Holden’s smart Astra sedan is handy in town or on tour
THE Holden Astra is parked outside the last chance cafe. Once one of Australia’s favourite nameplates, it returned last year in European-built hatchback guise to a lukewarm response from buyers.
It was a good car hampered by an optimistic price tag that set it against the Volkswagen Golf and above Japanese rivals.
A price cut has helped sales and now Holden has launched the second prong of its assault on the small-car market in the form of a cheaper Korean-built sedan that shares the Astra badge.
The four-door Astra looks bright and shiny against a Gold Coast sunrise but things will be bleak if its $21,990 drive-away starting price, local engineering input and a long list of standard equipment fail bring buyers back to Holden showrooms.
Pitched primarily against the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra, the sedan has the comfort and refinement to do the job for older Aussies who want a car that’s not as edgy as its hatch counterpart. The only notably absent feature is automatic emergency braking, which is not available and not coming because GM planners didn’t think it was needed in the United States.
“We have the largest carpark in all of Australia. I need to get those people back in the Holden family,” says Holden’s new executive director of marketing Mark Harland.
There was lots of love for the Astra in the 1980s, when it was popular both new and used, but things have not gone so well in the recent past.
Astra badges were not enough when Opel tried and failed to sell the name in Australia. Then Holden botched the hatch’s return in November with ambitious pricing, only to slash it by up to $1700 just a month later.
Now the Red Lion’s bosses say they have learned from the hatch fiasco and are playing smart with what’s effectively the replacement for the locally made, underachieving Cruze.
It’s badged as an Astra because Harland and his team also know better than to call it a Cruze, which was also the name
of an earlier failure, an underwhelming baby SUV.
Harland says: “We obviously spent our time on getting the pricing right on this vehicle. I think we’re right in the mix, at a good competitive price. We want to win.”
The Astra’s basics are simple. Its 1.4-litre turbo makes 110kW/245Nm (240Nm in the auto) with six-speed manual and auto gearboxes turning the front wheels. Tech includes a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto and reversing camera and it gets five stars from ANCAP.
The Astra sedan is a little longer than the hatch and the suspension tune for Australia is softer, as Holden targets older buyers who will be more concerned with comfort than point-and-squirt driving enjoyment. The brand says cars have covered more than 100,000km in local testing.
Building the Astra sedan in Korea helps with pricing. Holden says the car was designed in the US, developed in Europe and tuned in Australia before it got to the Korean factory.
The base manual LT is $21,990 on the road — a price described as introductory but it’s certain to stick. There are three grades to the top-line LTZ at $29,790 plus on-roads. All variants get six airbags.
The introductory deal, which will only last for a couple of months, includes a five-year/ 130,000km warranty with five years of roadside assist. The car has shorter than average ninemonth service intervals but the cost is competitive at $916 over three years.
“Hopefully we’ve learned our lessons of the past,” Harland says. “We can’t (ask a) premium price if we are not seen as a premium brand.”
ON THE ROAD
There is nothing groundbreaking or earthshattering about the Astra sedan but it does the job.
It’s quiet and comfortable, easy and enjoyable to drive and has space for a family. It’s good enough to get on the shopping list after a Corolla or Elantra.
The first impression is good, with a non-offensive shape and a dash that looks good and works well.
The 1.4 turbo is not particularly punchy but smart tuning of the six-speed auto, or enjoyable self-shifting work in the manual, will keep the car moving along swiftly enough, with good overtaking power.
Driving on a sodden Gold Coast this week, the auto wipers and headlamps on the level three LT are welcome and work well. It’s the basics from the LS that allow the car to sit securely despite jarring roads and lots of puddles.
The resolution on the rearview camera is not good, the headlights are a bit dim after dark and one car has very poor FM radio reception.
Holden has done well to consider towing, including trailer sway control. The Astra feels as if it could nudge the claimed 5.8 L/100km while touring on standard unleaded.
Over a long looping run, and moving through the models from LS to LS+ — which has lane-keep assist and forward collision alert — then LT and LTZ, the Astra feels secure and composed. It’s not threatening and keeps moving along.
It helps that the car is 63mm longer than the hatch, to boost rear legroom and boot space, where it’s not good to see a space-saver spare.
The Astra is not a great car but it drives well, the pricing is right and the value is solid.