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Vauxhall Astra: Test Drive Review

Date: 29 September 2009   |   Author: Tristan Young

Category: Lower medium
P11D price: £17,840
Key rival: Ford Focus

There's one word that sums up the position Vauxhall's in with the new Astra - the most important business car launch of 2009 - and that word is tough.

Tough because the lower medium sector is the most competitive segment of the fleet market. Traditionally Astra has been neck and neck with arch rival the Ford Focus. The new Astra gives Vauxhall the chance to steal a lead over the Ford Focus which isn't due for replacement until next year.

With the new Astra, Vauxhall's stated aim is to offer a stylish car that's loaded with technology and offers best-in-class handling and ride.

Vauxhall has succeeded in almost all of these areas.

The car's exterior is stylish, if not as cutting edge and exciting in design as the outgoing car was when it was first unveiled, however, the new car certainly isn't going to put anyone off.

Five trim levels are available S, Exclusiv, SE, SRi and Elite

Inside the materials are much improved and in layout and quality is broadly similar to the larger Insignia. If there is a criticism then its that there are too many buttons - particularly on the higher spec SRi - and the car could benefit from a simplification system similar to BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI.

Unfortunately lower spec cars are equipped with a traditional handbrake which has been placed so that when the driver lowers the lever it will crush their index finger. Vauxhall engineers are aware of this issue and have said this will be fixed in future model-year upgrades.

Higher spec models come equipped with the better electronic parking brake which also means a larger centre storage area with a neat secret compartment for storing items out of view.

Comfort suspension or sport suspension are offered as standard, depending on trim. However there is also the option of clever suspension that allows three settings - sport, comfort and standard.

While none of the three set-ups offered allows the new Astra to get close to arch rival the Ford Focus in terms of driver fun and feedback from what the wheels are doing on the road, they are all more comfortable and up there with the refinement of the Golf.

The best selling fleet model is expected to be the 110PS 1.7-litre diesel in Exclusiv trim. Unfortunately, while this engine offers an improvement in efficiency over the outgoing version it's still above 120g/km for CO2 so it sits in the 18% benefit-in-kind tax band. The direct rivals from Ford, Peugeot and VW are all in 13% tax band. The 1.7 CDTI is also noiser on the move than the class best, even though the gearing allows for low revs on the motorway resulting in good fuel figures.

Costs, according to KwikCarCosts, too are only good and not great, they do however beat the Ford Focus, but it has to be the VW Golf that is still the class best for fleets.

All this goes to show is that despite the new Vauxhall Astra being a good and possibly very good car, the competition is so tough in the segment that's not quite the best.

Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTI 110PS Exclusiv 5dr manual
P11D price£17,840
Model price range£15,657-£24,695
Fuel consumption60.1mpg
CO2 (tax) 124g/km (18%)
BIK 20/40% per month£54/£107
Service interval18,000mls
Insurancegroup 4
Boot space (min/max)370/1235 litres
Engine size/power1686cc/110PS
Top speed/0-60mph113mph/11.8secs
On sale December 2009
VerdictA leap forward over the
previous generation model
and good in almost all areas