A sedan sneaks up
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.