it’s very good to drive. It’s a quantum leap from its predecessor, which is why the new model was recently named lower-medium car of the year at the Fleet News Awards.
And as well as looking and driving so much better than before, the Astra feels different too. Vauxhall has invested a lot of time and money in improving quality and it is evident from the moment you grip the chunky door handle, to the thud of the door when it closes. Then there’s the steering wheel and dashboard, again both reassuringly chunky in feel. There are also nicely bolstered seats and a clear dash with aluminium- effect centre console.
There has been a similar level of improvement in the driving experience.
The Design model rides and handles better than any of the sporty models from the previous Astra generation. The front end is well planted to the road and the steering is very direct – just because cars like this are designed for motorways doesn’t mean they can’t be fun on the twisty roads.
Our test car was fitted with the most powerful CDTi common rail diesel engine offered – a 1.9-litre unit with 148bhp. It has stacks of mid-range power which makes motorway driving incredibly easy.
If you want to accelerate into the fast lane, there’s no need to change down a gear or two – just plant your foot, give the turbo a moment to spool up and you’ll soon be up with the fast lane pace. And after having driven the Astra back-to-back with the Ford Focus, the Vauxhall is a better drive – it’s got a better gearbox and there’s less engine noise intruding into the cabin. It’s effortless, relaxed and comfortable – what more could you want?
Well, as this car is designed to be a workhorse, how about a huge boot to carry samples? The Astra’s luggage compartment has been designed with a very low loading sill, making getting heavy items in less of a chore. It’s also slightly longer and has more carrying capacity than the Focus.
In fact, this new Astra does everything very well, so it’s disappointing to see it not perform as well in our running costs analysis (see panel right). The problem is that the CDTi 150 engine is only available in top-spec Design and SRi trim levels, meaning a high front-end price. Lower-spec, and cheaper, versions are available with the 128bhp engine, but they would be a better bet for fleets.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £18,522
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 47.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,425/29%
Depreciation 21.82 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,092
Maintenance 2.54 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,524
Fuel 8.58 pence per mile x 60,000: £5,148
Wholelife cost 32.94 pence per mile x 60,000: £19,764
Typical contract hire rate: £391
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider:
NOT surprisingly, the pseudo-estate Audi A3 Sportback is by far the most expensive car at the front end, but you can be sure it will make up ground when it comes to predicted residual values. That’s why it is included in this test, not only to show the importance of RVs, but also because none of the other mainstream makers (Peugeot and Renault in particular) offer a lower-medium estate car with such high price tags.
ALL four cars perform well on servicing, maintenance and repair costs, with less then half a penny per mile separating first from last.
The Ford is the least expensive in SMR terms and will cost a fleet £1,446 over three years and 60,000 miles in garage visits. The Skoda is next, costing £1,500, while the Vauxhall will cost £1,524. The Audi brings up the rear with a cost of £1,770, reflecting its premium market status.
THE Audi wins the fuel cost section thanks to its super-frugal 2.0-litre TDI engine. It helps the A3 return an average of 50.4mpg, which translates to a fuel cost of £4,896 over three-years/60,000-miles. The Skoda, which uses a similar engine to the Audi, comes in second, returning 49.6mpg and costing £4,974 – exactly the same figures as for the Ford Focus. The Astra is just behind on 47.9mpg, which adds up to costs of £5,148.
THIS is the section where the pricey Audi will reclaim some lost ground. CAP predicts the A3 Sportback Sport will retain 44% of its cost when new after three years and 60,000 miles. Despite costing about £1,000 more than the other cars at the front end, it takes a clear win on depreciation. The Focus comes second with a predicted RV of 33%, two points ahead of the Skoda. Just behind the Skoda is the Astra – the only car here to dip into the 20s in percentage terms, as CAP estimates it will retain 29% of its cost new.
WITH such a clear advantage in depreciation cost terms, it was always going to be difficult for any car to rival the Audi, but it’s the Focus which makes the best attempt, coming in at 1.3ppm behind the A3 Sportback. What’s more surprising is the fact that the Astra is so far off the Ford’s wholelife cost performance. There’s a difference of 1.8ppm between the two, which translates into a £1,074 difference over three-years/60,000-miles. However, we’re not taking into account any manufacturer discounts here, so Vauxhall may be able to close this gap, created mainly by RVs, for customers.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE Skoda is the only car in this test which is not Euro IV compliant, so it attracts the 3% tax supplement, putting it into the 20% benefit-in-kind tax band for 2005/6. For a 22% taxpayer, the Octavia will cost £67 a month, £5 more than the top-spec Audi A3 Sportback, which just goes to show the benefit of Euro IV compliance on your wallet. The Astra will cost £61 a month, while the Ford costs £57.
ALTHOUGH the Audi is the best in running costs and badge appeal, it doesn’t win: it’s not enough of a load carrier, but does illustrate a premium car will compete with volume models. Between the others, the Focus wins. The Astra is just as good to drive, but its wholelife cost proposition in this spec isn’t quite as good as the Ford.
WINNER: Ford Focus estate 2.0 TDCi Titanium