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Driven: Holden Astra heads into VW Golf territory

Fat buster: The Polish-built Astra features a lightweight chassis and suspension setup, helping cut up to 140kg of fat compared with the old five-door hatch.

New-gen Holden Astra arrives to take on the big guns in the small-car segment

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Holden logo11 Nov 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

GM HOLDEN’S all-important new-generation Astra hatchback has started to roll into Australian showrooms, and it is charged with clawing back sales, and credibility, for the lion brand Down Under.

The new five-door, Polish-sourced Astra hatch will be Holden’s sole contender in the super competitive small-car segment following the end of Australian Cruze sedan and hatch production last month.

As previously reported, the Astra will be offered in three grades – R, RS and RS-V – with a choice of two turbo-petrol engines and manual or automatic transmissions.

It will be pitched at a number of the big hitters in the segment, with Holden pinpointing the “aspirational” Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf as its key rivals.

Speaking with GoAuto at the national media launch in Canberra this week, Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley said the new Astra was the embodiment of what the car-maker stands for.

“What does Holden stand for from a product point of view? Great design, great to drive and appropriate technology. This car has that,” he said. “It’s definitely great to drive and while it is subjective, it has been very positively received from a looks point of view. The technology is right up there. It is what a Holden is supposed to be.”

Pricing starts at $21,990 plus on-road costs for the base R manual, before stepping up to the RS manual at $26,490 and hitting $30,990 for the top-spec RS-V. Opting for an auto in any of the variants adds $2200 to the price.

Mr Keley said the Astra would not play in the sub-$20,000 small-car market, adding that the price point for the new-gen model was more profitable.

“$19,990 used to be the sweet spot and that has dissipated some time ago and occasionally our competitors are there. We are there with Cruze obviously. But, going forward, you are going to see that this plus-$20,000 is where the market is.”

Mr Keley’s comments reflect similar moves by other car-makers to position their small-car offerings away from the sub-$20,000 brigade, including Ford, which upped the price of its base Focus last year to $23,390.

Other rivals in the starting price range include the new Honda Civic ($22,390), the new Renault Megane ($22,490) and the VW Golf ($22,840).

Holden executives said that the R will be the most popular variant and is expected to capture 45-50 per cent of all Astra five-door sales, followed by the RS-V on 30-35 per cent and the mid-spec RS on 10-15 per cent.

The Astra is smaller in almost all exterior dimensions when compared with the five-door model it replaces – 1809mm wide (-5mm), 4386mm long (-33mm), 1485mm high (-25mm) and 2662mm wheelbase (-23mm) – but the interior space has increased.

A new lightweight architecture using an ultra high-strength steel safety cage, and lightweight suspension components has meant a weight saving of up to 140kg over the old Astra hatch. The models range in weight from 1283kg for the base R manual up to 1363kg for the auto RS-V.

Like some other competing brands’ models, the Astra underwent engineering and testing in Australia to ensure its ride and handling characteristics matched local consumer expectations.

A new electronic power steering system was tuned by Holden engineers at its Lang Lang proving ground, with the on-centre steering ratio increased for “crisper steering response”, while the speed-sensitive steering was tweaked to ensure “low-speed agility and high-speed stability”.

The Astra features a MacPherson strut with torsion bar front suspension setup and a Watts link rear end. This was a European suspension tune developed at Opel HQ in Russelsheim.

As well as offering a torque vectoring system – similar to the system Mazda is offering on its Mazda3 – the Astra features and Electronic Stability Control program that was co-developed by engineers in Australia and in Idiada, Spain.

The all-new, all-aluminium 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol Ecotec engine is only offered in base R spec, and pumps out 110kW/245Nm in six-speed manual guise, while the six-speed torque-converter auto is also 110kW but drops 5Nm of torque to 240Nm.

Holden says this variant sips just 5.8 litres of 91 RON petrol per 100km on the combined cycle and emits 133-135g/km of CO2.

The 1.6-litre Ecotec four-pot delivers 147kW of power and 300Nm with an overboost function and is offered with the same six-speed manual or auto, however the automatic versions will not be available in dealerships until March.

Fuel use for this powertrain is 6.3L/100k on 95 RON, while CO2 emissions are rated between 146-149g/km.

Standard gear in the base R includes idle-stop (for the auto), multi-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, LED daytime running lights, cruise control with a speed limiter, six airbags, the MyLink infotainment system with a 7.0-inch high-res colour touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ digital radio, Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth audio streaming, an auxiliary and USB jack.

The RS adds sports five-spoke 17-inch alloys, keyless entry and start, leather steering wheel, heated exterior mirrors, automatic park assist, front parking sensors, a blind spot alert, rain-sensing wipers and the Holden Eye forward facing camera safety system with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, a forward distance indicator and forward collision alert with a head-up warning.

In RS-V guise, the Astra gains LED tail-lights, two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels, remote start, an electric park brake, heated leather-appointed sports seats, heated steering wheel, power lumbar adjustment, dual-zone climate control, an 8.0-inch screen, sat-nav with full colour mapping and live traffic updates, and a colour instrument display showing vehicle information, fuel economy and warnings.

A $1000 Driver Assistance Pack will be available from April 2017 for the R and adds leather steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers and the Holden Eye safety system.

A Touring Pack is a $1900 option for the RS-V and includes an electric sunroof and adaptive cruise control.

Finally an Innovations Pack is offered to RS-V customers for $3990 which adds the electric sunroof, adaptive cruise and the high-tech IntelliLux adaptive LED matrix headlights.

The Astra RS and RS-V were recently awarded a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

Eight colours are available. Mineral Black, Nitrate silver, Coconut, Deep sky blue, Carragreen green, Cosmic Grey all attract a premium of $550 as ‘prestige paint’.

2016 Holden Astra pricing*
R 1.4$21,990
R 1.4 (a)$24,190
RS 1.6$26,490
RS 1.6 (a)$28,690
RS-V 1.6$30,990
RS-V 1.6 (a)$33,190
*Excludes on-road costs

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