Just a few years ago, a lower-medium diesel hatch meant one thing: workhorse. But these are attractive cars. And none are more so than the new Astra Sport Hatch. With its low, slashed rear it has a sexiness no mainstream Vauxhall has had in years.
Alongside a 150bhp diesel engine, has it got the package to carry it to best-in-class?
To take the title, it will have to beat the Volkswagen Golf, which offers great residual values and low rental rates.
The new Focus has had its thunder stolen by the Sport Hatch, and will have to rely on the driving experience to attract business.
Perhaps the closest to the Astra in terms of attitude is the C4, which has a bespoke cabin for the Coupe. The Peugeot 307 might be the oldest car here, but enough of them are in fleets now to have costs well buttoned down.
It’s unlikely the same can be said about the Alfa 147. It has a new look and a good engine, but as always there are issues over running costs.
Citroen C4 Coupe 2.0 HDi 16v VTS
P11D price £17,942
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £592/£1,076
2005 VED bill £115
Custom Fleet £388.80
Ford Focus 2.0 TDCi 136 Titanium 3dr
P11D price £17,222
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £606/£1,102
2005 VED bill £115
Custom Fleet £338.00
Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch CDTi 150 Design
P11D price £17,772
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £704/£1,280
2004 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £365.75
Volkswagen Golf 2.0 GT TDI 3dr
P11D price £18,057
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £675/£1,228
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £315.10
Peugeot 307 2.0 HDi XSi (ac) 3dr
P11D price £16,567
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £547/£994
2005 VED bill £115
Custom Fleet £325.42
Alfa Romeo 147 JTD 16v Multijet Lusso
P11D price £18,217
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £844/£1,535
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £380.01
Nick Auld, trade services manager, Custom Fleet
THE swing to diesel has seen the growth of the hot diesel hatch market, as car firms try to prove that a car can be a hot hatch with the latest Euro IV diesels.
The Golf is still the class leader, setting the standard on residuals and the lowest monthly rentals.
The Astra scores highly for drivability but is more expensive on rentals due to its higher delivery charge, resulting in a capital cost which knocks it down to third.
The Focus scores well as an all-rounder. Add in good residuals and the lowest SMR costs and it takes second.
The Citroen and Peugeot have a lot in common, but the C4 is the latest generation while the 307 looks long in the tooth.
Our ‘tail–end Charlie’ is the 147 which, despite being a great drive, is let down by continued preconceptions of reliability.
Richard Schooling, commercial director, Alphabet (GB)
WITH its popularity enhanced by the emissions-based company car tax system, the sports diesel class looks vibrant after a rash of new launches.
The 147 offers a stylish drive at a rental which manages to stay in the frame, although fleets remain wary over Alfa’s aftersales history.
The Peugeot is much more competitively priced but is now late-cycle and loses out on looks to its sister-under-the-skin, the C4.
Highly distinctive, the Citroen and Vauxhall will really catch drivers’ eyes. The Astra is the slightly better drive and is backed by Vauxhall’s excellent service, but the C4 is marginally cheaper.
The Focus’s conservative styling could cost it sales to hotter-looking rivals. Even so, it comes a close second on all-round ability. But the winner here by a country mile is the Golf – as desirable as ever and unbeatably cost-effective.
Rob Rossiter, vehicle remarketing manager, ALD Automotive
THESE cars can be split into two categories – those which are purely three-door versions of the more popular five-door hatchbacks and those with their own styling and personality, making them more akin to a sports coupe than just a hatch with two less doors.
If advertisements sell cars, then the Citroen C4 Coupe will do well thanks to the clever robot TV ad. Its very bold styling and competitive price adds to its appeal. It is a very solid package and a real contender here.
The Ford Focus remains the best-selling car in its class. The three-door version looks better than its five-door sibling and is also surprisingly spacious inside. Vauxhall is on to a winner with the Astra Sport Hatch. It scores top marks for styling and performance and it has a great future. It pushes the Golf for top spot in this model selection.
The Volkswagen still sets the benchmark, but is not as visually appealing as some.
But it doesn’t do anything wrong and is our first choice.
The Peugeot 307 drives very well, but lacks appeal against such strong opposition, while the Alfa Romeo 147 is a model for the enthusiast – with high maintenance costs and limited appeal meaning it struggles in this comparison.
Robert Redman, senior pricing analyst, Interleasing
CITROEN’S C4 Coupe has striking styling and improved build quality which is immediately apparent when compared to earlier Citroens. The PSA Peugeot-Citroen group HDi diesel engine suits the car well with plenty of torque.
Ford decided to play it safe with the new Focus, so it’s not as attractive as its predecessor. As expected, ride and handling is excellent. Solid build quality and a reasonable level of specification make this a popular fleet choice.
The 150bhp CDTi Astra Sport Hatch is a real gem, delivering excellent performance and fuel economy.
Compared to the Sport Hatch and C4, the latest Volkswagen Golf is unadventurous and it is questionable if this car deserves to wear a GT badge. However, the engine is among the best, although the build quality isn’t as class-leading as in previous generations.
The Peugeot 307 has been around since 2001 and is now beginning to show its age.
However, it is well priced.
Alfa Romeo has recently updated the 147. But the dealer network still has some way to go to provide the level of service required to compete against the premium marques the company has in its sights.
Paul Connor, pricing risk manager, Lombard
THE hot hatch sector has a fresh line-up, with most models featured here either new to the market or recently facelifted.
Aimed at the younger driver, this selection of cars offers good, fun driving dynamics and a sporty image, with the changes in diesel technology bringing performance on a par with petrol hatches while giving much better fuel economy.
Having said that, these three-door models aren’t likely to suit family drivers, so fleet managers should also consider adding the five-door versions to choice lists to broaden their appeal.
Overall, the Volkswagen just pips the Astra Sport Hatch for the title of best all-round package. Although the fifth-generation Golf model has had received some mixed reviews, the GT TDI version is desirable and it has by far the strongest residual value.
The Astra is the best-looking Vauxhall for some time, with a fresh, sporty look which is enhanced even further by the long awaited three-door Sport Hatch version. The surprise package for me in this selection is the Citroen C4 Coupe, which holds its own with great technology, plenty of equipment and an excellent driving experience.
How the panel voted
1. Volkswagen Golf
THE Golf wins by the largest margin we have ever had in the leasing panel, being rated top by everybody. Great RVs, desirable product and a strong engine make it an excellent choice to lease.
2. Vauxhall Astra
THE Golf won by a distance, but the Astra Sport Hatch was a clear second. The panel was won over by its fantastic looks and performance engine. Is this the best Vauxhall there is?
3. Citroen C4
CITROEN’S characterful C4 sneaked in ahead of the Focus, thanks to its individuality, low emissions and good fuel economy figures. High-ish projected SMR costs are the only blot.
4. Ford Focus
IT has been a long time since a Ford Focus came so low down in a survey of this sector, and it suggests that the new car, no matter how well it drives and how it feels inside, is failing to excite the leasing industry.
5. Peugeot 307
THE 307 is up against some stiff competition these days and as a result, Peugeot is offering some good deals on it. Cheap BIK, good spec and monthly rental rates make it worth a look.
6. Alfa Romeo 147
ALFA Romeo really does have an issue with confidence. This is a gorgeous car but fleets just do not trust the brand to deliver on reliability and service. It finishes a distant sixth.