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ASTRA TAKES THE LESS TAXING ROUTE
Published on Wednesday 19 June 2013 14:42
Ten Second Review
Aimed primarily at C-segment company car drivers wishing to lower their bottom line costs, Vauxhall's kit-rich Tech Line spec for the Astra exploits its economical, low-polluting ecoFlex engine line up to bag bigger benefit in kind (BIK) savings compared to other models in the range as well as key models from arch rivals Ford. With a 1.7 CDTi ecoFLEX diesel engine in the line-up capable of 76.3mpg and 99 g/km of CO2, it's easy to appreciate the strategy.
In a generally depressed car market, Vauxhall's ecoFlex-engined Astras not surprisingly have to do battle with other eco-branded cars designed to stretch fuel-miles in these straitened times and show a caring attitude towards the environment. You're probably familiar with Ford's ECOnetic, Volkswagen's Bluemotion, Skoda's Greenline, Renault's eco2...the list goes on. And the impressive headline economy and emissions figures are, of course, commendable and worthwhile, if seldom reproduced in all their glory on real roads. Another way to leverage savings for the business user is to combine the road tax and congestion charge busting eco-stats with a largely cost-neutral, spec-massaging equipment bundle to effectively lower the benefit-in-kind tax liability. And that's exactly what Tech Line aims to do.
Tech Line spec is available virtually right across the Astra's engine range but, clearly, it's most effective when teamed with the ecoFlex powerplants, so we'll concentrate here on the star diesel in the line-up, the 130PS 1.7 CDTi which offers a compelling blend of performance, economy and emissions. It develops 20PS more than the regular 110PS 1.7 CDTi and supplements it with a meaty 300Nm of torque. But it still manages to take you further on every litre, while keeping the air cleaner.
A tweaked ECU, different fuel injection system, a lower compression ratio, energy recuperating brakes and stop-start team up with low friction piston rings, tappets and piston pins to make the difference. Additionally, the six-speed gearbox has been revised to reduce friction and tuned specifically to the revised engine. Other Astra Tech Line engines include a 95PS 1.3 CDTi diesel, normally aspirated 1.4 and 1.6-litre petrol units developing either 100 or 115PS and a 2.0-litre CDTi diesel with 165PS.
The Astra has other attractions for the driver, of course, with a well-judged balance between taut, responsive handling and a pliant, quiet ride. It's a shame the steering isn't a little crisper about the straight ahead but the gearchange is fast and precise and the powerful brakes are nicely weighted. Overall, the Astra flows over the ground with little fuss or drama and is an enjoyable steer.
Design and Build
Available in five-door hatchback or Sports Tourer estate body styles, the Tech Line Astras don't advertise their tax-weaning ways with anything too showy on the outside (hard to see how that would fit with the approach) but they do have 17-inch alloy wheels and chrome-effect window surrounds which set off the Astra's sleek, curvaceous shape very well. And of course the most recent visual Astra tweaks including redesigned front and rear bumpers.
Inside, things feel satisfyingly grown up with a dash made from quality plastics and architecture that swoops round to blend seamlessly with the door pulls which conclude their function with an expensive sounding clunk from the doors themselves. Also nicely tactile is the slick-acting switchgear lifted from the larger Insignia though, arguably, there's rather too much of it lumped on to the centre console. Another thoughtful design touch is the way the large vents built into the A-pillars demist the side windows so swiftly and effectively. And personal nick naks will find numerous resting places around the cabin thanks to the generous provision of stowage cubbies.
Passenger accommodation is good rather than outstanding with just enough room for a brace of six-footer to get comfy in the back as long as the front seats aren't pushed too far back. Surprisingly, despite the Astra's sleek external profile, headroom isn't an issue. The 370-litre boot capacity isn't anything to write home about by class standards but higher spec models do get a neat FlexFloor underfloor compartment which is handy.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £16,400 to £22,000 bracket for your Tech Line model, with a premium of around £900 for the Sports Tourer estate variant. Engine-wise, the Astra range is quite vast and the available engines range from the 100PS and 115PS 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre petrol units and the 95 PS 1.3 CDTi diesel to the 165PS 2.0-litre CDTi diesel. In between these options, the sweet spot of the range is found in the 1.7 CDTi EcoFlex diesel variants we've been concentrating on here, offered in 110 and 130PS guises at prices starting from just under £19,000. In terms of up-front and on-going value, this engine looks like the strongest argument for the Tech Line package.
Even the basic Astras get a CD stereo with MP3 compatibility and an AUX socket, electric heated mirrors, remote central locking, a rake and reach adjustable steering wheel and a 60:40 split rear bench. Tech Line spec adds sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and cruise control.
Cost of Ownership
Vauxhall can quote competitive economy and emissions figure across the board for its Astra range, but the 1.7 CDTi ecoFlex is undoubtedly the star performer and returns a barely credible 76.3mpg on the combined cycle, while its 99 g/km of CO2 exempts it from the London congestion charge, as well as enjoying zero VED (Vehicle Excise Duty), inclusion in the lowest 13 per cent BIK (Benefit in Kind) tax band and 100 per cent capital allowance for businesses. The bottom line tax saving over, say, a Ford Focus Zetec 1.6 TDCi (115PS), is £200, based on 40 per cent BIK over three years.
This particular model's energy-recuperation system makes a significant contribution, storing kinetic energy in the battery whenever the throttle is released or brakes applied, allowing the alternator to shut down when there is sufficient charge to run ancillaries. Also, a clutch activates the air conditioning compressor only when it's needed. Standard LED daytime running lights also reduce energy consumption. Damn clever.
Choose your Astra model carefully and Tech Line makes obvious business sense to the individual. It should also help Vauxhall stand its ground in the cut-throat C-segment company car market. Extra kit and lower costs are undoubtedly the watchwords in this 'age of austerity'.
Even without the Tech Line incentive, the Astra stacks up well. It may not be the fastest thing on four wheels in the 1.3-litre CDTi diesel guise but the 1.7 and 2.0 models are a lot more lively and rewarding to drive than you might expect. Indeed, the notion of a 130PS family hatch that can do over 75mpg on the combined cycle and emits just 99 g/km of CO2 is both powerful and enduring.