Holden’s As­tra R is a high-qual­ity bar­gain

Taupo Times - - MOTORING -

You get what you pay for, right? Not al­ways. The cheap­est As­tra is also the best, says David Lin­klater.

Say­ing the cheap­est model is the best in a range of new cars is such a mo­tor­ing-writer thing to do.

There’s of­ten an un­der­cur­rent of ar­ro­gance there: ‘‘Yes, you might think the more you spend the more you’re get­ting, but trust us – we know bet­ter.’’

But bear with me, be­cause the cheap­est model in Holden’s As­tra hatch­back range is the best. It’s called the R, and sits at the bot­tom of a three-tier line that also in­cludes the RS (an­other $3000 up the lad­der) and RS-V ($3k again).

READ MORE: * We drive the rest of the As­tra range * Can As­tra sedan re­ally cut it against the hatch?

* Why ‘‘lightweight­ing’’ is a thing at Gen­eral Mo­tors

No, re­ally. There are good rea­sons.

The main one is un­der the bon­net. The As­tra R is pow­ered by a brand-new al­loy 1.4-litre turbo en­gine. It’s down on power and torque com­pared with the 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre mill in the high-spec mod­els, but well up on crisp power de­liv­ery and zing fac­tor.

More so when com­bined with the six-speed man­ual trans­mis­sion, which is some­thing Holden New Zealand still of­fers across the As­tra range.

Now, writ­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about three-pedal gear­boxes in main­stream cars is an­other mo­tor­ing-writer thing to do that might make you groan. Yes, we get it: Ki­wis hardly buy these any more, so what’s the rel­e­vance?

Well, driv­ing a car like this re­ally does help you iso­late and eval­u­ate the en­gine, be­cause you’re tak­ing the machi­na­tions of the gear­box cal­i­bra­tion and torque con­verter out of the equa­tion. Im­por­tant to test those too, of course, but driv­ing a car in its ‘‘pure’’ form is re­ally valu­able. The six-speed au­to­matic is also su­perb, by the way.

And of course a good car, any good car re­gard­less of mar­ket po­si­tion and price, is a lot of fun with a man­ual gear­box. So we won’t stop bang­ing on about them be­cause it’s our last hope of con­vinc­ing the broader pub­lic the driv­ing can be fun, be­fore we all de­scend into elec­tric au­ton­omy. But I di­gress.

The As­tra is a beaut and more of a beaut in en­try-level form. The pow­er­train has verve and it gives that ex­cel­lent chas­sis a chance to shine on Kiwi back­roads.

I’d ar­gue the As­tra R is also more price-ap­pro­pri­ate. Holden NZ has slightly un­com­fort­able aspirations to pitch As­tra as a true Euro­pean small-car – hop­ing you’ll think of stuff like the Volk­swa­gen Golf and MercedesBenz A-class. It’s there in some re­spects, es­pe­cially styling in­sid­e­and-out, but some of the cabin ma­te­ri­als are a bit low-rent. Once you’re get­ting up towards $40k with the higher-end ver­sions, you start weigh­ing up the value equa­tion a bit more.

For $31k the As­tra is a high­qual­ity bar­gain. It also ar­guably looks bet­ter, with black grille and body de­tail­ing in­stead of the chrome used on other As­tras. Less pre­ten­tious, more sporty.

What the R does lack is the so­called Holden Eye cam­era-based ac­tive safety equip­ment fit­ted to the RS and RS-V. You can rec­tify that for $1500 with an op­tion pack.

The R is the en­try-level As­tra, but also the only truly all-new one: it has a very mod­ern 1.4-litre al­loy en­gine un­der the bon­net.

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