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Vauxhall Astra Hatch
So it's finally happened, after years of changing cars every other day, I have finally bitten the bullet, (actually, forced at gun point by the MD would be a more accurate description) to take a permanent company car! The only provisos were that it must be a 5dr, diesel, supplied from a Toomey dealership & sub £26,000. Now at this point I'm sure quite a lot of you are thinking "you lucky git" but that is about to change to "you ungrateful git" because, as a self-confessed 'petrolhead' I couldn't for the life of me find anything that got me excited at the thought of running a car for 2 years. Bear in mind that for the last 12 years I've been used to changing my car more times in a month than the wind changes direction! I can hear you all playing the world's smallest violin just for me in sympathy....... :)
The Toomey Group operates Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, Nissan, MG, Vauxhall, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi dealerships, so you'd think that I had a lot to choose from, but you'd be wrong simply because I'm picky! The only cars that I would want to run for 2 years out of the above would be the Peugeot RCZ, the Renault Clio 200 Cup, the Nissan 370z or the Vauxhall VXR8, all of which fall WHHHHEEEEY outside the Toomey parameters. So it was back to the drawing board...
What I'll do is list them below along with my rational as to why they were no good for me:
The Nissan Qashqai: It's a superb car and we sell a huge amount of them, but at the time of having to choose (October last year), the 1.6DCi engine wasn't available so that would have meant taking the 2.0DCi which is a noisy sluggish engine that I wouldn't want to live with for 2 minutes let alone 2 years so that was off the list.
The Vauxhall Insignia: I remember seeing this car when it was launched and the British Motor show at the Excel Arena. My opinion initial opinion was the Mondeo is a nicer car to look at and, after driving the Insgnia, the Mondeo is certainly a nicer car to drive. I've never been able to get comfortable when driving an Insignia as the pedals seem to be offset, so that was off the list.
The Renault Laguna: As dull to look at as a Toyota Avensis and equally as boring to drive.
The Renault Megane: Too small and I would only sacrifice space for a 250 Megane Renualtsport.
The MG 6: Now I know that Jason Plato has just won a race at Brands Hatch in one but unfortunately Toomey won't let me run a £350,000 BTCC car every day and at the time of choosing it only came in a 1.8 petrol engine.
The Peugeot 508: A cracking looking car......in the brochures! Less so in the flesh. In fact, I can honestly say that of all of the cars I drove last year, this was the one I was most disappointed with. It's very bland inside and the 2.0HDi 163 engine felt a bit gutless.
Then there are the offerings from Citroen, Chevrolet and Mitsubishi: I'll keep this short and just say No, No and No.
The above left me in a bit of a pickle and only 1 car left to choose from, The Vauxhall Astra.
After blagging a 10 minute test drive in the 2.0CDTi 160ps at our local dealer, I decided that the engine pulled well and would keep me entertained long enough until I felt the need to spend £350 and 'chip it up' to 240ps. If any of my bosses or the Chairman of the company are reading this, I AM JOKING!
Then, I needed to choose my spec, which was much easier than I thought it would be as Vauxhall had just launched the SRI VX-Line. The VX-Line comes with 19 inch alloys and Sportive Pack comprising of a unique front bumper, side sills, rear lower skirt, rear spoiler, body colour grille bar over and above the standard SRI model. However. what I failed to notice until 2 weeks ago (when the fog came) was that taking the VX-Line pack deletes the front fog lights. What a stupid idea!
Another stupid idea is the OTR price against what you get as standard. The Astra SRI VX-Line 2.0CDTI 160 is £24,615.00. This includes the metallic paint, the 19 inch wheels and the Sportive Pack and not a great deal else. So I needed to add sat nav, Bluetooth and get this: REAR ELECTRIC WINDOWS!!
That took the total price of my car to £26,145.00! That is a serious amount of money to spend on any car, let alone an Astra hatchback. I would have thought for that sort of money, it would have rear electric windows as standard.
To give you an example of just how expensive that is, the equivalent Ford Focus 2.0TDCi Zetec S costs £23,420.00. Now who in their right mind would spend over £2700.00 more for an Astra over a Focus? I'm sorry Vauxhall but that is simply insane!
But the price of the thing was not an issue I need to concern myself with, so the Astra was ordered in October and delivered to me in January.
My first drive in it involved dropping it off at our holding compound as I had cars booked to review until well in to March. As you can tell I was very excited about it.....
But alas the day finally came when I had to give in and actually take my new company car home.
I'd opted for Techno Grey which, with the 19 inch wheels does actually look really well. Inside, everything is well laid out and the steering wheel controls a simple. There is ample storage for your phone, small bottles, Starbucks cups or any other niknacs you might store.
In the back there is just about enough space for a medium sized adult like me, but you wouldn't want to sit in the centre seat for too long as the transmission tunnel means only those with the tiniest of feet will fit. Talking of seats, the front 'sports seats' are comfortable but calling them sports seats is a tad farfetched as they don't really hold you in place like a sports seat should.
On the road the Astra is a nice car to drive, the suspension is slightly firm, which I personally like but manages to ride the bumps well. The engine pulls very well through each gear and the whole car is a nice place to be when driving through town. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said when you are out on the open road, in fact it's not good at all. The road and wind noise is atrocious at motorway speeds to the point where you have to really turn the stereo up to be able to here Talk Sport's live commentary of Liverpool losing yet another game, being a Man Utd supporter, I really want to be able to hear that.
Then there's the handling. Around town it's fine, but when I feel the need to clear the cobwebs out and have some fun it understeers worse than the Titanic trying to avoid that iceberg.
It's quite surprising how hard it is to make the front end dig in mid corner, especially when you consider the chunky low profile 19 inch wheels it has.
That said, for 99% of people this won't be an issue and you will be more than happy with how the car performs at speed. I tend drive cars quite hard, but when compared to other cars that I have driven in the same way in this very competitive market sector, I honestly couldn't choose the Astra over a Focus, Golf, A3 or 1 Series. It's by no means a bad car it's just too expensive and the above competition are just that much better for the same sort of money.
Thanks for reading.