The Cruze famously killed the best selling Astra of the late 90s and early 2000s in a last-ditch attempt by General Motors and Holden to bring more manufacturing back onto Australian shores.
But the last generation Astra, and the new kid are both direct from the General’s European arm, so we decided to test out the continental cousin.
When the new generations of the Astra and Barina, along with the Vectra, arrived as a trio in the mid 90s, they represented a shift from the previous jumble of Australian-built and Asian-sourced lineup towards a European future. All were incredibly stylish, with the swoopy lines of the Astra at the time replacing the rather conservative angles of the Japanese sourced badge reworking that preceded it.
Fast forward to ten years later and it was becoming too expensive to pay the bills in Euros, so the German-sourced Holden’s were dropped from the lineup as GM’s Korean factories pumped out the Holden Viva and new generations of the Barina, while the South Australian team focused on the Cruze.
Now, ten more years later and globalisation has pushed car makers to move away from offering distinct cars in different markets – towards sharing their expertise and developing cars that will work as well in the tight city streets of Paris as they will crossing the Great Ocean Road.
The new Astra is immediately very stylish. For an entry-level small hatch, its looks certainly don’t match its sub-$25,000 pricetag – expect badge checking from disbelieving passersby.
Inside, although not overwhelmed with premium equipment, the Astra is well put together and even in the entry level Astra R, there is enough clobber to keep fussy drivers happy with how much kit they have. Premium cloth, soft touch materials have all been bolted into the Astra alongside tech upgrades including a new 7” screen featuring Apple Carplay/Android Auto and a fancy new Stop-Start engine management system that saves fuel.
Ever since the closure of Holden’s local manufacturing concern was announced, the engineers have had to ramp up their training to become even more proficient in tuning their new imported lineup for Australian roads.
The previous Astra benefitted from it when it was relaunched from its German origins, and the new guy is no different, with the Holden team looking underneath to see what can be tweaked.
Even on the entry level R, the ride is dynamically sporty, steering feedback is direct while the regular range standard 17” alloys (the top-spec RS-V cops 18”) offer good grip without transferring every bump and jiggle into the cabin.
The 1.4L engine for the R is more than adequate for driving around, accelerating quickly from the lights, and keep the Astra galloping along without running out of breath or screaming its head off at the top of the rev range.
Up the range, the Astra gets a 1.6L turbocharged engine – but the 1.4 delivers the power swiftly
Running around town, the Astra feels solid without being stodgy, with enough pep in its step to take advantage of gaps in traffic and get in before the light goes orange (even with the Auto Stop engine management system.)
Of course, opening it up on the highway lets the hatch stretch its legs a little bit, and the Holden team have done well to make a car as comfortable as a cruiser as they have a city car.
Small hatches are big business for car makers – not as big as they used to be with the muscling in of small SUVs, but a lot of first time new car buyers and downsizers still look to the small hatch to suit their driving habits. That’s why it’s important that car companies have to create a standout product in the segment: no one will look at your top-shelf products if your basics aren’t already good quality.
Thankfully, Holden has managed to source a premium vehicle to slot into its small car space, creating a strong foundation of affordable, high quality cars throughout its range.
Even in the entry model auto, the Astra scores Stop/Start engine management technology to save fuel, myLink infortainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility plus a rear view camera and rear parking sensors.
The R does miss out on front parking sensors, which would be a boon for keeping the sloping front bonnet out of trouble. Another omission is the Safety Pack – which is standard on the mid- and top-end Astra’s – including Automatic Electric Braking, Lane Keep Assist, Following Distance Indicator and Forward Collision Alert with Head Up Warning. This is additional to the price of the R, which isn’t big money but there’s a feeling that you could bargain hard on the entry model to include it, and hopefully Holden will revise the Astra to have it as standard on the R in the near future.
In the cabin, there’s a generous sense of space, and the seats are supportive and well bolstered – and the interior ergonomics are pleasing enough to spend a fair whack of your day in (although the metallic chrome fascia around the auto gear stick, combined with the sharp rake of the windscreen can reflect the sun right into your eyes at the right angles, just when your trying to scan your line of sight.)
Overall, though, the Astra is a well-balanced all-rounder: nimble enough for the commute, but solid and dependable as a weekend cruiser.
Holden have already revised their pricing down from the launch, cutting as much as $1700 off some models. The range now starts with the manual R from $21,490, the manual RS from $26,240 all the way to the flagship RS-V auto from $31,740.
All prices exclude on-road costs such as registration, stamp duty, dealer delivery and any accessories. Prestige paint is a $550 (RRP) option on all colours except Summit White and Absolute Red, which can be had for no additional cost.
Servicing is covered by Holden Lifetime Capped Price Servicing, with scheduled servicing set at $229 for the first four scheduled services, rising to $289 for the next three before a major service at 8 years/120,000km at around $630-640 (depending on your engine choice.)
Scheduled services fall due every year or at 15,000km.
The new Astra continues from the previous model, introducing European models back onto Australian roads proving that they can compete with cars that have forged their paths previously from the continent, Japan or Korea.
To test drive the Astra for yourself, see the team at Motorama Holden to take it for a spin.