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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - LS sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Strong performance, easy connectivity, rear-seat legroom, massive boot, nicely specified for a base car, capable dynamics
Room for improvement
Sticky manual, anonymous styling, no AEB availability as yet, short warranty compared to other Korean-sourced cars

Gallery

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Holden logo18 Sep 2017

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Overview

HOLDEN’S decision to switch the Cruze sedan’s name to Astra Sedan is a curious one, especially as the two small cars – though related – are distinctly different in philosophy, design and execution.

But – ignoring the 2002 Suzuki Ignis clone of the same name – a second-generation Cruze is what the Astra Sedan is, down to its inexpensive sourcing, big back seat and high-value focus. Here we test the base LS.

Price and equipment

No wonder Holden dropped the Cruze badge for the latest version of the series even though it carries through in most other markets around the globe.

The first was an ahead-of-its-time high-riding all-wheel drive B-segment hatch/crossover based on the crude Suzuki Ignis from 2002, while the second that arrived seven years later had the distinction of being the final Australian-designed and made C-segment small car.

Progressive initially, historical now, that’s a lot of baggage for a humble nameplate to be burdened with.

Enter, then, the Astra Sedan – an irony considering that the 2009 JG Cruze usurped the Astra five-door hatch and wagon as Holden’s small-car weapon against the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30.

Compared to the old Australian-made Cruze, the new model is slightly longer, lower and wider, with a lengthier wheelbase for improved cabin dimensions.

Ditto when pitched against the Astra hatch, which in terms of length, wheelbase, rear-seat legroom and boot capacity falls short by 279mm, 38mm, 33mm and 85 litres respectively. Indeed, except for its slightly longer overhangs, a 1978 VB Commodore, too, is the littler machine.

As before, a low price and high space are central to the not-so-small Holden sedan’s appeal, though what will buyers make of the design? Contemporary it may be, but the old Cruze’s crisp, angular attitude has given way to a more amorphous look.

Three models have been launched right now – the base LS, mid-range LT and range-topping LTZ. Our LS was as basic as Astra Sedans get at $20,490 plus on-road costs, but still featured a 1.4-litre turbo engine, six-speed manual transmission, (16-inch) alloy wheels, a large (7.0-inch) touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control and auto headlights.

Another $2000 buys a six-speed torque-converter automatic, while spending just half of that nets you the LS+ with forward collision alert, lane keep assist, forward distance indicator, projector headlamps, daytime running lights, leather-clad steering wheel and automatic high-beam headlight assist. Seems like money well spent.

Note that Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB0 is not yet available on any Astra Sedan/Cruze globally. Meanwhile it is available on the Polish-built Astra hatch.

Interior

Like its predecessor, the Astra Sedan makes a strong case for switching the nomenclature from ‘small’ to ‘medium’ sized, because cramped the cabin is not.

Supporting this observation is ample front-seat room, especially if you are long-legged.

Much the same applies to the back seat too, though folk over about 180cm might find the fairly small door apertures require some head ducking, while the associated sloping rear roofline might ruffle bigger hairdos once sat on the flat cushion.

Being born a Chevrolet Cruze and aimed mainly at American and Asian consumers that prioritise rear-seat space and thus well-being (theoretically), let’s concentrate on the second row. Among the plus points are a comfy backrest angle, space for feet beneath the front seats, big door and map pockets, a 12-volt charge point, overhead grab handles with coat hooks, a folding central armrest with cupholders and Isofix child-seat latches. The fit, finish and presentation are also AOK. There are no face-level rear air vents, though, and nor is there any controllable lighting.

Up front the dashboard continues the exterior’s neat modernity with incredibly easy switchgear and controls, backed up by a pleasing array of instrumentation information that also include the desirable auxiliary digital speedo.

Falling in the excellent category are the driving position, ventilation, touchscreen positioning, reach and operation, storage and forward vision. There’s a single port for 12V charging, USB access and auxiliary connectivity. The plastic steering wheel with its multitude of simple buttons is pleasant to behold and use.

And the shapes and textures are quite smart, even for a base model. Cloth-feel material on the dash and doors is a nice touch. GM has done a fine job presenting this cabin.

But rear vision is very restricted by that rising belt line and massive boot the indicator stalk clangs (as it does in the Astra hatch – what a thing to carryover!) and front-seat cushion support isn’t great over longer drives. And while the powertrain is commendably quiet, the tyres aren’t, so there’s road noise intrusion.

Finally, there’s the boot, which is quite hungry at 445 litres (weirdly exactly the same as the JH Cruze’s despite the dimensional differences). Seats fold 60/40 (with the smaller bit on the left – and therefore correct for right-hand drive markets – side of the car), while a space-saver spare lives beneath the deep flat floor.

Engine and transmission

As with the entry-level Astra R hatch, the Sedan employs GM’s fresh 1.4-litre direct-injection twin-cam four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit.

Although it produces an impressive 110kW of power and 245Nm of torque, a fair amount of revs is required to really get things going, as that kilowatt maximum peaks at a high 6500rpm. That’s reflected in the 0-100km/h-sprint time of a very ordinary 9.3 seconds.

But make no mistake for this is a healthy, strong and spirited engine, punching well above its 1399cc capacity to really come alive once the revs hit their stride. And, as mentioned earlier, GM’s done a great job keeping everything smooth and hushed, meaning this is quite a refined little powerplant. Usually we champion manual gearboxes over their automatic counterparts, with few exceptions, but the six-speed shift action in the Astra Sedan is tiresomely long, a little notchy and never really satisfying. What a shock! Perhaps it was just our particular test car, but after a few hundred kilometres rowing that along, we longed for the optional six-speed torque-converter auto.

And like in the five-door from Poland, the four-door from South Korea didn’t dazzle us with brilliant fuel economy, showing an indicated average of 7.5L/100km – somewhat beyond the 5.8L/100km stated in the catalogue.

These engines are tuned to operate on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol.

Ride and handling

Like in the hatch version, the Astra Sedan underwent testing and tuning in Australia, commencing in early 2016. The aim was to give it a ‘Holden’ flavour.

Which ‘Holden’ remains a mystery, because while the Sedan’s steering is a fine balance of effort, feel and feedback, with little to no kickback over rough roads, the handling lacks the sporty, taut agility of the Astra hatch, while the ride is nowhere near as quiet or plush as a Commodore’s.

Lazy best describes the chassis’ tune. The Sedan will plod along without flair or fuss, changing direction obediently, cornering securely and stopping instantly as required. Yet there is nothing to interest, let alone excite. Yet if you push the Holden hard, through tight turns and over rubbish road surfaces, the handling wakes up, responds quickly and keeps everything in check.

There’s some body lean (the torsion beam rear suspension in the Sedan loses the Astra hatch’s Watts Linkage that provides additional cornering control), but overall, this can be hustled fast and furiously without complaint. And that is the only time where the car truly feels alive. As the target audience is likely to be made up of non-enthusiasts, it’s a relief that the Holden has no nasty dynamic surprises.

What is disappointing is how unsettled the suspension feels over anything other than smooth surfaces, transmitting bumps and thumps through with regular, almost depressing regularity. Again, at higher speeds, the chassis seems to gel together better and absorption properties improve, but around town there are quieter and comfier alternatives.

Safety and servicing

With six airbags, electronic/stability control, and a host of other safety features, the Astra Sedan scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.

Service intervals are listed at every 12 months/15,000km, while Holden includes every Astra under its so-called Lifetime Capped Price Servicing regime, meaning there is a minimum cost amount per service published.

Verdict

Three things occurred to us during our week in the Astra Sedan LS.

Firstly, we prefer the Astra R hatch equivalent every time. It simply is a better car in almost every important way except sheer boot volume – and AEB is available for not much extra.

Secondly, and here things get complicated, while the Astra Sedan is preferable to the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Cerato, it may struggle in a head-to-head against the Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Ford Focus and Honda Civic.

And thirdly, calling the Chevrolet J400 ‘Astra Sedan’ when it is so patently a Cruze only serves to erode the good name of the Opel-sourced hatch. Capable, spacious and well equipped as it may be, the car and the badge do not gel.

That said, if you prefer the Astra Sedan to the hatch, the aforementioned key rivals and don’t give a hoot about semantics, then it is perfectly acceptable.

Rivals

Mazda3 Sedan Neo manual from $20,490 plus on-road costs
With standard AEB, a lusty and frugal 2.0-litre, excellent dynamics and an appealing dash, this 3 is a stylish sedan for hatch lovers. Oozes character, passion and precision. But a reverse camera adds $2400 as it’s only in Maxx and up.

Subaru Impreza 2.0i auto from $22,400 plus on-road costs
It may look the same, but the 2017 Impreza is all-new, with huge advances in refinement, comfort, space and handling. Auto-only now, AEB starts from ‘L’ up, and the 2.0L needs revs to shine, but otherwise this AWD Subaru is compelling value.

Ford Focus Sedan Trend auto from $24,390 plus on-road costs
Focus deserves to sell better, since it mixes combines space and comfort with real dynamic capability. The 1.5 turbo/six-speed torque-converter auto combo works well, but the superior manual is only available in the hatch. AEB isn’t available either, sadly.

Note: Images are of the Holden Astra LTZ sedan

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