Surely a high-selling three-door hatch from a volume manufacturer with a 1.8-litre petrol engine for about £15,000 should be a sensible but mundane piece of kit. It should do its job quietly and studiously and not be seen making a fuss.
But the wild-looking Sport Hatch is an unexpected mould breaker. To own a car this alluring, shouldn’t you be paying much more money?
Quite simply, the sharp, raked shoulders and long, low sweeping roofline make this a car plenty of company car drivers, used to putting up with whatever comes their way, can be proud to own.
Driving around in it, I was utterly amazed by the amount of attention it received. For example, I found three young women, all with apparently good taste (in other words, they weren’t the type of Vicky Pollard, shotgun-riders-in-Max Power-cars that might have been attracted to hot Astras in the past), standing round it cooing in appreciation.
I would be willing to eat any hat I own if this sort of thing has ever happened in the history of the Astra before, and it shows just what a trick Ford has missed with the meek styling of the new Focus.
But the Sport Hatch is not just about cool, low-slung side windows and razored alloys. Underneath the chiselled muscles are good, honest Vauxhall mechanicals, well proven in the thousands of five-door Astras already sold. So it looks good, and you can depend on it to run reliably.
But the 123bhp 1.8-litre engine feels underpowered, although much of that is because it’s a car which looks as if it should be a scorcher, even when sitting still, so you’re psychologically set up for that. An equivalently-sized diesel would be quicker.
In terms of handling, the Focus still has the Astra beat. The front tyres on the Vauxhall have less grip, but in general it’s a fun car to drive and feels nearly as sharp as it looks.
The interior is a bonus on top of the Sport Hatch’s exterior and shows how Vauxhall has managed to turn a previous weakness into a major strength.
In Design trim as tested, there are some stylish aluminium-effect trims, matched to a charcoal finish for the other plastics. It makes this the most attractive interior of any car in the sector.
And while there’s not a huge amount of space in the back – as you would expect with this dramatic roofline, two adults will not find it uncomfortable.
It’s also well equipped, with pretty much everything one could want, including part-leather seats, 10-spoke alloy wheels, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, a very clear and crisply-designed screen for radio and trip information and lowered sports suspension.
As an all-round package, the Sport Hatch is a very strong contender. Some drivers will prefer more performance from the 2.0 Turbo or the 1.9 diesel, but as a relatively cheap car which oozes this much charisma, there is very little to beat it.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £15,107
CO2 emissions (g/km): 185
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 24%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 7
Combined mpg: 36.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,600/30%
Depreciation 17.51 pence per mile x 60,000: £10,506
Maintenance 2.37 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,422
Fuel 10.89 pence per mile x 60,000: £6,534
Wholelife cost 30.77 pence per mile x 60,000: £18,462
Typical contract hire rate: £318
At a glance
We don’t like
Three rivals to consider
THERE are two distinct camps here. The Megane and Astra, both called Sport Hatch, are distinctive designs and look different from their five-door counterparts, while the Focus and Golf look just like the five-door models but with fewer doors. The Megane is very cheap, while the Golf looks good value, although it is nowhere near as well-specced as the Astra.
AS all four cars are derivatives of high-volume hatchbacks, it is no surprise that all have low service, maintenance and repair costs and such is the competition at this level to keep running cost to a minimum that there is very little between all of the models. The Focus is marginally the cheapest and over three years and 60,000 miles would rack up SMR costs of £1,320, while the more expensive models would only add £100 more to the bill over the same period.
THE Renault’s advantage at the front end is negated by its 2.0-litre engine’s thirst and resulting fuel cost, but obviously that is tempered by the extra performance from its higher power. As a compromise, the 1.8-litre Astra looks a good bet between a fleet manager’s concern for cost and a driver’s wish for performance. The new Ford Ti-VCT and Volkswagen FSI units deliver decent performance, though, and the Ford would only cost £5,442 over 60,000 miles.
AS is always the case, the Golf is a clear winner when it comes to depreciation in this sector and would lose £600 less than the Megane, which has a strong showing because of its cheaper front-end price. The Focus does well and has some good predicted values for three-years/60,000-miles. The Astra’s residuals are disappointing. CAP says it will only be worth 30% of its value over the period and it comes last here – surely such a distinctive car should be a used market favourite?
NOT for the first time, and not for the last, a Golf tops our table of wholelife costs. Its exceptional residual values make it impervious to attack from any other volume manufacturer and it will cost £700 less to run than the second-placed Focus. The Megane’s fuel costs hamper it while the Astra’s residuals put it in last place. According to our figures, it would cost nearly £3,500 more to run than the Golf. But we don’t factor in discounts so find out what sort of deal Vauxhall will do for you before taking the final plunge.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE smallest engines provide the lowest company car tax bills in this test, with the Focus offering drivers the cheapest company car, followed by the Golf. A 22% taxpayer would pay £596 a year for the Ford and £616 for the Volkswagen. The Astra Sport Hatch will be the most expensive as it would incur a bill of £798, while the Megane’s low front-end price drags back some of the extra costs of the higher emissions from its 2.0-litre engine, at £753.
WITH excellent running costs and low company tax liability, the Golf is the clear winner in pragmatic, objective fleet terms. But spare a thought for the Astra Sport Hatch. It’s a wonderful car and out of the four here many people would hang the extra cost and choose the Vauxhall instead. But you just can’t argue with what is set out in black and white and, on those criteria, the Golf wins.