This is the new face of Holden.
The Australian-built Cruze compact car has ceased production and Commodore will be gone by this time next year, so Holden is making good its promise to find the best possible cars to fill the void left by the end of local manufacturing.
And it’s the most convincing small Holden in years.
Vehicle style: Small car
Price: From $21,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 110kW/240Nm or 147kW/300Nm 1.4 or 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo / 6spd manual or automatic
Fuel economy claimed: 5.8-6.5L/100km
Small cars have been a weak point for Holden as the Australian-built Cruze and outgoing Astra duo grow older and less relevant to local buyers.
The brand expects great things from the latest Astra, a German-designed, Polish-built machine intended to tackle premium small cars such as the Volkswagen Golf, rather than budget models led by Hyundai’s i30. Built on a light new chassis, the new Astra follows technical leaders by offering turbocharged engines as standard as well as sought-after features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto infotainment apps in all three grades.
Holden’s range begins with the Astra R, a car that offers a 1.4-litre engine with 110kW for $21,990 plus on-road costs as a six-speed manual proposition, or $24,190 with an optional six-speed auto. The Astra R offers a decent level of standard kit including a 7-inch touchscreen with outstanding smartphone connectivity as well as a reversing camera with rear parking sensors, 17-inch wheels and projector headlamps as standard.
Importantly, it misses out on driver assistance features including autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning and active lane keeping assistance that are standard in the Astra RS and RS-V. Holden says those features will be available as a $1000 option in the Astra R from April 2017 – meaning customers will have to wait five months and pay around $29,000 drive-away for an automatic model with self-braking technology. That’s rather steep.
Customers looking to buy an automatic model have no choice but the entry-level Astra R until March 2017, as supply constraints have prevented the brand from accessing automatic 1.6-litre Astra RS and RS-V versions until then.
Priced from $26,490 plus on-road costs as a manual proposition, with a six-speed auto fetching a further $2200, the Astra RS builds on the standard car’s specification by adding a more powerful 147kW engine with a stop-start fuel-saving system, smart keys, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, self-parking, blind spot monitoring and the new “Holden Eye” safety suite that brings autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning systems.
The top-end RS-V costs $30,990 plus on-road costs in manual form ($33,190 as an auto), adding 18-inch wheels, heated leather seats, an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with proper sat nav and LED rear tail lamps over lesser models. Holden offers a $1990 touring pack for the Astra RS-V that brings an electric sunroof and adaptive cruise control, or a $3990 innovations pack with those features as well as clever adaptive LED matrix headlights. The premium lamps feature eight diodes on each side capable of selectively illuminating the road ahead, lending excellent vision to Astra drivers without blinding oncoming traffic - Mercedes-Benz tech on a budget.
But Holden says the tricky headlights are in high demand overseas, and that there may be delays receiving them.
We’ll also suggest that the Astra’s naming structure feels disingenuous in the world of European hatchbacks. The Astra R and Astra RS wear badges with hard-earned credibility built by Europe’s Volkswagen Golf R and Ford Focus RS performance cars. It’s interesting to note that Holden’s European cousins, Opel and Vauxhall, follow a different naming structure.
- Standard features: Cloth trim (R and RS) or heated leather seats (RS-V), 17-inch alloy wheels (R and RS) or 18-inch alloy wheels (RS-V), reversing camera, rear parking sensors (all models), front parking sensors (RS and RS-V), air conditioning, cruise control with speed limiter, self-parking (RS and RS-V). Safety suite including autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning standard on Astra RS and RS-V.
- Infotainment: 7.0 (Astra R and RS) or 8.0-inch touchscreen (RS-V), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB+ radio, satellite navigation (RS-V only)
- Cargo volume: 360 litres (seats up) / 1210 litres (seats down)
Whichever model you pick, the Astra has an impressive cabin with supportive seats, plenty of room for people and a rear bench designed to be used by adults.
Its blend of piano black trim, faux chrome and soft-touch plastics represents a leap beyond the previous-generation model, a dated affair with far too many buttons. The large central touchscreen is an excellent feature to behold, and its smartphone connectivity with voice-activated features ranks among the best in its class.
The top-end RS-V scores points for a full-colour driver display nestled between the speedo and the tachometer, while cheaper models are let down by a generic monocolour screen shared with the Colorado ute.
The Astra also frustrates by having just one USB charging point up front, and a lack of storage for modern essentials. A slim slot ahead of the gear selector will - just - cradle regular smartphones, but plus-sized handsets have to live in the centre console.
ON THE ROAD
- Engines: 1.4-litre or 1.6-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic, front-wheel-drive
- Brakes: Four-wheel discs
Holden offers the Astra with a choice of two engines for now. The entry-level Astra R has a new 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that uses 5.8L/100km to produce 110kW and 240Nm when mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, or 110kW and 245Nm through a more robust six-speed manual gearbox. The Astra RS and RS-V get a revised 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo motor that makes 147kW and 300Nm, using 6.3L/100km of premium fuel as an automatic proposition or 6.5L/100km in manual form.
Australia misses out on a thrifty 1.0-litre, 77kW entry-level motor offered in Europe, as well as Opel’s entire range of diesel engines, including a twin-turbo four-cylinder model with 118kW of power and a whopping 350Nm of torque.
Holden’s choice of petrol motors make for quiet transport with little of the trashy effort found in naturally-aspirated rivals such as the Mazda3.
Its entry-level 1.4-litre engine is a little gem, with an all-aluminium structure that makes it lighter on the road than most rivals, contributing significantly to the Astra’s sophisticated feel. Best paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the standard Astra R is an easy-going machine that borrows its light-footed approach from rival machines such as the Peugeot 308 and Volkswagen Golf, feeling every one of its 140 kilograms lighter than the outgoing Cruze.
The Astra does an excellent job soaking up imperfections on local roads, feeling unfazed by mid-corner bumps and potholes that could upset less-capable models. Its locally-tuned steering is well-weighted and direct, and the car’s sports mode has Australian touches including heavy recalibration for the automatic transmission.
Australian engineers tuned the auto to respond well to sporty driving, holding onto gears when you roll out of the throttle and offering engine braking on downhill legs to make it a more suitable proposition for local drivers.
Automatic customers are better off with the more powerful 1.6-litre engine, though they’ll need to be patient to get hold of one, as the model doesn’t arrive locally until March.
While it seems unthinkable in Australia - and says something about the gulf between European and Australian customers - Opel engineers never intended to offer the larger 1.6-litre turbo motor with an automatic transmission, hence long delays getting that model here.
Unlike key rivals, the Astra is not available with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles, and it goes against Holden’s preference by offering a manual over-ride for the automatic transmission that requires drivers to pull back on the lever to change down a gear, and to push forward to go up one ratio.
ANCAP rating: The 1.6-litre Astra RS and RS-V have five-star ANCAP results as assessed by EuroNCAP, but the entry-level Astra R is not rated.
Safety features: ABS, stability control, six airbags, two ISOFIX points, rear parking sensors and reversing camera on all models. Astra RS and RS-V feature autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning, which will be a $1000 option on the entry-level Astra R in 2017.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, 100,000 kilometres
Servicing: Holden offers lifetime capped price servicing for all models, with maintenance due for the Astra every nine months or 15,000kms. The service scheme works out at $916 for the first three years of ownership.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The i30 operates in one of the most competitive markets on the road, with plenty of viable alternatives. Holden fans can rest assured that they’re buying a car that ranks among the best in its class, but customers who aren’t wedded to the brand may be better off waiting until 2017, when the new Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf arrive to challenge Holden’s latest model.
Given that many Astra customers will already be waiting until March or April to buy an automatic 1.6-litre hatch, or a 1.4-litre car with increasingly important safety features, taking the time to test drive other newcomers may prove worthwhile.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Astra is an impressive machine that represents a return to form for Holden. Impressive on the road and packed with technology, the Astra offers a counterpoint to established small car players.
But it trips up - in 2016 at least - with a lack of active safety features for the entry-level model, and the delayed automatic transmission option for the higher grades. It’s also more expensive than most rivals, costing several thousand dollars more than budget alternatives regularly available with an automatic transmission from $19,990 drive-away.
A next-generation Cruze compact car should prove more affordable than the Astra, which has the tough task of convincing people to stretch their budget and consider a premium-priced model at forefront of a shifting brand.
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