The Holden Astra with the Aussie nose
Rob Maetzig drives the sensible member of a popular vehicle family.
At this time of the year New Zealand’s motoring media turns its attention to a rather difficult task – selecting candidates for the annual Car of the Year awards.
It’s difficult because there are always so many variables involved. Should a modern-day ute be considered a passenger vehicle? Is a low-cost hatch better than a top-end luxury car? Should the sheer popularity of some model types enter into the consideration?
And then there’s the matter of the mix of versions of one particular model – and a classic example this year is the new Holden Astra.
The first version of this model to arrive in New Zealand earlier this year was the hatchback, which is built in Poland. That was followed mid-year by the sedan, which is built in South Korea. Soon we’re going to get the wagon, which is built at Ellesmere Port in England. They’re all the same, but quite frankly, they’re all different, particularly the hatch and the sedan.
While they are both built on the same platform and share the same 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, they don’t share any body panels. They are offered with differing levels of specification too – whereas the hatch is available with R, RS and RS-V specification, the sedan comes with LS, LT and LTZ grades. Different interiors, too.
Perhaps more importantly, the hatch is quite obviously the sportier of the two model types. Developed in Germany and available with the choice of manual transmission right through the model range, it is an impressively snappy performer – particularly at the RS-V level (which, by the way, has a 1.6 turbo under its bonnet). Remember, it was good enough to be named European Car of the Year in 2016.
Meanwhile the sedan was designed and developed in the United States, where it is known as the Chevrolet Cruze, and it is the more sedate and conservative of the pair. That doesn’t necessarily make it inferior to the hatch, it’s just a different drive. Different look too – the Chevy nose has been replaced with a Holden one.
Even though suspension settings for the Australasian models have been fettled so they are firmer than for the likes of the American and Asian markets, the ride is still a little softer than the hatchback’s.
We’re presuming that when the Astra Sportwagon arrives here in November, the very fact it is built in Europe means it will be closer to the hatch than the sedan. If that’s the case, it could prove to be a very smart wagon. But we’ll have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, members of the New Zealand motoring media have been left pondering how to judge the combined force of a hatch and a sedan that are built in different parts of the world, have differing levels of specification, differing ride and handling – but connected by the fact they share their platform and engine and carry the same family name.
My opinion on all of this is that it is very much a horses for courses thing.
The Astra hatch offers just a bit more ticker, while the sedan is more of a traditionalists’ car, with the boot instead of a liftback, and superior interior room and load space.
In this article we take a closer look at the top sedan model, the $38,490 LTZ. When it is compared to the hatch, its intent becomes quite clear – it is longer overall and with a longer wheelbase, its front and rear tracks are wider, it’s got considerably more rear leg room, and boot space with all seats in use is 445 litres – which is a lot more than the hatchback’s 360 litres.
While the sedan’s engine is the same 1.4-litre turbocharged and direct injected four as that aboard most of the hatch versions, its peak power of 110 kilowatts is reached further up the revolutions band (6500rpm compared to 5000 with the hatch), but top torque of 240 Newton metres is reached at 2000rpm compared to 2400rpm with the hatch.
This tells us that the intent behind the Astra sedan is for it to be an easy-to-drive vehicle for which low-revs torque is king. And that’s how things turned out during our days behind the wheel of this car.
It’s a nice – and quiet – drive, it’s overall demeanour as discreet as its bodyshell design.
We can’t see too many of New Zealand’s younger motorists buying this sedan; it’s simply too old-school.
And why should they, when for the same price they can opt for the sexier-looking hatchback versions?
But with the Astra sedan, the big appeal is that it is more about creature comforts and good driving in what is an easy-looking small-medium sedan.
At the LTZ level it has such niceties as heated leather front seats, electric sunroof, climate control air conditioning, high safety specification that has allowed it to attain a five-star Ancap safety rating, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated satellite navigation, and advanced park assist.
It’s one of those cars that you simply climb aboard and drive, without having to concern yourself with too much at all. Just the ticket for the likely average age of motorists who will likely own such a vehicle.
And as for the Car of the Year voting? The sedan adds to an Astra lineup that must be a solid contender for a 2017 gong.
The Holden Astra LTZ sedan is a comfortable addition to the Astra range.
The Astra sedan offers conservative bodyshell lines — just what customers like in markets such as the United States and Korea.
The interior is different to the hatch in terms of design. There’s also more interior room.