A star is reborn

Next gen­er­a­tion stel­lar per­former puts As­tra on a re­turn tra­jec­tory to the top of small-car class

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

THIS is more than just a new As­tra — it’s the first sign of a fresh start for Holden.

The brand has sol­diered on with one of the old­est show­room line-ups around thanks to par­ent com­pany Gen­eral Mo­tors, in the grip of the GFC, de­lay­ing or ax­ing new mod­els.

Now out of bank­ruptcy, GM is spend­ing big, over­haul­ing its global range — and, on the face of it, mak­ing up for lost time.

The As­tra may look fa­mil­iar but it’s com­pletely new from the ground up. Only the head­light switch and start but­ton are car­ried over.

There’s a new light­weight struc­ture, a range of su­per fru­gal en­gines and it’s avail­able with tech­nol­ogy never seen be­fore in a small car.

Mas­sage seats (with three set­tings) and LED high-beam head­lights — which il­lu­mi­nate the road in front of and be­hind on­com­ing cars with­out flar­ing in other driv­ers’ eyes — are firsts for the class.

Other mod cons in­clude au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing that brings the car to a halt from 60km/h (in other cars, this works from 30km/h and 50km/h). Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid tech bring smart­phone func­tion­al­ity to the As­tra’s touch­screen.

This As­tra is dis­tinct from the three-door mod­els re­cently rein­tro­duced in Aus­tralia, which are de­riv­a­tives of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion and near­ing the end of their model cy­cle.

The older model was brought in to re­vive the name lo­cally and let more than 235,000 Aus­tralian buy­ers of Euro­pean As­tras (from 1996 to 2009) know one of their favourite cars is back.

Not ev­ery­one loved the As­tra, es­pe­cially early mod­els that re­quired costly tim­ing belt re­place­ments af­ter just 60,000km. (At the time this was usu­ally a $1600 job that, if ne­glected, risked ter­mi­nal en­gine fail­ure and a $5000-plus

re­pair bill.) The tim­ing belt has been re­placed by a tim­ing chain that lasts the life of the en­gine and the mod­ern As­tra’s ser­vice costs have come back to earth.

Holden’s life­time capped price ser­vic­ing is likely to make the new As­tra among the cheap­est small-car con­tenders to main­tain.

ON THE ROAD

The next-gen­er­a­tion Holden As­tra is a year away from lo­cal show­rooms but, if Cars­guide’s preview drive on Euro­pean roads is any guide, it’ll be worth the wait.

It’s a good look­ing car in the me­tal; the hor­i­zon­tal tail-lights and chrome bars that ex­tend from the grille into the head­lights give it a wide, im­pos­ing pres­ence.

Its over­all ap­pear­ance is de­ceiv­ing. The lower, shorter and sleeker body is in fact roomier than be­fore (it has more rear head­room than the Toy­ota Corolla and Mazda3, although the VW Golf bet­ters it) and the cabin has stepped up a class.

Gone, thank­fully, is the cur­rent As­tra’s maze of con­fus­ing Lego-like but­tons to op­er­ate the ra­dio and airconditioning. Now there is a large touch­screen, sim­ple con­trols ( just two di­als) and log­i­cal air­con but­tons.

The cabin has am­ple soft­touch ma­te­ri­als on the dash­top and the el­bow pads on the doors.

The seats are com­fort­able, es­pe­cially when equipped with the mas­sage func­tion, although only the driver gets this op­tion on lux­ury mod­els.

Vi­sion im­proves, too, de­spite the sleek win­dow lines.

First up on our drive is the 1.4-litre four-cylin­der turbo. It’s in­tended to be su­per fru­gal rather than a pace­set­ter but even by these mea­sures (and com­pared to en­gines of the same size and type) it ap­pears to lack a lit­tle urge at low revs.

The 1.0-litre turbo three­cylin­der (sadly not com­ing to Aus­tralia) sur­pris­ingly has slightly more urge from the same light throt­tle in­puts.

The 1.6-litre four-cylin­der turbo (also in the cur­rent three­door As­tra) has more than enough oomph, aided by its ex­tra power over the 1.4 but also by the mas­sive 200kg re­duc­tion in the new As­tra’s body weight.

On 18-inch wheels (likely to be on high-grade im­ports) the As­tra is sur­pris­ingly com­fort­able over bumps, bulges and joins on Euro­pean roads. The elec­tric power steer­ing is light but pre­cise.

Over­all, first im­pres­sions of the new As­tra are pos­i­tive. But it’s worth re­serv­ing judg­ment un­til we drive it on Aus­tralian roads a year from now.

Holden says it will make some mi­nor tweaks be­tween now and its lo­cal ar­rival.

VER­DICT

The all-new As­tra will cat­a­pult Holden into the top ech­e­lon of the small-car class. The only ques­tion mark is the price.

Built in a GM fac­tory in Bri­tain, the As­tra will be sen­si­tive to ex­change rates.

Don’t ex­pect the same $19,990 drive-away start­ing price of the lo­cally made Holden Cruze, which is due to be phased out about the time the As­tra ar­rives.

As driven in Europe: Opel­badged ver­sion of the As­tra

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