Latest Astra savings

- every little helps

Vauxhall Astra, front action 1
Vauxhall Astra, front action 2
Vauxhall Astra, full front action
Vauxhall Astra, side action
Vauxhall Astra, full rear action
Vauxhall Astra, front seats
Vauxhall Astra, dashboard
Vauxhall Astra, rear action
Vauxhall Astra, boot

BANG on all you like about style but talk turns almost totally hard headed when it's the next company car under discussion.

It's then the fleet managers of this world look at the bottom line before the lines the designer sweated blood over at his computer; so the car we're talking about had better not cost a fortune to run.

Say hello to the latest update of the Vauxhall Astra hatch and Sports Tourer estate, with the vast majority of these UK-built cars destined for a hard life on the company fleet.

There's been a modest refresh outside and in for this seventh generation Astra, but so subtle only a dedicated Astra watcher will spot the changes.

They include a split front grille that opens and closes to both cool the engine and improve the car's aerodynamics at speed. Allied to other air smoothing moves (right down to a reshaped rear suspension) this makes the Astra hatch one of the slipperiest cars on sale, according to Vauxhall.

Then we come to the big event in the quest to make these latest Astra more economical, thus saving a business user serious sums on his or her benefit in kind bill.

Out go all the old four-cylinder engines and in come a range of petrol and diesels, all with just three cylinders and capable, in their most frugal form, of reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by up to 21 per cent.

That means diesel versions avoid the four per cent surcharge on 'dirty' engines, kicking the BIK bands down a fiscally helpful six bands (to 23 per cent) in the process and saving £1,000 over a four year life cycle.

That's good news for the eight out of ten drivers of a new Astra who will use the car for business and means, for Vauxhall "that we won't pay any fines".. a reference to tougher environmental limits about to trouble car makers in the next couple of years.

There's more good news; Astra prices start at £18,885 for an SE version, saving £20 on the old Design model. Most popular versions are expected to be SRi and SRI Nav trim at £21,895 and £22,595 (both up a modest £130) while the range is capped by the likely tiniest seller, the Ultimate Nav at £26,755 and £460 more than before.

Choosing a diesel adds to the bill, with £1,020 extra in entry level SE trim and £895 if you opt for the SRi, for example.

Vauxhall has cut the choice of trim and options on the newcomer, believing users of the second best seller in the range (after the Corsa) prefer a simpler approach to selecting their next set of wheels.

If they head towards a petrol version (expected to swallow a massive 85 per cent of sales) they'll be confronted by 1.2 litre engines with 110,130 and 145 horsepower and six-speed manual gearboxes, identical 54.3mpg averages on the new tougher testing regime and tax advantageous CO2 outputs of 99g/km for the hatch.

Also available is a lone 1.4 litre petrol (145 horsepower, 48.7mpg and 112g/km) with a stepless CVT auto transmission.

Moving to diesels, we find a 1.5 litre engine of 105 or 122 horsepower and attached to a six-speed manual 'box and with up to 83mpg and 90g/km on offer.

The more powerful diesel can also be ordered with a nine-speed (yes, nine) automatic gearbox, producing 68.6mpg and 109g/km.

Choosing the Sports Tourer adds a little to emissions and uses a little more fuel, and there's a £1,470 surcharge for all the extra boot space.

Back inside the car, you'll find (depending on model) an eight inch colour touchscreen with voice control, wireless phone charging and a seven speaker Bose sound system - and a heated windscreen too.

All the Astra's multimedia systems are compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto without the cost of a subscription to the user, while an improved front camera now recognises pedestrians as well as vehicles.

Aimed at improving the Astra's ride on poor surfaces, the shock absorbers now assume more control and the steering has been sharpened at higher speeds.

Out on the road in the highest power 1.2 litre petrol there was the distant, enthusiastic thrum of all three-cylinder engines and all the power you'll ever need for a keen drive when the kids are at their gran's and the winding road home beckons.

The Astra lacks the final driving edge of a rival Ford Focus but is close enough perhaps not to matter. A ride that tries hard to suppress the worst of our roads is a plus, along with a sense of order in the cockpit - and 42.9mpg on the trip computer at journey's end.

A shorter outing in the auto diesel showed a car with plenty of punch but a gruffer voice and less impressive (39.5mpg) result. Not a fair test, perhaps, but haven't petrol cars come on a long way?

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