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Used car review Holden Astra 1998-2003

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Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden Astra 1998-2003, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when you are buying it.

The introduction of the European Astra and Vectra models in the late-1990s represented the dawning of a new era for Holden. It was an era which the company for the first time could offer a full range of models that were competitive with anything on offer from its rivals.

Holden had a major problem almost from the very start. It was a one car company. It didn’t matter so much back in the 1950s when buyers were happy to get their hands on whatever was available, but as cars became more plentiful so their choice was greater.

It really hit home in the ’70s when the oil crises created a demand for smaller more efficient cars and all of a sudden Holden had a problem. They tried the Torana, a moderate success, and there was the Gemini, but they lacked the sort of models that would compete with the likes of Toyota, Nissan and Mazda and they didn’t have the funding needed to develop new models of their own.

The Camira was an attempt at developing a local small car, albeit based on the Opel Ascona, but poor reliability and appalling build quality ensured the Camira would be laughed off by a market by then used to Japanese quality and reliability.

Attempts at joint ventures with Nissan and Toyota produced the original Astra, a rebadged Nissan Pulsar, and later the Nova and Apollo, rebadged Corolla and Camry respectively, but these weren’t really seen as competitors to their mother models and didn’t really capture the interest of the market.

Holden had to find models that were unique to its showrooms, ones that would legitimately rival their Japanese rivals. Enter the Astra and Vectra, both rebadged Opels.

The first Opel-based Astra was launched in 1996, the Vectra a year later. Holden hasn’t looked back, for the first time it could truly claim to be a multi-model carmaker.

MODEL WATCH

The first of the Opel-based Astras was already an old model when it arrived here early in 1996. It had been on sale in Europe since 1993, but was due to be replaced by an all-new model and that car arrived in local showrooms in 1998.

It has undergone a number of upgrades since its introduction, but the Astra that is now number four on the small car sales charts is little changed from the 1998 original. Its replacement is being shown at this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, which means we can expect it here in Holden’s showrooms next year.

Available as a three or five-door hatch, or four-door sedan – there’s also the convertible but that really falls into another category – all are attractive with contemporary European styling that make them stand out on the road.

Entry to the Astra club is via the City, with the CD on offer for those who want a little more in the way of creature comforts. For a more sporty drive there’s the SRi and the Turbo, but they really appeal to a different buyer than the regular Astras on which we’ll focus for this column.

Power comes from a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine on all but the sporty SRi, which has a 108 kW 2.2-litre version of the same engine as standard.

With double overhead camshafts working four valves per cylinder, variable intake manifolding, and sequential fuel-injection the Astra’s 1.8-litre ECOTEC engine puts out a healthy 90 kW on regular unleaded. If you pay the price to run it on PULP you’ll get two kilowatts more.

A five-speed manual is the standard transmission across all models, but it isn’t the best shifting manual around. It’s typically Opel, easy enough to use, but not very precise and a little rubbery in feel, and definitely not sporty. A four-speed electronic auto is optional and maybe the best choice.

The Astra’s suspension is MacPherson Strut with gas shocks and a stabiliser bar at the front, with a compound torsion bar and trailing arms, progressive rate coil springs and gas shocks at the rear.

Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard across the board. Likewise disc brakes can be found at all four corners, the fronts featuring ventilated rotors. ABS and traction control are optional on the CD.

Wheels are 14 x 5.5-inch with full wheel covers on the City, but the CD gets attractive 15 x 6-inch alloys as standard.

Inside the City you’ll find plenty of standard features, like an adjustable steering column, power mirrors, audible headlights ‘on’ warning, breakaway brake and clutch pedals, height adjustable driver’s seat, cloth trim, airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, lap/sash seat belts for all passengers, seat belt pre-tensioners, front seat belt force limiters, seat belt height adjusters, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, immobiliser, and a sound system with CD player and six speakers.

The CD boasts even more with a leather-trimmed steering wheel, velour trim, power windows, heated rear view mirrors, and cruise. Air-conditioning is an option on all models.

ON THE LOT

Look for City three-door hatches priced from $11,000 to $17,000; add $750 for the four-door, $1000 for the five-door, a similar premium for the auto, and $500 for the optional air-con.

Expect to pay $12,500 to $21,000 for the CD four-door sedan, add $1000 for the more popular five-door hatch, and $500 for air-con.

IN THE SHOP

With its zinc-galvanised body electrostatically dip-primed the chances of corrosion becoming a problem are minimal, and only likely to surface in the long term, if at all.

Side protection from shopping centre bumps is quite good with well-designed side rub strips, while front and rear bumpers are sturdy and will withstand most of the bump and grind of day-to-day driving.

The annoying dark staining that dulls the shine of alloy wheels on many European-sourced cars is a problem on the Astra. It’s also a sign of heavy brake wear, although most owners say they’re happy with pad life which is generally in excess of 50,000 km.

Mechanically the Astra is reliable with few faults reported across the board, although it’s worth noting one owner’s problems with the five-speed after just 75,000 km.

Owners report very good fuel consumption of 7.0 litres/100 km on a trip, and just a little more around town.

Like most modern European cars the Astra remains tight and few from rattles and squeaks as mileage accumulates.

OWNERS VIEWS

Peter Cain owns a 2001 Astra CD auto and reckons it’s fantastic after 60,000 trouble free kilometres. His only complaint, a minor one, is the firmness of the seats.

Max Blenkin also reckons the Astra is very good, despite having to replace the gearbox in his 2001 Astra City after just 75,000 km. It started as a clunk going around corners that got worse until it stopped dead one day. Gearbox problem aside, Max rates the Astra as the best car he’s ever owned with effortless performance, good handling, economy and comfort, his only complaint being the “clunky” gearshift.

Doug Stockwell is another satisfied Astra owner. Doug owns a 2001 CD auto sedan which he says performs extremely well, is quiet and tight as a drum with no squeaks or rattles of any sort. His only problem has been with the instrument panel, which shut down completely and took two weeks to replace, which was excessive in Max’s view. Apart from that he’s more than happy.

Jennifer Cass bought a new Astra CD in August 2002 and she says all was fine until about October that year when she became aware of a rubbing noise that appeared when the car had been warmed up and she was taking off from a rest. The noise ceased once the speed rose, but it became progressively worse, almost unbearable every time she reversed. The car went back to the dealership under warranty five times, and they fitted a damper to pull the calliper back, machined the discs, fitted new discs and callipers and in August 2003 fitted a new part released overseas to fix the problem. The noise reappeared a few weeks later and once again has become progressively worse. The dealer has told me that it’s the ABS self-checking protocol, but I am not convinced, and I have heard others have the same issue.

LOOK FOR

• smart European styling

• tight, rattle free body

• good corrosion protection

• zippy four cylinder motor

• clunky gearshift

• miserly fuel consumption

RIVALS

• Ford Laser – 1998-2002 – $10,700-$25,000

• Toyota Corolla – 1998-2002 – $9000-$20,000

• Nissan Pulsar – 19989-2002 – $9500-$22,000

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 30 comments

  • I have a 2000 CD model. The brakes lasted 100,000 Ks. as did the original tyres. Vibration was experienced with the machined brake rotors. Aussie brake rotors were fitted and the brakes now have 200.000 ks with no signs of wearing out. The ignition coils only lasted only 100,000 ks and required replacing. The air intake sensor failed at 250,000 Ks. Fuel pump also at this time. Idling troubles were caused by the throttle boy gumming up but a tooth brush and solvent fixes this. Great car, but I did not like paying for the coil packs. I believe the company has acted on this.

    John Lamont of Devonport. Tas. Posted on 05 March 2014 7:06pm
  • We owned a 2002 Astra 5 door hatch (CD) since new and overall it's been a great car. Unfortunately no match for a Nissan Navara when it fails to stop behind and has just been written off. About 180,000 klm on the integrator. Over the years, we've had a few expensive repairs (replace disk pads and rotors, replace ignition coil, replace front struts) but all things considered, it's been a very reliable car and very nice to drive. We were looking to keep it for several more years.

    Rod Thomas of Brisbane Posted on 03 November 2013 4:26pm
  • Recently bought a 2003 astra cdx. Very nice looking little car. But so many problems... in just over a month tyre rod ends, oil leak (luckily fixed under warranty) then alternator went, brake lights stopped working, overheated and blew the hose off the back of the motor (can only replace with genuine Holden one @ $180) then it started idleing rough, or wouldn't start. It's crazy! Seems you fix one problem and barely get a day of driving the thing without another problem happening!!!!! *touch wood* It has been driving problem free for a few days now. My partner wants to sell it, but surely we have come across all of the known problems by now!!!!!!!!

    Kelly Lucas of Brisbane, Australia Posted on 06 September 2013 12:34pm
  • i have a holden astra 4 door hatch 2002 model 1800 engine 4 speed automatic i have a yellow light on the dash a mechanic told me its the computer related he checked the computer its faulting the gearbox and coil he is running more test on these issue the gearbox is not slipping its running perfect that's what i see the coil seems alright its giving out spark car is running good i have a idle problem at times but vary rare can you please help me with this car i want that yellow light of the dash the mechanic told me its computer related thank you

    tony tornatore of five dock sydney n.s.w. Posted on 18 July 2013 7:41pm
  • i have a astra 4 door hatch 2002 model 1.800 engine 4 speed gearbox I have the yellow late stating a computer problem its at the mechanics the computer is stating a gearbox fault when I drive the car no slipping in the gearbox has auto oil can it be another problem in the gearbox also computer is stating a coil problem the way I see it theres plenty of spark car goes good not missing firing on four cylinders can you please give me some advise I want that yellow light out of my dash thank you

    tony tornatore of five dock sydney n.s.w. Posted on 18 July 2013 7:01pm
  • we bought my daughter the astra city 2000 and it seemed ok. no clunking of the gear stick. but now since we have bought it. the dashboard trouble symbols are always going on.. namely fuel emission symbol. which we had fixed.. supposedly.. the thing is still crapping itself. now a symbol like a battery with a star in it is going on constantly. it is difficult to start. it has new spark plugs and new battery and tyres.. where can i find clear symbols and explaination of what they mean. we havent got a book. will a holden dealership give me a copy of the book or symbols? unfortunately its been a money pit. despite the fact it drove smoothly the couple times we drove it around.. i guess they warned it up just prior to us coming over.. the men who sold it to us were cab drivers.. wanted to trust them but i think they were dishonest crims, who complained to the police about me asking for refund on the car .i asked the prat if the car had anything wrong with it. he said no. they should be liable if they lie!! disgusting !

    m petridis of adelaide Posted on 12 June 2013 9:44pm
  • The glowing endorsement of Astras by Smithy seem very much at odds with comments made be the actual owners of these cars. Who to believe then. Are all these owners, neglectful, ignorant trouble makers, intent on criticising an excellent car, or are they victims of a mass produced lemon. If the latter is the case, then Smithy's credibility is in tatters. Either his judgement is deeply flawed in the matter of motor cars, or he is on the take from GMH. In any event, he is no longer suitable for his newspaper job.

    Tony Nemaric of Somerville Posted on 10 June 2013 12:02pm
  • I have a 2003 Astra, will be getting rid of it as soon as i can afford something else. Have only had trouble with it, every time i take it for a service there is something broken or needing replaced, and in between services I end up having to take it back as something else is wrong with it. The warning lights on the dashboard are always coming on. Have spent more in the last 18months on this car that i spent in 6 years on my toyota corolla. Not impressed. Don't buy an astra.

    Kathryn of Gold Coast Posted on 18 May 2013 6:50pm
  • I own a 2003 Astra, paid top dollar for it, nothing but problems, the dashboard tool light keeps coming on and the engine cuts back wish is dangerous, no one know what the problem is, I contacted the Holden manufacturer, but as all way's they don't take the blame, we are just a number, maybe we should all complain, this model should have had a recall something needs to be done, no matter what age the car is this issue has been happening sins day one. VERY UNHAPPY.

    Jackie Van of Sydney Posted on 07 May 2013 9:17pm
  • Engineered to wear out. Our Astra was bought when it was a couple of years old and instantly things started breaking, wearing out and generally being a maintenance headache and wallet-sapping pain. This is despite having a full service every 6 months and not being driven huge distances in between. Every year, a $5 component would wear out and we'd need to spend $200 buying a whole new part because, well... Holden only sells the whole thing, don't they... Boot on the sedan is a stupid design - quite large with a small opening, so you can't get something bulky through the opening, even if it would have fit in the boot. I used to be a confirmed Holden fan, but after this car, I don't think I'll ever buy one again and I'll support Ford at Bathurst.

    Greg Smith of Sydney Posted on 16 February 2013 8:33pm
  • I have a 2002 Holden Astra 3 door hatch and I hate the thing, faulty connections, coil packs, brakes, steering, air con, and the list of things I've had to fix goes on and on, it just broke down on me this morning for the third time in two weeks! The used car dealership I bought it from ripped me off I paid $8,500 for thing two years ago and I have had nothing but problems with it since I drove it out of the dealership. Not impressed at all.

    Astras are the worst car ever of Sydney Posted on 06 November 2012 10:37am
  • Got my 2002 auto sedan Astra for $4000 (family rates) and have spent over $3000 repairing in in just over a year. (had only done 170000 kms) Computer, spark plugs, tires, brakes, windscreen, coil pack, headlights, seals, transmission has stopped working. The list goes on. Worst car i have ever owned. All these repairs even though the car is regularly serviced. Never again will i get anything that is even remotely like an astra!

    Not Happy. Posted on 23 September 2012 3:46pm
  • I still have a astra 2001 city 3 door. these are built like a tank. love it. i have had to replace 2 coil packs and one computer since new. I cant believe how reliable this car has been. I commute 100km per day in it and i have clocked up 330,000 km and while its getting a bit rough at time it just keeps going. I think regular servicing has been the key. repair cost are minimal.

    David Hall of Sydney Posted on 14 August 2012 1:42pm
  • I have had a 2002 astra from new. The water pump went about 2 weeks after the warranty expired. Luckily Holden replaced it for nothing though I had to pay for labour which wasn't cheap. Now facing about $2000 worth of repairs for brakes, engine mounts, new water pump etc. I have had it serviced regularly and have generally found it to be a great car, especially on long drives.

    Jenny of Brisbane Posted on 05 August 2012 11:01pm
  • yes very interesting. I have a 2003, regularly serviced. I bought it new. The current issue a broken engine mount. What is a reasonable amount of money to pay for that? Thanks.

    TMJM of Melbourne Posted on 06 July 2012 2:24pm
  • I had a 2003 Astra from new for 173,000km till I sold it for $6,500 in 2011. We were cautious and fussy owners; all maintenance as required and early diagnosis of problems - which consisted of water-pump (twice)(diagnose by smell) and expecting a premium on brakes (discs + pads). Commonwealth Motors Tuggeranong ACT were good - unlike many, apparently! Frankly, it was a damn good car, difficult to match-replace, and was used in long/short/hot/cold/smooth/rough/fast/slow/some-towing everything. There are 2 other (older) cars in the immediate family still. Look for good individual car + good owner + good dealer/workshop. The 1.6 motor with the auto is dull; the 1.8 with manual lively. Water-pumps & brakes were the only issues.

    Hidieon Henroux of Canberra Posted on 18 May 2012 4:31pm
  • I have a holden astra 2003 sedan,automatic..when i put my key to start the engine..it wont start.The battery and engine are all ok but apparently i got no ignition.Supposedly some holden astra 2003 had the same problem and it cost couple of hundred bucks to fix it.

    Marie Tol of Hampton Park Posted on 20 April 2012 5:36pm
  • I've got a simple piece of advice for anyone looking at buying the 2003 CD Astra.....DON'T! Unless of course you like pouring money into a car just to get it to go from A to B. In the last 6 months I've had everything from fuses and alignment issues, to engine mounts cracked, alternator died (on a public holiday too!) struts needed replacing, link pins in the sway bar needed replacing. Its an endless hole i put money into and it hasnt even done 120,000 yet! Yes it runs on a smelly rag but the money your save on fuel does not balance out with the thousands to repair the poor workmanship of the Astra. FAIL!

    Sam of wollongong NSW Posted on 10 April 2012 11:24am
  • I read about Jenny S problem (29th Feb) and I have the same but I am unable to find what your response was in carsguide Q&A.Could you let me know any resolution, my car is a 2001 Astra Hatch and as the same intermittent engine failure with ECU read out P1600. Not convinced it is ECU problem.

    Jeff Williams of Perth WA Posted on 23 March 2012 1:21pm
  • I have bought a holden astra 2002 cd equip. it has only 91.200kms. The problem I have is, whilst driving the car starts to shake then the coolant light and the emmision light comes on about the same time and the engine stops running. I wait for approx 5-10 minutes then I can start the car again. After driving for a little while, it happens again followed by the same proceedure. I had an auto electrician look at it and changed the coil pack. But the problem keeps happening can Anyone please help me solve the problem I would really appreciate your reply. Thank you very much. Jenny Note from Ed: Please check Carsguide Q & A section for a reply.

    Jenny S Posted on 29 February 2012 7:28pm
  • I have a Holden Astra CD 2003 model and recently had the same issue with the emissions light and chugging - its a misfire and mine was eventually found out to be caused by the coil pack, the second coil was completely buggered... Doesn't cost much to fix though and now she runs beautifully smile

    Louise of Gold Coast, Qld Posted on 19 October 2011 9:33am
  • I have a 2003 Holden Astra, chugs when in 2nd taking corners and in 3rd going up an incline. Emissions light is on. Do I need a service or an auto electrician?

    catrine sjaardema of gladstone qld Posted on 05 August 2011 10:17am
  • I have 2003 Astra SRi TS Series - think it's a great car extremely reliable - zippy to drive, never had any problems, would recommend it without hesitation... when it's time to upgrade I am thinking of just going for the newer model of this same car !!

    Niki Dyson of Sydney Posted on 25 July 2011 2:08pm
  • @ Taran - If the engine light comes on your dash then it is highly likely that your coil pack has gone. A common problem with these cars. I wish my problem was that easy. I didn't get any fault light come up on my dash. I've had mine to the mechanic and there are no error codes to tell us what is exactly wrong with it. It's just a process of elimination and potentially a lot of money :-(

    Cassy of Brisbane Posted on 25 July 2011 1:03pm
  • Electric power steering pump becomes very noisy when hot ? can?t find any one in NZ to fix, no parts available $3,500 new 2000 Opel Astra help!

    wayne of auckland new zealand Posted on 22 July 2011 9:37pm
  • My Holden Astra 2002 TS city 1.8 litre hesitates while overtaking and dismiss while driving, on my dashboard they are showing engine light also, I check it with scan tool and they are showing code P0720. Please Smithy help to fix this code or problem.

    taran gill of melbourne,australia Posted on 16 July 2011 2:15am
  • I bought a 2002 Astra CD hatch in March this year and have had nothing but trouble with it. I bought it because my boyfriend has a 2003 model and it's a great car and I am a Holden girl. The main problem I have with it now is engine surging, especially when it's cold. Even when it's at running temperature it's hard to drive. I've had the throttle body cleaned at it was like a new car, was good for a few weeks and it is doing again. I am guessing that something is blocking up the throttle body. I use good quality oil and only use 98 fuel. When I was looking for a new car I was considering a 2002 Mazda protege, cheaper but with no traction or cruise control. That's what sold me with the Astra. Wish I had have gone with the Mazda.. My advice, DON'T BUY ONE!!!

    CASSY of BRISBANE Posted on 21 June 2011 2:06pm
  • I have a blue 2002 Astra CD Hatch and have been happy with it, and it?s great to drive. But the problem I have is the paint work is fading, on the roof, front bumper, and now starting on the bonnet. Very disappointing, looks like I'll have to get it resprayed. Mind you the paintwork was never that great to me, I found it would scratch easily and then you see white marks in the scratch. My car is not under cover in my driveway, but I see so many cars around now like this now, why is this?

    Kathy Murray of Sydney Posted on 16 June 2011 8:57pm
  • I purchased a holden astra ts cd with 250,000 kms on it, I found it to be the best car i have ever had! It was so fuel efficient. I did a long trip and managed to get 650kms out of one tank. The only issue i had was the Coil pack needed replacing and the fuel pump i would definitely buy one again!!!

    Cass Renee of Echuca Posted on 16 May 2011 3:23pm
  • I have a 2002 astra ts cd hatch.Bought last year 1 previous owner 50 000kms,purchased August 2010 and have had 7-8 problems with it,yet i see alot of them on the road so am wondering if it is the place where i bought it from that is at fault,although reading through this site,am left wondering that they r a dud!!from a knocking noise,key barrrel,ignition swith replacement to the biggest problem that it went in twice the emmission problem.have i been done over?will the problems stop?are they just lemons?i am not the wealthiest person and really did like this car,but it has cost me more then what i originally bargained for!!i find it a shame as holdens are my favourite car we own 2 others.annoyed!!

    Alison Lymbery of Perth Posted on 07 May 2011 6:11pm
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