Vauxhall Astra: An introduction

Vauxhall's Astra joins Parkers' fleet

Vauxhall's Astra is a hugely popular car that dearly wants to take scalps from the likes of the Ford Focus and the VW Golf. Traditionally the Astra has been one of the best-selling cars in both private and fleet markets, but is the latest iteration really up to a duel with the best that Ford and VW can offer?

The model we've gone for will be a popular choice. It's in SRi spec and it uses a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine mated to a six-speed gearbox. Power is 158bhp, while there's 350Nm of pulling power available between 1,750 and 2,500rpm. This is enough to get the Astra to 62mph in 8.5 seconds, and it'll go on to a top speed of 134mph. Emissions are 119g/km of CO2, which means VED band C or £30 per month. Company car drivers will pay BIK at 13% in the 2011/2012 tax year. Fuel economy is claimed to be 62mpg.

Standard equipment on the Astra SRi includes driver and passenger front airbags, active safety front seat head restraints, air con, electric front windows and door mirrors, remote central locking, reach-and-rake adjustable steering column, cruise control, a leather steering wheel with stereo controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension, electronic parking brake, sport seats, darker headlights, front fog lights, a trip computer, front armrest, and ‘FlexFloor' boot compartment.

With all of the above, the Astra will cost you £22,725 on-the-road. However, I've specified an option or two in an effort to make things more interesting. Front and rear parking sensors are fitted, costing £395. Although old-school drivers may see this as unnecessary, believe you me, once they're fitted you will use them.

I've also got a posh sat nav and stereo system, complete with iPod control, Bluetooth and digital radio as well as a seven-inch screen in the dash. The stereo and sat nav cost £855, digital radio costs £160 and Bluetooth is £220.

The seats cost another £470, and the option of a space-saving spare wheel set me back another £85.

I ticked the box for the ‘towing pack' too. This £525 option means you get a detachable tow bar (meaning it's invisible when not in use) and a trailer stability program to keep things in check. The braked towing weight is 1020kg, so more than enough to transport my lightweight race car to the tracks I'm competing at.

The grand total for the Astra is £25,545, which means I have the most expensive car currently on our test fleet. Is it as good as the Focus my colleague Lewis is running? Can it blow Tim's Golf out of the water? Is it really worth £200 more than Chris' uber-spec Audi A1? The answers to these questions, and many more besides, are what I'm going to find out over the next six months.

Current mileage: 482

Average mpg: 0