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First drive: sexiest Astra is a super coupe

Hatched: Stylish three-door Astra will come with turbo power in early 2006.

Holden lands three-door Astra "Coupe" in Australia at a $1500 premium over the hatch

22 Jul 2005

HOLDEN is hoping for some style-led success with its latest Astra three-door range.

Now called "coupe" by way of its sleeker design, this striking AH Astra spin-off sits above its five-door hatchback equivalent in price but 25mm below it in physical stature.

It goes on sale at the end of July, along with an AH Astra station wagon, and will be sourced from Opel's Antwerp plant in Belgium.

The coupe will not open the Astra range like the TS City three-door hatch did from June 2001 until the costlier SXi model usurped it in February 2003.

Instead, as the CD coupe, the new three-door Astra will carry a $1500 premium over its $21,990 AH CD five-door sibling - although it is better equipped.

At $25,990, the better-equipped CDX coupe adds another $2500 on top.

The five-seat coupe is built on the same 2614mm wheelbase as the five-door AH, but is 25mm lower at 1435mm, sacrificing 44mm rear headroom in the process. The front-seat occupants are also 9mm closer to the road.

Compared to its TS five-door hatch predecessor, the AH coupe is in line with the hatch in that it's 52 per cent more resistant to bodyshell flexing, 47 per cent for lateral flexing and 15 per cent more torsionally rigid.

No body panels other than the bonnet, front bumper and mudguards are shared with its five-door sibling.

However, much of the mechanicals are, including the aging though Euro4 emissions-compliant 1.8-litre twin-cam 16-valve Ecotec four-cylinder engine.

Pumping out 90kW of power at 5600rpm (92kW on premium) and 165Nm of torque at 3800rpm (PULP: 170Nm), it's mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox.

The official ADR 81/01 combined fuel consumption figure is 7.8L/100km for the former and 8.2 for the latter.

Holden says it durability-tested the air-conditioning, engine calibration, launch and acceleration performance, knock-control and hot-fuel handling systems under hot Australian conditions.

Plus it chose specific shockers, anti-roll bars, bushes, steering racks and electronic calibrations.

The coupe also rides lower to the ground, with firmer damping rates for "sportier" handling.

Like all AH Astras, MacPherson struts with lateral control arms attached to a hydro-formed subframe form part of the front suspension, while the rear's is a torsion beam axle that allows for a flat floor and a full-sized spare tyre.

This eschews the more complex multi-link arrangement pioneered by the first Ford Focus in 1998 and since adopted by the Mazda3 and VW's Golf V.

A revised electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering system boasts a more-direct rack ratio of 14:1.

Cargo space is rated at 302 litres and is augmented by a split-fold rear seat.

On the safety front both models have anti-lock brakes with brake-assist, dual front and side airbags, "breakaway" pedals that release in severe impacts to help reduce foot injury and rear seat-mounted child restraint anchors.

Other CD features include air-conditioning, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel audio and cruise control, a CD player, heated and powered mirrors and power windows.

The CDX's bounty runs to 16-inch alloys, leather-faced seats, heated front sports seats, a trip computer, improved six-stacker CD audio, more storage areas and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

13 center imageEarly next year a high-performance SRi coupe arrives.

Like the short-lived TS version from 2003, it should cost about $37,000 and use a 147kW turbo 2.0-litre engine, as well as a six-speed manual gearbox.

For now there will be no non-turbo SRi model to fill in for the old 108kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder three-door TS model sold here for three years from October 2001.

However the successor to the popular TS Astra Convertible that's still available should lob in later in 2006 or early 2007.

Again derived from the AH platform and using the coupe's underpinnings, it will feature - like the Holden Tigra due soon - a retractable steel roof in the vein of the Peugeot 307CC.

Holden expects to sell 3000 coupes in its first 12 months, including the SRi Turbo.

Around 65 per cent should be automatic, and female, while many will be younger than your average Astra hatchback buyer.

About 35,000 Astras will find new homes in 2005, with 60 per cent being the $18,990 TS Classic sourced from Poland.

But this all changes from October, when the Viva that's arriving via Daewoo (J200 Lacetti) in South Korea ousts it, leaving the AH as Holden's premium small car contender.

2005 AH Astra Coupe pricing:

Astra Coupe CD $23,490
Astra Coupe CD (a) $25,490
Astra Coupe CDX $25,990
Astra Coupe CDX (a) $27,990

Why coupe sales droop

THE local market is littered with the corpses of small-segment (sub-$30,000) coupes that just haven’t caught on in recent years.

Rare success stories – like Mitsubishi’s affordable ’92 CC and ’96 CE Lancer coupes – are the exceptions to the rule that says Australian’s just don’t really go there.

Flops include the VW Golf CL (’96-’97), US-made Honda Civic GLi Coupe (’99-’00), Ford LR Focus Zetec (’02-’05) and Proton M21 Coupe (’97-’00).

And even the TS Astra three-door didn’t exactly fly out of showrooms.

The secret seems to be to avoid making your coupe look like the mundane hatchback sibling that spawns it.

Holden mentions that the Audi A3 and Alfa Romeo 147 have helped open the market to premium three-door variants thanks to good design, so it’s in with a better chance with the AH coupe since it’s a great looking car.

Competition is thin too, with only Citroen’s promising new $25,990 C4 VTR Coupe a contender, even if the equally striking French car must do with an 80kW/147Nm 1.6-litre engine.

And that’s it – a barren wasteland otherwise. Only SUV oddities like the Suzuki Grand Vitara and Toyota Rav4 two-door wagons, as well as the oddball Citroen C2 VTR at $22,990, are in the price ballpark.

Citroen has had a (relatively) strong start with the C4, shifting 103 units of both hatch and coupe variants, which are record amounts for the Peugeot-controlled marque.

The last Holden small-car ‘coupe’ was the TX-TD Gemini from 1975 to 1979, dying quietly with the TE model although its rear-drive platform did spawn the 1986 Piazza, possibly the biggest coupe dud of all time.

This 1979 Isuzu concept car (‘Ace of Spades’) was productionised by 1983, but was ignored to death on its 1986 release here in spite of a turbocharged 1.8-litre powerplant and beautiful styling.

Ridiculously high pricing and a thorough press drudging of its hopelessly under-developed chassis relegated the Piazza very quickly.

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