The Holden As­tra with the Aussie nose

Rob Maet­zig drives the sen­si­ble mem­ber of a pop­u­lar ve­hi­cle fam­ily.

The Timaru Herald - - MOTORING -

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.

PHO­TOS: ROB MAET­ZIG/STUFF

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.

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