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First Drive: Vauxhall Astra

Efficient RDE2 diesels should re-sharpen the Astra’s fleet appeal, says Alex Grant.

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SECTOR Lower Medium   PRICE £18,885-£29,310   FUEL 51.4-62.8mpg   CO2 90-120g/km

The Astra turns 40 this year and, despite an avalanche of new brands, nameplates and segments dropping into the market since, it’s still very much a household name. Quietly competent, particularly since the latest generation launched in 2015, it’s also a fleet stalwart. Feedback from businesses helped shape the new car, which arrives in November.

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it update, at least visually, but brings the Astra further into the PSA stable. The subtle styling tweaks, along with lower suspension, new under-body panels and a grille that can close completely at high speeds or during warm-up, all contribute to better fuel economy, and none of the old drivetrains have been carried over. Notably, this is the first car in its class with only three-cylinder engines in the line-up.

Demand for diesel has slowed but it’s still the fuel of choice for around 60% of ‘true fleet’ Astras, and the new 105hp and 122hp 1.5-litre diesel engines offer a real competitive advantage. Both are RDE2-certified, so there’s no 4% Benefit-in-Kind surcharge to blunt the tax-efficient 90g/km and 92g/km CO2 emissions – signs that the company car might be about to become more affordable again.

Petrol alternatives comprise three 1.2-litre turbocharged engines with 110hp, 130hp and 145hp, in line with other PSA products, each emitting 99g/km CO2 (102g/km for the Sports Tourer). In character they’re fairly similar to their diesel counterparts in all except outright fuel economy; lively even at low revs, but coarse under load. Automatic transmissions are offered on the 122hp diesel, which can be paired with a smooth-shifting nine-speed gearbox, or the 1.4-litre petrol turbo, which gets a relaxed if slightly lethargic continuously variable unit with six stepped ‘gears’.

The trim line-up is slimmer, but the Astra offers choice in the right places. SE and Business Edition Nav, which collectively account for most fleet volume, both get almost a full suite of petrol and diesel engines, and so does the sports-styled SRi Nav. A 105hp diesel Business Edition Nav, the heartland fleet offer, has a P11d value just under £20,000.

Regardless of trim, it’s a strong all-rounder; sprung softly enough to ride out rough road surfaces, but also agile and light-footed across country, while the cabin is solidly built with plenty of space front and rear, supportive seats, and buttons and knobs for often-used settings. Sports Tourer versions can even rival the Insignia’s load area with the rear seats in place, though the engine and trim line-up isn’t as broad as the hatchback. Parking sensors are optional on most trims, and the OnStar connected services were dropped for new cars last year, but it’s well appointed otherwise.

Fleets and drivers have an unprecedented breadth of choice at their fingertips – including Vauxhall’s three-model SUV line-up – but, with the right ingredients to target its core audience, there’s still a lot to be said for sticking with a household name.

The Verdict
A strong option in a tough class. But, with no electrification, incoming WLTP tax bands and a new Golf on the horizon, it has to be.

Key Fleet Model
1.5 (105hp) Turbo D Business Edition Nav

Low BiK. Huge estate.

OnStar was a USP.

FW Rating: 5/5

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Alex Grant

Trained on Cardiff University’s renowned Postgraduate Diploma in Motor Magazine Journalism, Alex is an award-winning motoring journalist with ten years’ experience across B2B and consumer titles. A life-long car enthusiast with a fascination for new technology and future drivetrains, he joined Fleet World in April 2011, contributing across the magazine and website portfolio and editing the EV Fleet World Website.