Break away

Holden’s smart As­tra sedan is handy in town or on tour

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

THE Holden As­tra is parked out­side the last chance cafe. Once one of Aus­tralia’s favourite name­plates, it re­turned last year in Euro­pean-built hatch­back guise to a luke­warm re­sponse from buy­ers.

It was a good car ham­pered by an op­ti­mistic price tag that set it against the Volk­swa­gen Golf and above Ja­panese ri­vals.

A price cut has helped sales and now Holden has launched the sec­ond prong of its as­sault on the small-car mar­ket in the form of a cheaper Korean-built sedan that shares the As­tra badge.

The four-door As­tra looks bright and shiny against a Gold Coast sun­rise but things will be bleak if its $21,990 drive-away start­ing price, lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing in­put and a long list of stan­dard equip­ment fail bring buy­ers back to Holden show­rooms.

Pitched pri­mar­ily against the Toy­ota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra, the sedan has the com­fort and re­fine­ment to do the job for older Aussies who want a car that’s not as edgy as its hatch coun­ter­part. The only no­tably ab­sent fea­ture is au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, which is not avail­able and not com­ing be­cause GM plan­ners didn’t think it was needed in the United States.

“We have the largest carpark in all of Aus­tralia. I need to get those peo­ple back in the Holden fam­ily,” says Holden’s new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing Mark Har­land.

There was lots of love for the As­tra in the 1980s, when it was pop­u­lar both new and used, but things have not gone so well in the re­cent past.

As­tra badges were not enough when Opel tried and failed to sell the name in Aus­tralia. Then Holden botched the hatch’s re­turn in Novem­ber with am­bi­tious pric­ing, only to slash it by up to $1700 just a month later.

Now the Red Lion’s bosses say they have learned from the hatch fi­asco and are play­ing smart with what’s ef­fec­tively the re­place­ment for the lo­cally made, un­der­achiev­ing Cruze.

It’s badged as an As­tra be­cause Har­land and his team also know bet­ter than to call it a Cruze, which was also the name

of an ear­lier fail­ure, an un­der­whelm­ing baby SUV.

Har­land says: “We ob­vi­ously spent our time on get­ting the pric­ing right on this ve­hi­cle. I think we’re right in the mix, at a good com­pet­i­tive price. We want to win.”

The As­tra’s ba­sics are sim­ple. Its 1.4-litre turbo makes 110kW/245Nm (240Nm in the auto) with six-speed man­ual and auto gear­boxes turn­ing the front wheels. Tech in­cludes a seven-inch touch­screen with Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto and re­vers­ing cam­era and it gets five stars from ANCAP.

The As­tra sedan is a lit­tle longer than the hatch and the sus­pen­sion tune for Aus­tralia is softer, as Holden tar­gets older buy­ers who will be more con­cerned with com­fort than point-and-squirt driv­ing en­joy­ment. The brand says cars have cov­ered more than 100,000km in lo­cal test­ing.

Build­ing the As­tra sedan in Korea helps with pric­ing. Holden says the car was de­signed in the US, de­vel­oped in Europe and tuned in Aus­tralia be­fore it got to the Korean fac­tory.

The base man­ual LT is $21,990 on the road — a price de­scribed as in­tro­duc­tory but it’s cer­tain to stick. There are three grades to the top-line LTZ at $29,790 plus on-roads. All vari­ants get six airbags.

The in­tro­duc­tory deal, which will only last for a cou­ple of months, in­cludes a five-year/ 130,000km war­ranty with five years of road­side as­sist. The car has shorter than av­er­age ninemonth ser­vice in­ter­vals but the cost is com­pet­i­tive at $916 over three years.

“Hope­fully we’ve learned our lessons of the past,” Har­land says. “We can’t (ask a) pre­mium price if we are not seen as a pre­mium brand.”

ON THE ROAD

There is noth­ing ground­break­ing or earth­shat­ter­ing about the As­tra sedan but it does the job.

It’s quiet and com­fort­able, easy and en­joy­able to drive and has space for a fam­ily. It’s good enough to get on the shop­ping list af­ter a Corolla or Elantra.

The first im­pres­sion is good, with a non-of­fen­sive shape and a dash that looks good and works well.

The 1.4 turbo is not par­tic­u­larly punchy but smart tun­ing of the six-speed auto, or en­joy­able self-shift­ing work in the man­ual, will keep the car mov­ing along swiftly enough, with good over­tak­ing power.

Driv­ing on a sod­den Gold Coast this week, the auto wipers and head­lamps on the level three LT are wel­come and work well. It’s the ba­sics from the LS that al­low the car to sit se­curely de­spite jar­ring roads and lots of pud­dles.

The res­o­lu­tion on the rearview cam­era is not good, the head­lights are a bit dim af­ter dark and one car has very poor FM ra­dio re­cep­tion.

Holden has done well to con­sider tow­ing, in­clud­ing trailer sway con­trol. The As­tra feels as if it could nudge the claimed 5.8 L/100km while tour­ing on stan­dard un­leaded.

Over a long loop­ing run, and mov­ing through the mod­els from LS to LS+ — which has lane-keep as­sist and for­ward col­li­sion alert — then LT and LTZ, the As­tra feels se­cure and com­posed. It’s not threat­en­ing and keeps mov­ing along.

It helps that the car is 63mm longer than the hatch, to boost rear legroom and boot space, where it’s not good to see a space-saver spare.

VER­DICT

The As­tra is not a great car but it drives well, the pric­ing is right and the value is solid.

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