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Car reviews - Holden - Astra - SRi 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Standout looks, responsive normally aspirated engine, a rewarding drive
Room for improvement
Minimal rear visibility

Holden logo3 Aug 2007

By CHRIS HARRIS

ONE can never, ever ignore the importance of style to the sales success of any consumer item – particularly a motor vehicle.

The secret is finding a formula that will be readily accepted by just about anybody. Push the boundaries a little too far and you’ll immediately alienate your product from mainstream acceptance.

The industry is littered with bold designs for which the public was not ready, or simply didn’t like.

But – and this is the important bit – there have been many that have made it, purely on their looks alone.

Strangely, it is a fairly rare thing to find a car that strikes the right balance between stretching the boundaries of acceptance and snapping them.

Interestingly, it is only in retrospect that a design can be accurately judged.

Once-faddish styling elements can often look pretty silly when viewed from the distance of a few years, but a good design will always stand the test of time.

It is possible, though, to identify some that will, and some that probably won’t make it as enduring examples of automotive art.

And one mainstream car that is likely to still look good when car design moves into its next phase is Holden’s rakish AH Astra coupe.

The small three-door hatch is stunning to look at, not merely a three-door version of the five-door – as was the previous TS model – and a handy supplement to the Astra TwinTop convertible as well as the also-swoopy five-door hatchback and the station wagon.

The looks are so good, Holden is probably justified in calling the three-door Astra a coupe, although the fact it is really a hatchback earns credit points in terms of useability.

The Astra “coupe” came to Australia in its current form in mid-2006 with the choice of two engines: the by-then rather challenged 1.8-litre four-cylinder from the previous model, and a 2.0-litre turbo that helped the car live up to its looks.

Now, the coupe, as well as the Astra TwinTop convertible, offers an optional direct-injection 2.2-litre four-cylinder in an engine range that includes an all-new 1.8-litre four-cylinder, the 2.0-litre turbo and a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel.

The 2.2-litre engine is not new to Astra, but the direct injection aspect is, and it brings more power and efficiency to give the SRi versions of the coupe and five-door hatch, as well as the TwinTop convertible in which it is the standard powerplant, a decidedly springier step – all helped along by the also-standard six-speed manual transmission.

A less exciting four-speed auto is optional in all models except the manual-only SRi Turbo.

The new 2.2-litre engine adds direct fuel-injection to a list of credentials that include alloy construction, twin balancer shafts, four separate ignition coils, a variable intake manifold and double overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder.

The outputs are nothing spectacular, with (on 95 RON unleaded - regular unleaded is acceptable but reduces performance) 110kW at 5600rpm and 210Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The previous 2.2-litre produced 108kW at a slightly higher 5800rpm, along with 203Nm of torque at the same 4000rpm.

The outcomes tend to exceed expectations though, with a decent fuel consumption of 8.9L/100km, a nicely useable torque band and a willingness to rev cleanly.

There is also a peculiar, though appealing beat to the engine at idle, almost a vee-engine throb that disappears with a few rpm and is only really noticeable from inside the cabin.

From an engine range that incorporates a widely varying set of bore-stroke measurements, the only commonality is between the new 2.2-litre and the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, which share the same 86mm bore dimensions.

The latter is a “square” configuration, meaning the bore and stroke measure the same, but the 2.2-litre is a long-stroker (as are the new 1.8-litre and the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel), which bodes well for torque production.

The direct-injection engine is a little closer to the 147kW/262Nm SRi turbo coupe and, for some, will be a nicer engine to live with because of its readily available torque and its linear responses.

Where the turbo delivers a healthy mid-range surge but needs around 3000rpm on board before really starting to deliver, the normally aspirated 2.2-litre is ready to go much earlier in the rpm band.

This is helped by the six-speed gearbox, which offers a set of neatly spaced ratios to ensure the best rpm range is available virtually at any time. The shift action itself is smooth and positive enough to ensure a steady progression through the gears.

The 2.2-litre Astras also get a sports chassis pack - though it is not as advanced as the variable-damper Interactive Driving System Plus (IDS Plus) suspension seen in the SRi Turbo.

Traction control, electronic stability control, electro-hydraulic power steering and four-channel ABS with brake assist are all built into the SRi (and turbo-diesel CDTi) Astras.

The result is that the SRi coupe handles and steers with genuine aplomb, perhaps the only questionable point being the electric power steering’s tendency towards remoteness as far as driver feel is concerned.

The coupe rides well despite its tightened up suspension and offers the cosy, intimate feel you expect of a coupe. No surprise though that the rear view is restricted by the C-pillars and that the back seat is not the place you’d like to spend a lot of time – particularly if you’re tall – and is something of a reversal of the previous three-door, that used the same roofline as the five-door.

On the other hand the boot is reasonable and offers flexibility via the 60/40-split folding back seat.

With passive safety items such as dual front and front side airbags, full-length curtain airbags, as well as leather-faced seats – heated, and offering eight-way adjustment at the front – “drilled” alloy-look floor pedals, leather-rimmed steering wheel, trip computer, cruise control, seven-speaker sound system (single CD only) and heated exterior rearview mirrors, the SRi offers a decent standard-equipment rollcall.

With the added punch and improved efficiency offered by the new direct-injection engine, the normally aspirated Astra SRi coupe is a stylistic show-stopper that backs up its good looks with a sound, practical and satisfyingly dynamic sporting on-road character.

It offers street-credibility well beyond its asking price.

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