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Final report: Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi Elite Nav long term test

Date: 18 October 2016   |   Author: Hugh Hunston

Equipment: 6 airbags, digital radio, cruise control, climate control, 8in touchscreen satnav, OnStar connected car service, heated steering wheel, front and rear outer seats, leather upholstery, 17in alloys
Options: Metallic paint (£545), front and rear parking sensors (£450)

Final report - Much better than before

When our Astra arrived six months ago it had won the European and Scottish Car of the Year awards, implying that Vauxhall's seventh-generation fleet mainstay represented a step change up from worthy but rather dowdy predecessors.

The verdict after nearly 6000 trouble-free miles is that this smart-looking well screwed together hatchback has moved onwards and upwards to warrant serious consideration among user-choosers as well as fleet managers prescribing corporate transport.

Finished in gunmetal "phantom grey" and sitting on smart 17-inch spoked alloys, the highly specified Elite variant is a nicely sculpted departure from previous lacklustre iterations.

1] Onstarsticker JPG

Aesthetic enhancements are complemented by weight loss at around 80kg below the fairly lardy predecessor, contributing to an official combined 72.4mpg figure. We managed a 54.1mpg average, edging up towards 60mpg on longer-haul runs.

Vauxhall/Opel designers tasked with cabin ergonomics have done a thorough job, and the eight-inch infotainment screen, backed up with a central instrument binnacle display, provides among the most intuitive system around. 

The former is linked to General Motors' OnStar "personal onboard assistant" incorporating myriad functions, with satellite-linked diagnostic services free for five years. They include monthly emailed audits of the car's vital functions.

Screen Shot 2016-10-18 At 10.01.11

For high-mileage business drivers, digital wizardry, with the option of operating via smartphones, is compromised unless the car is comfortable to operate in. Our Astra's 16-way adjustable front sports seats are endorsed by a German orthopaedic agency committed to "back-friendly wellness." Result? Virtually ache- and twinge-free motoring.

Our car came with the single option of £545 front and rear parking sensors. I would have happily dispensed with the ultra-sensitive and noisy front alert. Gravel was monitored as small boulders and even if the 'P', for strident pain in the ear beep switch [3], was isolated it resumed when another gear was selected.

3] Sensormalaise

Business users account for 70% of Astra sales (it currently ranks fifth in the fleet model league), and the tax-friendly 103g/km CO2 rating plus long ranges between fuel stops complement competitive SMR costs. 

Not that our 136hp 1.6-litre  diesel-engined long-termer was an uninspiring drive. Refinement and flexible, with strong mid-range torque, made it restful but not sluggish. Fairly brisk through the gears, it was well balanced and agile. This Astra is worth choosing and using.

Mileage 6006
Official consumption 72.4mpg
Our average consumption 54.1mpg
Forecast/actual CPM 48.1p/49.1p
P11D price £22,145-£23,520
Model price range £15,390-£23-615
Residual value £7375
Depreciation cost £14,920
Fuel £4269
Service, maintenance and repair £1691
Vehicle Excise Duty £40
National Insurance £2017
CO2 (BIK band) 103g/km (20%)
BIK 20/40% per month £74/£148

 

11th report - GPH not MPG for fuel penalty equipment

I must definitely get out more! I recently spent too long - while parked up - scrolling through our Astra's computer read-out data, sited between the speedo and rev counter, and one category emerged top of the digital "not a lot of people know that" league.

Under the "top consumers" heading, sensors monitor how much diesel per hour ancillary equipment uses. Unsurprisingly, full-blast air-conditioning beats all at 0.12 gallons per hour.

Astra

Combined with the heated driver's seat (0.03gph) and rear window demister (0.05gph) it could add one gallon every five hours (0.2gph) to corporate fuel bills on chill winter days. Every little helps.

10th report - OnStar takes the pressure

I recently sensed that our Astra had lost some of its composure on rural roads and around town, and had been delivering something of a fidgety, unsettled ride quality that had not been apparent before.

Having put that down to the substandard state of budget-starved highways, the seemingly all-seeing OnStar "personal connectivity and service assistant" provided a clue to the unsettled state of affairs.
Via my monthly state-of-the-car's-health summary that is sent to my PC, OnStar informed me that "one or more tyres are underinflated and need air," and instructed me to "inflate them to their recommended tyre pressures as soon as possible".

Astragauge

It was also possible to monitor PSI pressure figures through the Astra's onboard computer (see image above), although they obviously fluctuate according to ambient temperatures and factors such as sustained motorway running.

The benefits of OnStar sending out pressure warnings include adjusted tyres that do not compromise fuel consumption and don't wear out the rubber prematurely, and a more tranquil driving experience.
The OnStar 'spy in the sky' has not highlighted the decline in the state of the otherwise excellent 1.6-litre diesel engine's oil life to 18%, but presumably red lights flash and klaxons sound on reaching a critical level below in-built safety allowances.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 5706
P11D price £22,145
Forecast/actual cost per mile 48.6p/46.5p
Our average consumption 54.1 mpg
Official combined consumption 72.4mpg

Ninth report - Whisper by name, whisper by nature

Our Astra's 136hp 1.6-litre, diesel engine justifies its corporate 'Whisper' designation in flexibility and low decibel-level terms, both inside and outside the car, while refinement, and far from shabby performance, is core to the car's driving personality.

Astra

 

Fleet drivers prescribed an Astra with this running gear rather than granted a choice of car have reason to be cheerful: it does not melt tarmac (although it reaches 62mph in a fairly brisk nine seconds), but mid-range torque encourages 'box changes from third to sixth without generating teeth-rattling harshness. And 70mph equates to a 2000rpm engine speed, reducing the stress of long-haul motorway runs.

Eighth report - Oil okay now

Scrolling through our Astra's in-dash instant computer health check read-out revealed a remaining oil life of just 29%. The figure had nothing to do with the engine's lubricant level, which registered ample on the dipstick, but was an electronic indication that the quality of the black stuff was degrading fairly fast.

With 15,000 miles to run before a service, the mechanical equivalent of a moderately worrying blood test result, prompted a second opinion. So, using the roof panel blue button, it was time to call OnStar, whose myriad services include remote vehicle diagnostic checks in case some technical malaise develops when out on business.

Astra Drop -in

Only having 2G mobile coverage around my home meant moving a couple of miles north to find 4G because that's the only way to guarantee a remote diagnostic check.

Vauxhall's automotive medical staff ruled out an immediate transfusion, and indicated that the higher than normal oil degradation was due to our Astra's fairly harsh early driving regime as a fleet demonstrator, which involved being taken around exhibitions and events (amounting to the automotive equivalent of a poor formative lifestyle with the wrong kind of exercise, before we provided a healthier, more conventional motoring environment).

Vauxhall also sought to emphasise that 2G mobile reception for OnStar is capable of handling critical issues such as automatically alerting emergency services and roadside breakdown assistance.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 5021
P11D price £22,145
Forecast/actual cost per mile 49.0p/49.9p
Our average consumption 54.5mpg
Official combined consumption 72.4mpg

Seventh report - Thank heavens for OnStar

Missing car keys can prompt trauma for fleet drivers heading for appointments, but fortunately the unsolved loss of our Astra's set did not scupper any immediate travel plans.

Thankfully, the Vauxhall's OnStar system's myriad functions include remote door unlocking (and perhaps should involve another: finding errant keys) and the Astra was on the drive behind our family car, not in front of it.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 At 17.05.20

Vauxhall rapidly provided a new set (plus spare), which needed programming as old-fashioned pronged keys (see picture) must communicate with immobilisers before triggering ignitions. Dealer Sonning Common Vauxhall did the job efficiently in 45 minutes for £84.

Sixth report - aero mpg

Achieving a smidgeon under 60mpg over the latest 467 miles in our Astra was 3mpg above the previous best and not down to my feather-footed driving techniques

Astra 1

After 4600 miles, it seems my wife's command of the Elite spec hatchback's 136hp diesel engine/six-speed manual transmission powertrain combo is better at exploiting a car that is so aerodynamically efficient the rear wipers are hardly needed in wet weather while the door mirrors and side windows remain relatively clean.

Fifth report - Astra hatch vs estate

Manufacturers building cars in the UK rarely drape products in Union Jacks these days. But Vauxhall was unashamedly patriotic when the first seventh-generation Astra Sports Tourer rolled-off the Ellesmere Port assembly line in February.

Lower medium estates are no longer basic, boxy, glorified vans with windows, and we've borrowed the Sports Tourer, in mid-range SRi Nav trim to see how it stacks up against our long-term hatchback.

While our Elite-specification Astra hatchback, with heated leather wheel and seats, accentuates creature comforts, the SRi boasts a sports setting option for sharper steering, gearing and suspension settings. Parking sensors are optional on both Astras.

Astra

There is a form and function trade-off between the hatch and the estate, and the former is more stylish, with a smart, sculpted profile, but Sports Tourers boast 1630-litre load bay capacities, 420 litres above the hatchback.

This additional practicality comes at a cost, though, as there's around a £1200 premium for the estate like-for-like.

Despite the ST being circa 50kg heavier, the identically powered 1.6-litre diesel-engined cars share an official combined 72.4mpg rating, and both cars play pivotal roles in the Astra's sustained corporate market strength, with the wagon contributing a 75% fleet sales factor.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 4,555
P11D price £22,145
Forecast/actual cost per mile 49.0p/49.9p
Our average consumption 53.9mpg
Official combined consumption 72.4mpg

Fourth report - Star Turn

OnStar took nearly 20 years to reach Vauxhall cars here in the UK after debuting on stateside Cadillacs in 1996. The satellite-aided "personal on-board assistant" - free for the first year - is standard with our Astra Elite,  which is testimony to technological advances and scales of economy.

I have only scratched the surface of this interactive box of tricks but benefits for business car managers include a portal allowing remote access to diagnostic data on mileage, fuel efficiency, oil life, brake pad wear and tyre pressures. There's also a parallel, free for five years, OnStar service facility for corporate and private owners that delivers a monthly email summary covering 300 different functional elements.

Astra _main

Hopefully, my time with our well-connected Astra will not involve testing the GPS-guided emergency service intervention system triggered by airbag deployment or, at a more mundane level, having the car unlocked by the Luton control centre via my iPhone.

Purely in the spirit of research, I tested the car park locator via the My Vauxhall app, which sounds the horn and flashes the lights. Meanwhile, the Apple Carplay route guidance app on my iPhone should provide more effective turn-by-turn on-screen and vocal prompts than Vauxhall's built-in device, which curiously skipped a couple of instructions. Finally, OnStar responds to 30 European languages, but not Gaelic or Welsh - something Celts like me might question.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 4365
P11D price £22,145
Forecast/actual cost per mile 47.6p/48.8p
Our average consumption 52.6mpg
Official combined consumption 72.4mpg

Third report - seat talk

Are you sitting comfortably? For drivers covering high mileages in Elite-spec Vauxhall Astras, the answer is a resounding yes, as we can testify to after 1600-plus miles behind the wheel of this model.

Astraseat2

As a back pain sufferer in most cars, the Astra's 16-way adjustable ergonomic sports seats - sourced from Opel and endorsed by Germany's Aktion Gesunder Rucken agency, which is devoted to "back-friendly wellness" - brings me blessed relief, particularly on long journeys. Incorporating all-important electric lumbar support, the multiple tweaking benefits both front seat occupants.

Second report - tutoring the uniformed

Several friends and motoring journalist colleagues were underwhelmed when I informed them that Vauxhall's seventh-generation Astra would grace my suburban drive for the next six months.

But for 'underwhelmed' read 'uninformed' because this is a thoroughly refined, economical and spacious corporate mainstay - seven out of 10 go to fleets - with strong eco credentials.

It boasts a smaller carbon footprint than most rivals, not least because it's built on Merseyside, unlike Ford's imported Focus, and despite ample driving performance it has an impressive 103g/km CO2 rating.

As befitting a predominantly fleet car, prompting those elitist prejudices, our highest Elite variant's 136hp 1.6-litre diesel engine justifies its Whisper moniker by being quiet, smooth and flexible.

Astra

Across the opening 1020 of varied miles fuel consumption averaged just over 52mpg, contradicting the onboard computer's 58mpg, while an unlikely 700-mile range was promised when the tank was last brimmed.

Our Astra's only option are the front and rear parking sensors to supplement the sybaritic Elite Nav equipment (which includes a heated steering wheel and front seats, activated automatically when demist is set to maximum).

The upfront sensors are particularly noisy and ultra sensitive, viewing gravel as small boulders. Even if the 'P' button is switched off it resumes its intrusive routine after reverse is used. Vauxhall says revisions are planned.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 3275
P11D price £22,145
Forecast/actual cost per mile 47.5p/48.7p
Our average consumption 52.1mpg
Official combined consumption 72.4mpg

First report - Port of call

The previous-generation Vauxhall Astra was a fleet stereotype - a worthy but completely forgettable machine that did the job, but never managed to grab drivers' attention. The new model, however, is not only more distinctive on the outside, but it's a good deal more plush on the inside too.

Throw in tidy handling and decent comfort levels and more than merely being a job-need tool, it should be a car that many fleet users will be happy to choose - especially thanks to its very low whole-life costs and BIK-shrinking low list prices.

Astra _1_lead

Keen to see whether the new Astra is as impressive to live with as it was at the car's launch, we headed to Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, factory to get our mitts on a shiny new 136hp 1.6-litre diesel in top-spec Elite Nav trim, fresh off the production line.

Despite being bedecked in range-topping trim, at the factory we discovered that our car sported 'Asteroid Grey' paintwork [1], which definitely doesn't show off the new model's sharper lines. Nevertheless, with nearly 200 miles separating the factory and home of new Astra custodian and granitekitchen contributor Hugh Hunston, it was the interior that was much more important for its maiden voyage.

Astra _2

Hitting the M56 in typically grey, traffic-heavy conditions that fleet drivers will be only too used to, the Astra felt like a pleasant place to be, with a large-screen [2], intuitive satnav system. Despite being outsized by 2.0-litre units in rival models, the 136hp 1.6-litre diesel under the bonnet proved satisfyingly punchy, while refinement levels are high. The gear change, steering and pedals all feel nicely weighted too.

From first impressions, the seats also appeared up to the task of prolonged motorway driving, although this wasn't the case after 90 minutes. The ride also isn't perfect, with the Astra proving mostly smooth but failing to iron out bumps that would be unnoticeable in granitekitchen's Audi A4 long-termer, for example.

Astra _3

More noticeable than any of these foibles, however, is fuel economy - according to the trip computer, at least. With the engine offering up decent acceleration without needing to be worked very hard, the on-dash figure soon exceeded 60mpg before beginning a march to the 70mpg mark [3] - just a hair's breadth below the claimed 72.4mpg official figure.

Not knowing the claimed figure at this stage, I set my sights on hitting 75mpg. Aided somewhat by a scattering of 50mph average speed camera sections on the M6, the trip computer hit a high of 74.4mpg, before finally settling at 74.1mpg after more than 150 miles - despite an average speed in excess of 60mph.

Astra _4

Suffice it to say, scoring such a high economy figure on its first outing, I challenged Hugh to see if he can break the 80mpg mark.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 CDTi Elite Nav

Mileage 2255
Official consumption 72.4mpg
Our average consumption 58.1mpg
Forecast/actual CPM 47.1p/47.5p
P11D price £22,145
Model price range £15,295-£23,520
Residual value 33.9%
Depreciation cost £14,645
Fuel £3965
Service, maintenance and repair £1691
Vehicle Excise Duty £40
National Insurance £2017
CO2 (BIK band) 103g/km (20%)
BIK 20/40% per month £74/£148


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