HOLDEN’S FAMILY SEDAN
The name conjures stars but the virtues value, space, safety and comfort
Holden made its reputation building tough, spacious, comfortable family sedans that were reasonably priced and engineered to make easy work of rugged Australian roads and long distances. Its new Astra sedan is a Korean import, it’s smaller than a Commodore but it’s one of Holden’s better recent efforts with many attributes of the homegrown family Holdens that, once upon a time, we used to love.
Chief among those attributes is value for money. At $21,990 drive-away for the base model LS manual, the Astra sedan is a steal — if you want a manual, which most people don’t. The LS automatic we’re testing today is $23,990 drive-away. That’s still great value.
The sedan is smaller than the hatch, which is made in Poland. Holden imports the sedan from South Korea. In the US, the Astra sedan is a Chevrolet Cruze but Holden has dropped the Cruze name, which always struggled in the Australian market, hoping the once popular Astra badge can do better business.
Its main sedan rivals — the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Cerato, Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic — are pretty big cars too and all five have exactly the same wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear wheels and the measurement that really counts when it comes to interior space, especially in the rear seat.
The Holden is the widest, though, by a smidgen from the Hyundai and Honda, so it wins the who’s-got-the-biggest-cabin contest.
Its 445L boot is 33L smaller than the classleading Civic but it’s still sizeable, with much more carrying capacity than any hatchback.
At base LS level it’s not exactly loaded. You hold a plastic steering wheel and face a simple, uncluttered dash with monochrome analog instruments and sprinkles of fake chrome to relieve the wall-to-wall grey plastics, fabric upholstery and dash trim.
It’s reasonably attractive — let’s generously call it the industrial chic look — and the test car stayed squeak and rattle free over 900km of testing. Previous Astra models have caused some owners grief. Hopefully this one will be as reliable as its Korean and Japanese brand rivals.
Infotainment includes a seven-inch colour touchscreen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but its processing power is limited so it can be slow to respond. There’s no sunnies holder; otherwise, you get plenty of handy storage, plus USB, 12V and aux sockets.
It’s not quite as supple as a Subaru Impreza or Honda Civic, especially around town where it can occasionally jar, but on the open road Astra feels almost as comfortable and composed as a Commodore.
Firm, flat and with basic adjustments, the driver’s seat is comfortable on long journeys, though if you like the backrest upright you may find the protruding head restraint intrusive. Tall drivers enjoy ample legroom and steering wheel adjustability. A similarly firm, high rear bench has easy access and generous legroom but there are no rear vents.
The Astra scores five ANCAP stars and you get six airbags, a camera with moving guidelines and rear parking sensors.
That’s pretty much it in the base LS. Rear seat belt indicators are missing and you have to go to higher model grades to get blind spot monitoring, lane keeping, auto headlights and front parking sensors. Automatic emergency braking is not available at all.
In this small sedan class, only Mazda3 and Skoda Octavia have AEB at base model level.
The sedan aces its rivals with the advantage of turbocharging, which gives its 1.4-litre much better responsiveness at lower revs than bigger, non-turbo engines. It doesn’t have to work as hard, so it’s also smoother, quieter and despite the absence of auto stop-start returns good fuel economy around town — 7-8L/100km on regular unleaded. That’s a bonus, as turbos usually require premium.
It’s a seamless match with the six-speed automatic, which shifts smoothly and quickly when you put your foot down, tapping the engine’s strong, willing delivery. On the highway, it cruises effortlessly, returning 5-6L/100km, and will easily hold the cruise control’s set speed.
There’s little finesse to the dynamics but handling is safe and secure, the steering more tactile than most rivals and Hankook tyres give reasonable grip. It feels solid and safe on the road.
Astra. Isn’t that a European import? I like the idea of driving one of those. What? It’s really from South Korea? Oh …