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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - CDTi 5-dr hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, economy, efficiency, standard ESP, high safety and equipment levels, fun and sporty to drive
Room for improvement
Auto gearbox means a less-powerful 1.9-litre engine, not much else

13 Jun 2006

IS this the diesel to finally woo mainstream Australia?

‘Holden Astra’ and ‘turbo-diesel’ may be new bedfellows, but as an Opel and Vauxhall, the German engineered small car has successfully challenged the likes of the Volkswagen Golf TDI for decades.

Now that the Astra CDTi is on sale here, Holden is taking the fight right to the Europeans, with a turbo-diesel that is set to rise to the top of the class for value, safety and performance.

The Astra’s $29,990 opener is deceptive, because while it is $2000 more than the more-premium Golf, the Holden includes niceties like cruise control, alloy wheels and a trip computer.

More importantly, ESP stability control is also standard, a move that should be applauded.

Yet none of these are as compelling an argument for the Astra CDTi as the impressive performance from the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine.

In six-speed manual manual mode, its performance will certainly surprise and delight, thanks to the engine’s sporty character and surprising response over a wide range of driving conditions.

This powerplant will change your mind about small diesels, with its smooth, tractable and revvy nature. If only the current Astra’s 1.8-litre petrol engine, as well as many rivals’ 2.0-litre petrol units, performed as strongly or sweetly.

On dry roads, the front wheels do not seem to have any problem coping with the copious amount of torque going through them, and this is no doubt aided by the large wheel and tyre combination.

Another bonus is that the CDTi’s diesel noises are well muted, so your passengers may not even pick it as a diesel. Saab uses a similar engine in its far more expensive 9-3 range in Europe.

Rising up to the high performance ante is brilliantly weighted and sharp steering response, for enthusiastic handling and cornering capabilities, and strong, effective brakes.

Knowing that stability and traction controls are working underneath for you is another bonus – along with the fact that you can switch them off.

Pressing the ‘Sport’ button results in even quicker steering and throttle responses, since it remaps their respective software.

Switching to the swift-shifting six-speed automatic is not the disappointment its 22kW power and 40Nm torque tumble might suggest.

Obviously its performance is more leisurely, and the automatic lacks the outright urge of the 110kW/320Nm manual’s urge, but there is still plenty of pickup across the self-shifting CDTi’s rev range.

The automatic also benefits from a smooth and logical sequential-shift pattern, and settles into a quiet, confident groove on the open road.

Furthermore, the Astra diesel automatic seems to be a quieter and smoother performer than the VW Golf 1.9 TDI equivalent – although the 103kW/320Nm Golf 2.0 TDI has the edge in terms of power and torque.

The overall impression after a brief drive through the ACT countryside is that the Astra CDTi is the best small car Holden has ever offered.

Buyers who ignore it will risk overlooking one hell of an accomplished little runabout.

While the turbo-diesel does not come cheap, it does tick all the right safety and equipment boxes for torque-loving Australians to revel in.

The CDTi deserves to be a smash hit.

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