“Can I get paddles with that?” asks Damien O’carroll of the award winning Astra.
Holden has been making much of the fact that the Astra was awarded the European Car of the Year gong in 2016 and before we even start this review, I have to say that I can easily see why it won. Now, while that may get things off on an overwhelmingly good frame of mind, this is not to say the Astra is perfect. But more on that later. The Astra you see here is the range-topping RS-V model that comes with the 1.6-litre turbo engine and all the bells and whistles. On the outside, the Astra is a handsome and distinctly European little car, with nice detail touches and a sleek and sweeping design. Much like the outside the interior is distinctly European and is well-made and put together, with quality plastics and other materials. The sexy sculpted steering wheel feels great and the seats are nicely comfortable and supportive. On the infotainment side of things, the latest version of Holden’s Mylink infotainment system is brilliant, with possibly the best integration of phone projection yet. And while all of this is very good indeed, it has to be said that both inside and out the Astra does look a wee bit, well, dated. And that is because, while it is just arriving here now, the Astra was released two years ago in Europe and the design does look it. However, none of that really matters as long as it drives well, and here the Astra really drives its COTY win home in style. The 1.6 L turbo engine is fantastically flexible and eager to rev, while the sixspeed automatic transmission is quick and superbly smooth. Heaps of mid-range grunt means the engine never runs out of puff through corners, while it is smooth and refined around town. Point it towards a winding road and the Astra reveals a wonderfully lithe and athletic nature that turns and sharply and hangs on tenaciously and with remarkable confidence and poise. The Astra is a true delight to throw into a corner, the front-end obediently tracks through with no dramas and the steering is lively with lots of feel and feedback and it remains beautifully composed regardless of road surface. There is a disappointment when you are starting to have fun, however, and that is the fact that the RS-V lacks steering wheel mounted shift paddles. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that the manual shift action using the gear lever is the wrong way around. You pull BACK to shift UP, Holden… That said, the slightly dated looks and lack of paddles are pretty much the only gripe we have with the Holden Astra VX-R (and the gear paddle gripe can be solved by buying the manual transmission version anyway!). The Astra is a startlingly good package that is equally at home pottering around town as it is stretching its legs on the open road. Impressively equipped and even more impressively priced, if the Astra is the future of Holden, then good riddance to the Commodore.