The 1.9 CTDi ECOTEC engine is tuned to two power outputs – 120bhp and 150bhp – and is currently available in the Vectra hatch and estate, and the Signum.
It will also get a run out in the new Astra and I can't wait to try the 150bhp version in that because, in the heavier Vectra, it already offers some sparkling performance and decent refinement.
The two engines are broadly similar, except that the more powerful model comes with four-valve technology to increase horsepower and is £500 more expensive.
But enough of the technology. All the filters, turbos and injectors in the world wouldn't mean much if the driving experience was poor, because there are many good diesels out there now that will attract user-choosers and please essential users.
At start-up, the immediate impression is not good. The first few rounds of combustion tend to rock the car and it then settles into a chuggy tickover.
Fortunately, first impressions don't last because once warm, the 1.9 CDTi settles down into a steady diesel-ly burr. It's not as smooth as the new Honda or Jaguar diesel engines, but it's the match of most of the others and more refined than the more raucous Volkswagen Group 150bhp 1.9 TDi.
There's quite a lot of turbo lag, which means you have to make sure you are in the right gear or nothing happens when you press the accelerator under 1,800rpm.
After that, the rather intrusively whistling turbo kicks in and there is a steady rush of torque up to 4,000 rpm. Peak torque of 232lb-ft is available from 2,000-2,750rpm but it doesn't tail off much after that point.
The Vectra SRi we had on test is not as lightning quick as its spoilered looks and the headline 150bhp might suggest, with a 0-60mph time of just under nine seconds, but it pulls pretty hard and shouldn't leave too many drivers wanting more.
In some ways, the long gearing masks the fine performance. Unlike the very short-geared and peaky 150bhp Volkswagen pumpe duse, which feels manic and fast, the six-speed Vauxhall requires less changing and the delivery of power feels much more progressive, but it probably isn't any slower.
The gear ratios are well spaced: in sixth and cruising at 60mph, the Vectra is doing an extremely relaxed 1,700rpm. And the gearbox itself is a massive improvement over the clonky five-speed version in other Vectras.
The SRi is balanced nicely between decent ride quality and handling prowess and composure at speed and the dark interior with aluminium-look inserts is the best look for the Vectra.
For the nearly £20,000 price, you really would expect climate control and leather seats though - the specification is on the tight side.
Having said that, the combination of the SRi's meaner appearance, alongside this very good new engine and gearbox, make this car the best fleet choice in the Vectra range.
1.9 CDTi SRi 150
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,117
CO2 emissions (g/km): 159
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 17%
Graduated VED rate: £135
Insurance group: 10
Combined mpg: 47.1
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,025/26%
Depreciation 21.85 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,110
Maintenance 2.33 pence per mile x 60,000: £1,398
Fuel 8.08 pence per mile x 60,000: £4,848
Wholelife cost 32.26 pence per mile x 60,000: £19,356
Typical contract hire rate: £418 per month
At a glance
Three rivals to consider
As these cars are all towards the top of their respective ranges, they are all decently well-equipped for the price. The Avensis is the only car to get satellite navigation, albeit a fairly basic version, while the Toyota and Renault get leather, or part-leather and Alcantara seats. Surely at nearly £20,000, Ford and Vauxhall products should be leather-clad as well – they are a massive £1,500 more in the Vectra. The Mondeo has climate control and the Vectra has rain-sensing wipers.
smr costs There is absolutely nothing between any of the four cars when it comes to service, maintenance and repair charges, as you would expect in such a competitive arena that places such emphasis on running costs.
The cheapest, by the proverbial gnat's whisker, is the Avensis at 2.29 pence per mile, which makes it £48 cheaper than the most expensive – the Mondeo – after 60,000 miles. It's hardly a deal-breaker.
Fuel costs for these cars will depend very much on how they are driven. The Laguna and Vectra both have 150bhp so are likely to attract drivers wanting performance, while the Avensis might have the best fuel consumption at 48.7 but has a meek 114bhp.
In this context, the Vectra looks the best compromise between power and economy, with the second-best ppm figure and a combined figure of 47.1mpg, while still delivering strong acceleration, keeping fleet manager and driver happy.
The Avensis is miles ahead when it comes to depreciation. Its generous equipment levels and good fuel consumption will prove popular in the secondhand market. According to CAP, the Toyota would be worth 33% of its value after three years/60,000 miles, while the other three languish in the mid-20s.
In cash terms, the Avensis would lose around £12,200, while the Laguna and Vectra lose a grand more, and the Mondeo nearly £1,600 more – quite a cost over a fleet of cars.
There was only ever one winner in wholelife costs. The Avensis puts in a monumental effort and records a victory in every category. Adding all the costs together, it comes out at £18,342.
The Vectra is second, losing out by £1,000 – exactly the extra amount it depreciates more than the Avensis. The Mondeo comes last and costs nearly £1,800 more over the term. There is a caveat: fleet discounts aren't included here and they could have a big effect on the final cost of running any of these cars.
Emissions and bik tax rates
On the face of it, the Vectra is the best performer when it comes to benefit-in-kind tax, with a low P11d value and an equal lowest emission level.
Being Euro IV, its 17% banding would cost a 40% tax-payer £1,300 a year, while the most expensive – the Euro III Laguna – would cost £1,768 in tax as it is in the 23% BIK band.
However, putting leather and satellite navigation on the Ford and Vauxhall to bring them up to the same specification as the Toyota would result in the Avensis becoming the cheapest for tax.
There are joint winners in this test. If a driver or fleet manager is looking for high specification and low running costs, then the Avensis is an easy winner. But it does have only 114bhp and is slow as a result.
For a driver wanting performance alongside decent running costs, the Vectra would be the best bet. It's a case of cutting your cloth to suit your needs.