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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - range

Our Opinion

We like
Punchy engines, charming looks, lively chassis, sharp value
Room for improvement
No reversing camera, cheap interiors, boggy GTC brakes

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Holden logo28 Apr 2015

THIS is the start of a blossoming and significantly European-derived range says Holden.

Yes the cessation of local manufacturing is a sad result of too many contributing factors but without a need to concentrate on the impossible business cases of locally made cars, Holden can now start cherry-picking models from any of the GM global pools.

One such vehicle the company thinks will fit the Australian market nicely is the German-designed Astra and with commendable looks, the new three-door hatch certainly scores high marks with its aesthetics.

We love the carefully crafted bodywork that brings a little European charm without being too showy or retro. Its smooth progressive line from bonnet through to boot spoiler is more chopped off coupe than hatch, but despite the diving roofline, headroom in the back is still generous.

Apart from the badges, nothing on the Astra’s exterior has changed since its introduction as an Opel three years ago, but we don’t think that is a bad thing and the styling has not aged a day.

Interiors are uncomplicated and simple and Holden has resisted the temptation to roll out the fake carbon-fibre but some silver plastics and cheaper looking materials dampened the cabin feel a little.

While all Astras have a parking radar, none of the variants offer a reversing camera – an increasingly infrequent omission across all marques and segments these days.

For its return, Holden has scrapped the 1.4-litre four-cylinder option and decided to focus on higher-performance versions in a bid to build a sportier persona for the Astra. The range now kicks off with a $26,990, plus on-roads 1.6-litre turbocharged GTC – the first of our road-tested cars.

Coupled with a dual-clutch automatic transmission the turbocharged donk turns out 125kW and 360Nm of torque and that’s just enough for some spirited negotiation of the twisty roads in Queensland’s countryside. The addition of the auto also takes the price up to $29,190.

Acceleration could be described as frisky if not fiery but the smallest Astra engine does develop good low-down torque for tackling hills. It also produces an honest and likeable exhaust note with a little turbo whistle.

Holden’s Active Select six-speed auto does a decent job of getting the power to the ground via the front wheels and is intuitive when cruising out of town, but a lack of steering-wheel paddles and a counter-intuitive selector lever discouraged us from spirited driving with manual gear selection.

We like how the transmission holds on to a gear when descending hills to make use of engine braking rather than punishing the brakes, which are discs all-round.

A far better proposition for enthusiastic drivers is the manual GTC which costs $2200 less and, most importantly, gains 22kW and 20Nm thanks to a tougher cog-box and a tune-up.

The difference is immediately noticeable with sharper, more involving acceleration and more usable grunt across the rev-range. The self-serve gearbox might not be the slickest we have sampled, but having six manual ratios to choose from really enhanced the Astra.

Sport versions of the GTC gain an inch larger wheel set than the standard 18-inch at 19-inches but we found it hard to differentiate in either ride or road-holding. One feature we really did appreciate though was the Sport’s more adjustable seats that are wrapped in leather.

That said, the standard cloth versions look great and offer good side support in tighter corners. Speaking of which, we haven’t yet talked about the Astra’s best feature.

Its European chassis offers a truly rewarding experience for the keen driver with excellent steering weight where many competitors over-assist, and responsive handling.

We loved slinging the little Holden through a few corners and maintaining the momentum with its fizzy four-pot.

Handling is every bit as capable as the car’s two main rivals, the Hyundai Veloster Turbo and Kia Koup Turbo, but the Holden has a slightly lighter feeling on its feet even if it cant quite match the Kia’s bountiful grip.

Only the spongy brake pedal let down the otherwise exciting drive. The all-round disc brakes pull-up fine but the pedal feel didn’t inspire us to push too hard into corners.

With this much fun on tap how could the Astra get any better? In just three letters is how – VXR.

By stepping up to the $39,990 Astra VXR flagship (should that be rocketship?) Holden now has a true hot-hatch in its ranks and we stetted its legs on the Norwell Raceway.

Up front is a revised version of the Opel Astra OPC’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder which pumps out a roasting 206kW and 400Nm of torqueAcceleration, as you might expect, is strong in all gears with barely perceptible torque-steer and the highly-strung forced-induction motor produces a deeply satisfying note both in and outside the car.

When the VXR-exclusive FlexRide system is set to its more potent, throttle response is sharp and the hottest Astra feels most alive, encouraging us to get the very most out of our brief time on the circuit.

Like its GTC baby brother, the VXR delivers excellent feedback through the nicely sized VXR-labelled steering wheel and we loved its ability to be placed precisely at the right point on the track.

Only the VXR gets the largest disc brakes, which are cross-drilled on the front and hauled -up by enviable Brembo four-pot callipers for excellent braking confidence from high-speeds.

Its six-speed manual gearbox has also been significantly improved over the Opel version that came to Australia, with all of the messy missed gears resolved and a more precise notch feel from the selector.

If you spend a significant amount of time either on a track or hassling the B-roads, the Astra VXR offers a more brutal and involving experience than the venerable Volkswagen Golf GTI. There we said it.

However, the Golf’s luscious interior and added touches of refinement would probably have us reaching for the VW keys for day-to-day use.

In GTC form, the Astra offers a simple package of fun with great exterior styling at a sharp price, while its steroid-pumped VXR sibling packs a mighty punch, even better looks and its price starts with a three.

We hope the Australian public takes to the new Astra range as warmly as we did because by simply donning a lion badge and honing the details, the Astra has gone from an eyebrow-raising Euro folly to a formidable sports hatch proposition.

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