Car reviews - Holden - Astra - 5-dr wagon range
Styling, equipment levels, cabin quietness and presentation, build quality, engine refinement, slick transmissions, handling dynamics
Room for improvement
Lack of engine performance - especially fully loaded in auto guise with the air-conditioning on
28 Jul 2005
IN 1983 Holden offered us the JB Camira wagon, a stylish and spacious Australian-designed load carrier with excellent dynamics and neat touches like a sub-bumper level loading area and deep side windows.
At the time its only obvious faults were inconsistent quality and a 64kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that - though adequate with its (horribly notchy) manual gearbox - was down in engine capacity against other 2.0-litre wagons like the Datsun Bluebird and Toyota Corona.
But the Camira wagon was more space efficient, more pleasant to drive (sluggish auto excepted) and a much better effort overall than its rubbishy rear-drive rivals.
Fast-forward 22 years and the new AH Astra wagon is a case of de ja vu.
Okay, the quality seems excellent, so don't worry about that.
The cargo area is enormous for a small wagon, aided by a big rear door, low floor and clever cargo cover that rolls back gently at a tap of its handle.
Disenfranchised Camry and JS Vectra wagon owners really ought to check this out.
Plus equipment and comfort levels are outstanding for the $23,490-plus pricing.
The wagon is quiet enough for its occupants to forget they're travelling in one instead of a sedan or hatch.
And the cabin and presentation are as smart in that modern German way as VW Golf's courtesy of Opel and its desire to topple its compatriot archenemy.
No, the sense of familiarity comes from the 90kW 1.8 (92kW with PULP) four-cylinder engine.
With 165Nm of torque to play with, it's a smooth and willing unit, tied to an equally slick five-speed manual gearbox.
And the auto's not too bad either, for a non-sequential shift four-speeder. It tries hard to match its available gear ratios as seamlessly as possible.
But, saddled with the latter gearbox along with a 160kg of human cargo on top of whatever else needs to be carted about in those cavernous rear quarters, performance isn't what you'd describe as sprightly - especially with the air-con on.
The Ecotec isn't gutless or even slow. It's just not very punchy on take-off or during overtaking manoeuvres.
A manual model that's lightly laden is though, so that's worth keeping in mind.
What this otherwise extremely impressive big small wagon needs is a gutsy 2.0-litre engine, or even the old TS SRi's 108kW 2.2 unit. How about it Holden? Keep hassling those Opel engineers for something with a bit more spunk.
Speaking of which, visually the blocky AH design may not appeal to Mazda6 wagon buyers, for instance, but to many observers it's a pleasantly chunky car to behold.
If outright performance isn't an issue then the Astra wagon is a classier, dynamically better and more refined alternative to the Corolla and Lancer it competes against, while making Peugeot's more prestigious 307 seem a tad too pricey.
To paraphrase the JB Camira's original advertising catchcry, the Astra is a bit of a super-wagon. And your (small) family will love it!
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