Fleet News

Contract hire survey: Lower-medium hatchbacks

This year has been one of enormous change in the lower-medium hatchback sector. How do the new models shape up against each other? Our expert panel investigates

Citroen C4 1.6 16v VTR 5dr
P11D price £13,650
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £571/£1,037
2004 VED bill £145
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £322.13
Lex Vehicle Leasing £295.00
Custom Fleet £281.00
DCSFM £321.70
Lloyds TSB autolease £319.88

Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec 5dr (climate)
P11D price £14,132
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £560/£1,018
2004 VED bill £125
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £291.01
Lex Vehicle Leasing £280.00
Custom Fleet £281.00
DCSFM £290.53
Lloyds TSB autolease £301.53

Peugeot 307 1.6 16v SE 5dr (a/c)
P11D price £13,837
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £578/£1,052
2004 VED bill £145
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £286.73
Lex Vehicle Leasing £278.00
Custom Fleet £282.00
DCSFM £280.81
Lloyds TSB autolease £287.92

Renault Megane 1.6 VVT Privilege 5dr
P11D price £13,927
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £552/£1,003
VED bill £125
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £297.97
Lex Vehicle Leasing £272.00
Custom Fleet £283.00
DCSFM £299.42
Lloyds TSB autolease £261.19

Vauxhall Astra 1.6i 16v SXi 5dr
P11D price £14,132
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £529/£961
2004 VED bill £125
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £313.29
Lex Vehicle Leasing £290.00
Custom Fleet £286.00
DCSFM £292.65
Lloyds TSBautolease £303.45

Volkswagen Golf 1.6 FSI S 5dr
P11D price £14,042
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £556/£1,011
2004 VED bill £125
Rental Rates:
LeasePlan Fleetline £295.76
Lex Vehicle Leasing £293.00
Custom Fleet £284.00
DCSFM £290.25
Lloyds TSB autolease £293.27

Year of big changes in a moving car market
SO this is it. In fleet terms, it’s the Rumble in the Jungle, the Thrilla in Manilla. It’s the Match of the Hatch.

2004 has been a year of vast change in the lower-medium sector and it’s barely recognisable from 2003, when many of the models, such as the Focus, Golf and Astra and Xsara, were ageing and the Megane was only getting established.

All six of these cars are core fleet models, which will sell thousands of vehicles a year through the leasing industry.So they need to be able to combine solid, dependable running costs with strong RVs to ensure the best rental rates.The carmaker that has really got the knack of doing this over the past few years is Volkswagen. The Golf has been a darling of the leasing industry for years. Will the new one continue in the same vein or have the new Focus, Astra and C4 got what it takes to wrestle the mantle off it?

In terms of the actual car on the street, the new Vauxhall and Ford are at least on a par with the VW, if not better. Will that reflect in the figures?

The two most established fleet cars here are the 307 and Megane, but has the market moved on so fast this year that it has left them behind?

DAVID HARNETT, Head of LeasePlan Fleetline
THE 307 was stunning at launch but is now looking tired and in need of a facelift, while the interior is plasticky and reliability and RVs are not the best. The new Astra promised much but, unless you opt for the top of the range, it fails to deliver – it doesn’t have the presence of others in this sector and the boot entry is not practical.

The innovative C4 represents a big step forward for Citroen but there are still question marks over residual value and maintenance budgets so rentals are too high.

The Megane is a fantastic fun design with great new gadgets and class-leading safety.

The all new Focus has been widely anticipated following the ground-breaking old-style model. Cabin quality is impressive and the drive is as good as any in this sector. Rentals are extremely competitive.

The class winner has to be the Golf. Its presence and prestige mean drivers will forego the benefits of the other models.

TRACY McMAHON, Pricing manager, Lloyds TSB autolease
THE newest addition to the sector is the Citroen C4, which is a stylish car. It is completely different to the outgoing Citroen Xsara, offering innovative technology such as the Lane Departure Warning System.

The new Astra looks great and offers a quiet and refined ride, while the interior has been significantly improved. The SXi has a more sporty interior trim than standard models. The only drawback is the boot, where the width of loading is reduced by its tail-lights.

The new Focus is bigger than the old version and has a more conservative design compared to the Astra and C4. As well as having a large boot capacity, leg and headroom is excellent for all passengers.

The Golf offers very competitive rentals caused by strong residual values and low maintenance budgets. However, it is the only car in the survey that doesn’t come with alloy wheels as standard.

DEAN WOODWARD, Consultancy manager, DaimlerChrysler Services Fleet Management
DRIVER choice isn’t the only factor to consider when reviewing vehicles in this selection. The majority of vehicles in this sector are for essential user fleets, with the fleet manager being the main decision-maker.

This means the choice is largely driven by cost, with the fleet manager’s remit being to reduce business cost and exploit economies of scale.

The relationship between the fleet manager and manufacturer may also inadvertently restrict the vehicles from appearing on the choice listing.

From a driver perspective, tax efficiency is a vital factor. The combination of low P11Ds and CO2 emission is common across this sector. Image is secondary – all these vehicles represent a key step on the company car ladder. The Golf is classless and manages this well.

The Astra has recently been revised and has a quality build.

The C4 is the newest entry with its striking looks, but is marred by its rentals, RVs and fuel economy and the Megane is still an acquired taste.

NICK AULD, Trade services manager, Custom Fleet
IN this most fiercely contested of all market sectors, the gap between the rivals, in terms of technological advances, specification, engines, performance and overall efficiency improvements, is closer than for many years.

But the market leader clearly stands out – and it’s still the Ford Focus, the latest generation of which has seen improvements in interior quality and design, and ride, drive and overall dynamics that keep it ahead of the field. The only slight detraction, for me, is the exterior styling.

The most dramatic improvement has been the Citroen C4, with appealing styling, high equipment levels and an overall package that now sits more comfortably with the rest of its peers than the Xsara.

My choice in terms of exterior styling is the new Astra, again a great technological advance over the old model, while the Golf, after a slow start, continues to win both hearts and minds, and the latest model GTI should do much to restore its iconic status.

There are no bad cars in this group and the Renault Megane and Peugeot 307 are very competent performers. The competition has never been hotter.

STEVE JONES, Pricing manager, Lex Vehicle Leasing
A YEAR ago this was a two-horse race – Ford Focus for car fans, Volkswagen Golf for badge enthusiasts. This year, all bets are off.

Ford’s latest Focus is more competent than ever. Handling and road holding are improved, build quality is superb and rear-end styling is great. But the front is a more corporate and a less leading edge.

Arch-rival the Astra is transformed, streets ahead of its predecessor and every aspect of the car an improvement – don’t expect this model to be a used-car bargain in three years’ time.

The same applies to Citroen’s C4, only this time it’s not streets, it’s light years. The best-looking Citroen since the DS, it is a real option in this sector. The Golf is all about evolution, not revolution. Cabin space and refinement are better. It has all the trappings of the brand, and tackles the old car’s weaknesses but, unless it’s the new GTI, it struggles to incite real emotion. The Peugeot 307 and Renault Megane show how fast this sector moves and how unforgiving it is. Both are capable but neither looks like generating a cult following.

THE new Golf, like the old one, is nigh-on unbeatable when leasing firms compare it to its rivals. Strong RVs, low running costs and reliability seems a winning mix. The downside is its paltry spec?

FORD must be pretty satisfied with the Focus. It’s not even out yet, but the industry seems sold on what to expect, with rates and costs all buttoned down. It nearly beat the Golf to first place.

THE Astra came a close third with low costs and better-than-average RVs. It is also better specced than the Golf or Focus and even the more basic Club version competes.

THE panel ranked the 307 fourth, but it was a long way behind the Astra. It can’t compete on RVs, but a low front-end price is keeping it competitive. It’s not that old, but the market has moved on.

THE new C4 appears to be the anomaly here, with high rental rates and low RVs for what is a very good car. We can only think that Citroen, unlike Ford, has yet to convince the leasing firms of the C4’s ability.

A SHOCK last place for Renault’s characterful Megane. It might get the wooden spoon but these six cars are the fleet elite and it is still a worthy vehicle – though it has a battle on its hands.

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