Car reviews - Holden - Astra - MY7.5 range
More grunt, no tacky facelift styling add-ons, 2.2 SRi’s performance/value quotient
Room for improvement
1.8 litres is still not enough against torquier 2.0 rivals, rubbery manual gear change, lack of Tiptronic-style auto shifter
20 Apr 2007
THE garden-variety Toyota Corolla-competing Holden Astra’s biggest drawback has long been its lack of muscle.
Which is a shame, because two and a half years after its debut the AH Astra continues to be one of the most striking and best-value new cars you can buy.
But that’s all in the past, now that Holden has finally given the base, volume-selling CD, as well as the better-equipped CDX versions, the engine the AH has always deserved.
Gone is the lack of response when trying to accelerate past large trucks up a hill. No more will unsuspecting nuns in Hyundai Getzs zoom past you at the traffic light grand prix going on in your head.
In everyday urban conditions, the Astra 1.8 XER models are brisk at take-off, keen to rev, do so sweetly all the way to the redline, and have enough oomph in reserve when you need to pass something.
There are still some disappointments, however. The four-speed auto might be smooth, but there is no sequential tip-shift mechanism like in most other rivals. An extra gear ratio wouldn’t go astray in the Astra either.
Meanwhile, the five-speed manual gearbox in the wagon we drove seemed a little notchy and vague. This model’s 60kg-odd extra heft also took the edge off the performance, revealing the Astra’s 1.8’s continuing torque shortfall compared to most 2.0-litre small-car rivals.
Don’t get the wrong message though – the AH Astra’s performance gain is a welcome one, finally putting the base models among the front-runners in the small-car segment.
And we are happy to report that the 2.2 direct-injection Astra five-door SRi is a gusty, revvy and refined alternative to semi-hot hatchback rivals such as the Mazda 3 SP23.
Plus it looks great, handles sharply and seemed very tight in its body control over a variety of road surfaces.
We could not really notice the so called "high quality" cabin trim upgrades, be we never complained about the previous car’s interior anyway – except for the too-low heater/ventilation controls, which remain buried deep down in the base of the centre console stack.
So that about sums up where Holden’s "premium" small car is at.
We have always recommended the Astra over the lacklustre Viva range, and now, with the new engines on offer, we would also heartily suggest you put one on any shortlist against any rival as well.
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