A star is reborn
Next generation stellar performer puts Astra on a return trajectory to the top of small-car class
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 The timing belt has been replaced by a timing chain that lasts the life of the engine and the modern Astra’s service costs have come back to earth.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.
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