A sedan sneaks up

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - News - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING ED­I­TOR

BE­HIND this heavy dis­guise, Holden is adding the fin­ish­ing touches to its new As­tra sedan, due in show­rooms in June.

The sedan is built in South Korea rather than Ger­many, where the hatch ver­sion orig­i­nates. As with the hatch, the sedan will have in­put from Aus­tralian en­gi­neers af­ter ex­ten­sive test­ing at Holden’s test track and on lo­cal roads.

It’s part of Holden’s plan to fill the void left by the lo­cally made Cruze, which went out of pro­duc­tion late last year.

If cur­rent sales are a guide, the As­tra sedan can’t come soon enough. The As­tra once shad­owed the top sell­ers in the small-car class but the ri­vals have raised the bar and Holden has some catch­ing up to do.

Holden has yet to an­nounce pric­ing for the sedan but has hinted it will cost less than the hatch — which was crit­i­cised for hav­ing a high RRP and was dis­counted by up to $1700 just six weeks af­ter go­ing on sale.

The As­tra sedan may share the name of the hatch (in other mar­kets, the sedan is badged as a Cruze) but it doesn’t share all of the hatch’s tech­nol­ogy.

Au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing is not avail­able — even as an op­tion — de­spite be­ing avail­able on most As­tra hatches. Nor are the hatch’s op­tional hi-tech “ma­trix” head­lights (that can re­main on high-beam with­out daz­zling on­com­ing cars) avail­able.

How­ever, Holden says it still has what it takes to chal­lenge the top-sell­ing Toy­ota Corolla and Mazda3 (it says the sedan should ac­count for one-third of all As­tra sales).

Th­ese hand­built pro­to­types were freighted to Aus­tralia so Holden en­gi­neers could make changes to sus­pen­sion and steer­ing to suit lo­cal con­di­tions.

Holden al­lowed me­dia a sneak pre­view — from be­hind the wheel — in­side its top se­cret test track and on sur­round­ing coun­try roads. It’s part of Holden’s plan to demon­strate it still has ex­per­tise to en­gi­neer cars for our harsh con­di­tions.

The ex­er­cise may also be a re­sponse to years of South Korean ri­vals Hyundai and Kia demon­strat­ing how much lo­cal in­put goes into their im­ported cars, with sim­i­lar changes to steer­ing and sus­pen­sion.

Our two heav­ily dis­guised As­tra sedans — only “80 per cent” com­plete and a bit rough around the edges be­cause the in­te­rior was made of hand­built pro­to­type parts — still pro­vided a worth­while in­sight into what buy­ers can ex­pect.

All mod­els will come with a 1.4-litre four-cylin­der turbo matched to au­to­matic trans­mis­sion (un­like the hatch, there is no man­ual avail­able as a price leader). The turbo en­gine had flex­i­ble power de­liv­ery and was rel­a­tively re­fined.

It’s risky to rate the sedan based on a brief drive of a ve­hi­cle still in devel­op­ment but the early signs are good. It will be a highly com­pe­tent, sure­footed car and it has def­i­nitely ben­e­fited from some changes to the steer­ing to suit lo­cal roads.

It re­mains to be seen how the show­room ver­sion lines up against its peers. Here’s hop­ing Holden learned its les­son with the hatch, and the price of the sedan is more down to earth.

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