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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - Coupe range

Our Opinion

We like
Sophisticated and sporty styling, more agile handling dynamics than five-door, sharper steering, supple ride quality, feelinf of solidity, noise supression, engine refinement and economy, practicality, equipment level, safety features
Room for improvement
Performance doesn't match looks, outdated torsion bar rear suspension, notchy five-speed manual

22 Jul 2005

SEXY Astra shock!

If you've followed the career of General Motors' European T-series small car, its various styles over the last 30 years have been more akin to homely spinster (or bachelor) than Halley Berry (or Orlando Bloom).

That said, the outgoing 1998-vintage TS model is a chunkily handsome effort anyway, if not outright stunning.

Of course everything changed since the TS's release thanks to that Cate Blanchett/Antonio Banderas of the small car set - Ford's original Focus - adding much needed spunk to the segment, ushering in distinctive designs like Renault's Megane II and the Citroen C4.

Opel's response is the really rather gorgeous AH Astra Coupe.

Stylistic stand-out points include an interesting side glasshouse profile, a squat wheel-at-each-corner stance, and some lovely design detailing about the nose, tail-lights and wheel arches.

It's a car that has the sass and pizzazz to pull in a younger, cooler crowd, when the old TS City and SXi coupe struggled.

But does it have the power to keep them satisfied?

It certainly has the dynamic prowess.

Whether it's the retuned suspension or sharper steering rack over the regular hatch, the coupe is a sharp and entertaining handler, carving up corners with a crispness hitherto unknown to anything with an Astra badge.

And this is despite the tweaked carryover torsion bar rear suspension when key rivals like the Focus, Mazda3 and Golf now go the multi-link route.

Only over rougher surfaces can the cornering line be very slightly disturbed, but overall the coupe is a chuckable and enjoyable car to hoon about in.

A slight notchiness to the five-speed manual gearbox is another minor quibble.

Otherwise, with a supple ride quality, tight-as-a-drum cabin insulation and a deep sense of solidity add to the pleasure, nothing at the highly competitive prices Holden is asking with three doors and European heritage comes close.

But there just isn't enough engine underneath that saucy exterior to excite enthusiasts. The same 90kW engine used in your garden-variety Astra hatch lurks beneath the coupe's stylish bonnet.

With such racy styling, the 1.8 can only disappoint, although the Ecotec engine is a perfectly serviceable and pleasant device that delivers ample amounts of power, economy and refinement for most situations.

Holden, obviously acutely aware of the situation, says the go-faster versions like the turbocharged 147kW 2.0-litre SRi is coming early next year, but that's no consolation even a Kia Cerato puts out bigger power and torque numbers than the attractive Astra.

So the sexy AH Astra coupe is a case of a sensible, value-packed and practical - yet truly head-turning - package that's unfortunately just a little lacking in its "package".

Previous hot Astras often felt they had too much power for their chassis to handle, so it's great to report that Holden nee Opel has the fundamentals right for the coupe.

Because, as history has shown us, there will soon be a hotter and faster Astra to come.

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