THE BEST SMALL HOLDEN IN DECADES, BUT IF IT CAN’T MATCH THE SLICKNESS OF A GOLF, CAN IT REALLY BE COTY?
IT’S been a long time in the COTY wilderness for imported Holdens. Not since 2001 has a non-commodore Holden taken the COTY gong – and there’s been nothing remotely close to challenging for a finals berth in that decade-and-a-half stretch.
Enter the BK Astra, the fifth generation of the Opel-sourced small car to be sold here and a vehicle tasked with replacing the Australian-made Cruze that has enjoyed big sales but not necessarily big accolades. While Astra coupes have been available more recently, this is the first fivedoor Astra to wear a Holden lion since 2009.
To say the new Astra arrives with big expectations is undercalling it. Holden is desperate to move on from the last decade of underwhelming Korean imports and instead look to a new breed of cars closer to the values the brand once stood for.
Key to Astra’s artillery is its new D2XX platform that is lighter (by up to 140kg) and stiffer than the one it replaces. In a Volkswagen-esque move, the engine line-up is all-turbo, starting with a 1.4-litre in the R and rounding out with a rousing 1.6 in RS and RS-V.
It was those 1.6s that immediately gained COTY attention. Offering 147kw from as little as $26,490 represents near-hot-hatch performance for $10K less than punters are used to paying. Throw in a slick six-speed manual ’box and few cars will deliver as much driver satisfaction for the money.
The RS-V ups that with 18-inch tyres and a raft of available features that reinforce its upmarket aspirations. As with the RS, it gets forward collision alert, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and blind-spot warning.
That all Astras manage that fun factor while still delivering on drivetrain refinement – including an excellent stop-start system and beautifully calibrated ESC system – and fuel efficiency (as little as 5.8L/100km) is testament to the core engineering beneath.
But judges soon turned their attention to the entry-level R, the Astra that quickly became the star of COTY. With 110kw it lacks the outright fire of the RS, but with a thoroughly accessible 240Nm, the slick six-speed auto makes it a terrific device in daily driving; suave and refined, with eight-second 0-100km/h talent that trounces anything for the money. It’s a supremely easy car to punt along briskly, yet at the same time it’s relaxed and comfortable.
It’s a shame that drivetrain isn’t available in other Astras, because the R is undernourished in other areas. Despite competitive rear seat space and a great driving position, the plastic steering wheel screams cheap. Speaking of which, the interior excels in some areas but is let down with some average-feeling switchgear and too much shiny chrome. Carey likened Astra’s interior to “sitting in a coal mine”.
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While there’s genuine poise to the Astra’s entertaining chassis, cracks started to appear the more it was driven on typically Aussie backroads. One of our Astras had disconcerting wind noise near the left B-pillar, which we put down to a one-off glitch. Tyre roar on coarse surfaces was a noticeable problem in the 18-inch-wheeled RS-V (less so the base R). And Astra’s focus on friskiness has taken its toll on the low-speed ride.
For a brand in need of a win, the all-new Astra went tantalisingly close to COTY glory, but fell short of the all-round praise heaped on Commodores before it. It’s a genuinely good car, delivering on sophistication and value in the heavily contested small-car field that is burgeoning with notable stars, including Volkswagen’s 2013 Coty-winning Mk7 Golf.
Ultimately, Astra stumbled partly because of the intense competition at the very pointy end of 2017’s COTY field. But it was also hurt by the still-unmatched slickness of the Golf.
In short, judges questioned how much the new Astra moved the small-car game along. It’s a big step for Holden, but only an incremental improvement for the small-car elite.
HOLDEN ASTRA BODY Type 5- door hatch, 5 seats L/W/ H 4386/ 1809/ 1485mm Wheelbase 2662mm Track 1530-1548mm (f), 1537-1565mm ( r) Boot capacity 360 litres Weight 1283 – 1363kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front engine ( east-west), FWD Engines 1399cc 4cyl turbo...