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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - RS-V

Our Opinion

We like
Surging and zippy engine, quick and smooth steering, comfortable urban ride quality, fun handling, semi-premium interior
Room for improvement
Rough-road compliance on 18-inch wheels, long-throw manual shifter, lower-dash plastics, no rear air-vents

Gallery

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Holden logo6 Mar 2017

By DANIEL DeGASPERI

Price and equipment

THE flagship Astra RS-V manual tested here costs $30,740 plus on-road costs, pushing it into luxury-sports small car play with the Mazda3 SP25 GT ($29,990) and auto-only Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline ($33,340).

It costs $4500 more than the Astra RS manual with which it shares its drivetrain, and then adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s), LED tail-lights, full leather trim with heated front seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning and a larger 8.0-inch (up from 7.0in) screen with integrated satellite navigation. The latter is in addition to Apple CarPlay/Android Auto mirroring technology and DAB+ digital radio standard across the range.

Compared with the popular SP25 GT, for example, the RS-V further adds automatic park assistance, lane-departure alert with lane-keep assistance, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) beyond low speeds although it misses an electrically adjustable driver’s seat (beyond electric lumbar adjust) and a Bose audio system.

A six-speed automatic transmission costs $1000 extra, while two other options packages are available: a $1990 Tech Pack with adaptive cruise control and electric sunroof (presumably to match the $33,490 Mazda3 Astina with both items standard) and a $3990 Innovations Pack with those two items plus Matrix LED headlights with adaptive auto-high beam.

Interior

Both in terms of quality of materials and overall ambience, the new Astra’s interior feels two generations ahead of the dowdy Cruze it replaces. Put another way, it feels far more expensive than what the near-$4000 leap beyond the former Cruze SRi-Z flagship might indicate.

Perfectly matched soft-touch upper-door and dashboard plastics are complemented by the liberal use of piano-black and metallic silver trim. There are proper door grab handles and, at night, a line of soft mood lighting that emanates from beneath the door armrests. Add a nice, thin-rimmed steering wheel, small-diameter speedometer and tachometer, and an injection of colour thanks to both the high-resolution touchscreen and trip computer display, and the result is impressive.

The touchscreen uses the latest version of Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, and its combination of digital radio, integrated nav and CarPlay/AA is the benchmark for the segment while the eight-speaker audio quality is exceptional, particularly for a no-name unit.

Only some hard and scratchy lower dashboard plastics, and absent rear air-vents, prevent this cabin from matching the lofty Volkswagen Golf standard.

The front seats, while comfortable, could have extra side support and electric adjustment at this price, but the back bench is nicely tilted to aid under-thigh support. Being a hatchback with a high roofline, headroom as well as legroom are competitive behind the front seats.

Add in an above-average 360-litre boot with a wide opening and 60:40 split-fold backrest capability, and the Astra proves both semi-premium and wholly practical.

Engine and transmission

Holden lowers its ace card by opening the bonnet to reveal a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine underneath it. While the R gets a 110kW/240Nm smaller 1.4-litre, the RS and RS-V share a benchmark 147kW of power at 5500rpm and 300Nm of torque between 1700rpm and 4700rpm.

Only the sedan-specific and more overtly sporty $28,990 Hyundai Elantra SR beats it for power (150kW) but not torque (265Nm), while a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated Mazda3 SP25 GT (138kW/250Nm) and VW Golf 110TSI Highline (110kW/250Nm) are well short.

The outgoing Cruze SRi-Z had an identically sized turbo engine to the new RS and RS-V, but it made 132kW/230Nm and weighed a hefty 1474kg. Riding on a brand new chassis, the Astra weighs 1344kg but feels even lighter thanks to the engine’s enthusiastic nature.

The Holden’s engine revs immediately and quickly to redline, backed by a sweet and zingy note that remains delightful in all conditions. The manual shifter can be rubbery and its long-throw action hampers quick changes, but it is far from inhibiting – it never baulks or feels stolid.

No performance figures are claimed, but the RS-V feels like a sub-7.5-second 0-100km/h vehicle, which places it in hot-hatchback territory from just a few years’ back. In fact, it could nip the heels of the $38,490 Renault Megane GT with its 151kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo and 7.1s sprint time. Standard idle-stop technology assists with claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw 8.3L/100km in mixed conditions.

Ride and handling

The RS rides on 17-inch alloy wheels with 45-aspect tyres, whereas this RS-V gets 18s with more aggressive 40-aspect Bridgestone Turanza tyres.

Interestingly, Holden has said it was perfectly happy with the European suspension tune of the Astra and left it alone, tweaking only its electro-mechanical steering and electronic stability control (ESC) calibration for our country.

Although the outgoing Cruze felt sorely dated in terms of its presentation, Holden specifically chose sportier Bridgestone Potenza tyres in its successful quest to make the SRi-Z in particular a handling benchmark in the class. So where does that leave the new Astra?Around town it has sharper, more natural and fluid steering than its Australianised predecessor, while a newfound feeling of lightness continues to permeate from the way the suspension lushly deals with road imperfections despite the low-profile tyres.

The RS-V feels petite and soothing in a way the SRi-Z never did. Through 90-degree corners it also display an agility and alert level of poise beyond its surprisingly soft suspension setup. The Astra rolls into corners, but it massages grip across all four tyres and almost imperceptibly uses its rear axle to passively help the nose point.

Only really rough country roads impact this Holden’s fun and refined behaviour, causing both some float over sizeable undulations and some jarring over sharp-edged irregularities. These 100km/h-signposted, sweeping backroads were right where the Cruze stepped up but Astra has stepped back.

Safety and servicing

Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC), blind-spot assistance, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assistance, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), front and rear parking sensors with automatic park assistance, and a rearview camera are all standard.

ANCAP tested the Holden Astra RS-V, and it scored five stars with 32.9 out of 38 points.

Holden’s lifetime capped-price servicing plan costs just $229 for each of the first four annual or 15,000km dealer check-ups.

Verdict

For so long the default choices – and rightly so – in the small-car segment have been the Golf for all-round class and luxury, or the Mazda3 SP25 GT for brisk, DIY-shifting fun.

The Astra RS-V manages to capture most of the Volkswagen’s refined abilities, while feeling faster, more engaging and more enthusiastic. It also feels quicker and more upmarket than the Mazda.

Its flaws are few – some scratchy lower dashboard plastics, a long-throw gearlever, front seats that could be sportier and rough-road ride quality that lacks finesse. The Astra RS is also arguably better value than the RS-V if you can live without leather and larger wheels (particularly when those larger rims contribute to a more jarring ride).

However, the combination of features, technology, cabin design, practicality, performance, soothing urban ride and fun dynamics everywhere, proves that Holden was right to back its fortune on returning to the Opel mine.

Rivals

Mazda3 SP25 from $29,990 plus on-road costs
Revvy and fun, but noisy and cramped inside.

Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline from $33,340 plus on-road costs
Still untouchable for cabin class and poise on all roads, but less fun.

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