First Drive

First Drive: Vauxhall Astra

The story:
Vauxhall has introduced efficient new diesel engines and an improved infotainment system to its key fleet offering.
Category:Lower medium
Key rival:Ford Focus
Vauxhall Astra
Price:£20,145
MPG:58.9-62.8 mpg
Emissions:90g/km
On sale:November 2019

Efficient. It’s a word that keeps cropping up when describing the latest Vauxhall Astra. Efficient engines, efficient aerodynamics. And most importantly for fleet managers and business drivers, the Astra is tax efficient.

Petrol and diesel engined versions both slip under 100g/km for CO2 emissions, thanks to fuel-sipping new engines and aerodynamic changes to the grille and under the body. Even more importantly, the diesel Astras are among the first cars to meet the RDE2 standard, and so avoid the 4% Benefit-In-Kind surcharge.

First Drive-September 2019-Vauxhall Astra-Image 4While private buyers will most likely choose a petrol model, the 1.5-litre diesel will be crucial for the fleet market, which accounts for 80% of Astra sales in the UK. It generates either 105hp or 122hp, and both emit 95g/km with a manual gearbox.

The lowest-emitting Ford Focus beats that with a figure of 91g/km, but crucially, the Focus is not yet RDE2-compliant, so it still attracts the 4% BIK penalty.

Low CO2 emissions combined with RDE2 compliance make the new Astra diesel an extremely affordable choice for company car drivers, sitting in the 23% BIK bracket.

The sums add up for companies, too. Over four years and 80,000 miles, Vauxhall suggests whole-life cost savings of thousands rather than hundreds of pounds compared with a Focus or Volkswagen Golf. Excellent fuel economy helps, with figures between 58.9 and 62.8mpg.

Even better news lies in the fact that it’s not just on the balance sheet where the Astra appeals. Changes to the suspension and steering make for genuinely alert cornering behaviour. The slight downside of this is that the ride is on the firm side of comfortable, although that firmness is more noticeable on cars with larger 18-inch alloy wheels. The Ford Focus is more engaging, and a Skoda Scala does a better job of smoothing away rough surfaces, but the Astra strikes a good balance between them.

With 122hp and a modest 221lb ft of torque, the Astra isn’t especially quick. In fact, it can be a little lethargic at very low revs. But once peak pulling power arrives at 1750rpm, it builds speed at a respectable rate.

First Drive-September 2019-Vauxhall Astra-Image 8

We also tried the 145hp 1.2-litre turbo petrol, and with emissions as low as 99g/km it makes a valid alternative to the diesel. The three-cylinder engine has a pleasant thrum, and the noise doesn’t become intrusive. The 1.2 is also available with 110hp and 130hp.

The 1.4-litre turbo petrol with its nine-speed automatic is more of a niche choice. Although the ’box changes gear smoothly, emissions of 112g/km make it less appealing for business drivers than the rest of the range.

Inside, improved infotainment is the big news. Otherwise it’s as you were in terms of passenger and luggage space – think competitive rather than class leading.

David motton

The verdict

It may not set new benchmarks for driver appeal or practicality, but beating rivals to the punch with an RDE2 diesel gives the Astra a crucial advantage.