Re-entry hatch has a hot mission
Holden comes back with a small five-door specified to shake up the segment — it may not, at the price
HOLDEN showrooms got a fashion boost this week.
The first all-new Astra in more than a decade has landed — but those eager for the return of the sleek European hatch may be in for a shock.
Its predecessor, the locally made Holden Cruze automatic, sold for as low as $19,990 driveaway in its final year on sale.
The new Astra in automatic guise starts at more than $28,000 drive-away — an increase of 40 per cent over the Cruze.
That’s also at least $2000 dearer than the Volkswagen Golf, and $3000 to $4000 dearer than the top-selling Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.
Holden has defended the price rise, saying the Astra is designed to “shake-up the small-car segment and redefine what a Holden small car can be”.
The new Astra has some technology not available on most rivals — but that too comes at a cost.
Fully loaded, a top of the range Astra now costs more than $40,000 drive-away — more than a stablemate Commodore.
There are three models in the range — R, RS, and RS-V — and a choice of 1.4 or 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engines, both with six-speed manual or six-speed auto transmissions.
For now, only the cheapest model is available with an auto — the two better equipped models won’t have an automatic option until March next year.
Headline technology such as automatic emergency braking — which slams on the brakes below 30km/h if the driver isn’t paying attention — as well as lane-keeping assistance and blind-zone warning are standard on the two dearest Astra models, and bundled as a $1000 option pack on the base model from April.
The braking tech became standard on the entire Mazda3 range two months ago, will be available on the Toyota Corolla from April and is a $1500 option on the VW Golf Trendline.
The Astra’s hi-tech highbeams don’t dazzle oncoming traffic — eight individual LEDs in each headlight switch on and off in milliseconds so they don’t blind other drivers, while still illuminating the road behind and beside them. They are part of a $3990 option pack that includes radar cruise control and a sunroof.
It is with these options that a top-of-the-range Astra becomes dearer than not only a Commodore but also more than a Mercedes A-Class or Audi A3.
The new Astra is part of Holden’s bold plan to transform its image from mainstream to upmarket.
Holden sales director Peter Keley is unapologetic about the Astra’s price rise and says the company is not chasing outright sales leadership with the new model — even though small cars have topped the annual sales charts for the past five years.
It may seem hard to believe today but three generations ago, in 2001, the Holden Astra gave the Toyota Corolla a run for its money and was the nation’s second best-selling small car (28,300 versus 30,800). At the time the Astra spanked the Mazda small car (10,000 sales) and VW Golf (5600). How times have changed. Even the Holden Cruze did better on the sales charts than the new Astra is expected to perform, hitting a peak of 33,700 deliveries in 2011 before sales went into freefall — and halved by 2015.
Needless to say the Astra has a lot riding on its creased flanks.
“The new Astra is designed to appeal to people who may have never considered our brand before,” says general manager of product marketing Ben Lasry.
“These customers love travel and love European sophistication. They have a white collar job with a comfortable household income,” he says.
At least the Astra’s servicing costs are reasonable ($229 a service for the first four visits — every nine months or 15,000km). Only the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 are cheaper; the Mazda3 and VW Golf are dearer for routine maintenance.
The other good news, for those who can afford to buy the new Astra: it’s a worthy car.
Designed and engineered in Germany — and made in Poland — the new Astra has the advantage of locally tuned steering and transmission calibrations.
Holden engineers didn’t feel the need to overhaul the European suspension but they tweaked the steering to suit Australian roads and adjusted the shift patterns of the auto transmission to match local driving conditions.
These may seem like odd technical details to mention but such attention to detail helps set the Astra apart from the competition.
ON THE ROAD
We got to sample all four driveline combinations — the 1.4-litre turbo petrol manual and auto, and the 1.6-litre turbo petrol manual and auto — on a
Fully loaded, a topof-the-range Astra costs more than $40,000 drive-away — dearer than a Commodore, a Mercedes A-Class or an Audi A3
300km loop between Yass and Canberra.
First impressions are good. The new Astra feels like an amalgam of the sharpness of a Mazda3 and the comfort of a VW Golf.
On coarse roads the tyres are quieter than a Mazda but slightly noisier than a Golf. That’s the trade-off for agility. Tyre grip equals noise.
Most impressive is how well the suspension soaks up the worst bumps and thumps Aussie back roads can offer.
The electric power steering felt relaxed on the open road, too. Holden says the steering software “reads” the road surface every five to 10 seconds and adjusts accordingly to compensate for the camber .
The 1.4 engine has enough grunt for the daily grind but those who want a bit more oomph would be well advised to upgrade to the 1.6.
The only catch: the more powerful engine demands premium unleaded (as with most other European cars). The 1.4 drinks regular unleaded.
Inside, the new Astra has a luxury feel, with soft touch material on the dash, doors and arm rests. A touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection also displays a clear image of the rear-view camera. A digital speedo display splits the analog instruments.
There are ample cubbies and sizeable door pockets and there is generous leg and headroom in the rear. The driver’s seat can slide back — and be lowered — more so than in other cars, to accommodate the tallest of drivers.
Downsides? There aren’t many: only the driver gets an “auto up” powered window switch (the Golf has all four windows) and there is only one USB port in the cabin (the Mazda3 has two).
There is a space-saver spare rather than a full-size tyre but at least this is better than an inflation kit.
The new Astra is worthy vehicle and a welcome return to form — but the price is steep by any measure. Be sure to haggle, or wait for deals to emerge.