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Used car review Holden Astra TS 2001-2004

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    Great looking, good driving small car.

Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the used Holden Astra TS 2001-2004: its fine points, flaws and what to watch for when buying it.

NEW - After struggling to find a small car that worked for it Holden struck gold with the Astra it sourced from Opel in Germany.

Holden had attempted to market rebadged Nissans and Toyotas before the Astra, but with little or no success. In the Astra Holden had a car all its own; even better it was from Europe at a time Australians were turning on to European cars.

The timing couldn't have been better. The Astra was an attractive small car and was an immediate hit with the market. There was a wide choice of models and body styles, including three and five-door hatches and a four-door sedan.

Inside, the Astra was typically Euro, with bold patterned upholstery and door trims, and the fit, finish and materials quality were of a high standard. The cabin was quite roomy for its compact dimensions and two adults could sit in the rear with reasonable legroom, while the boot was of a good size and there was a 60/40 split-fold rear seat for added flexibility.

Models ranged from the City entry through to the sporty SRi, a kind of Golf GTi clone. Most models had the power of a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that with a decent 90 kW and 165 Nm gave it plenty of zip on the road. It was a free-revving engine, although it became a little 'tinny' as the revs rose.

Behind the engine was either a smooth-shifting four-speed auto or a five-speed manual, with the final drive directed to the front wheels. There was also the sporty Sri that came with a 2.0-litre four- cylinder engine that put out 108 kW and 203 Nm for a thrill-a-minute drive.

The Astra's ride was a little firm around town, but with a rigid body, wide track and long wheelbase and a suspension locally tuned to our roads it was agile and nimble with a stability that allowed it to be hustled along quite quickly.

NOW

Good build quality has meant the Astra has stood up quite well over time and generally hasn't developed body rattles, squeaks or other noises that can be annoying. A degree of caution is needed when buying an Astra, however, for while they are an attractive and affordable little car, and were quite well built, they are now getting on in years and that means a greater risk of trouble from wear and tear.

On top of that the TS suffered from some serious issues that could turn a dream drive into a nightmare. Most notably they break cam timing belts, and when they do the damage to the engine's internals can be severe and expensive.

The cam belt tensioner was at the root of the problem. It would fail, the belt would loosen and either break or jump teeth on the drive gears throwing the cam timing out. Either way there would be heavy contact between the valves and the pistons and it's goodnight nurse for the engine.

Holden overcame the issue by reducingthe belt change interval from 120,000 km to 60,000 km. The message is that anyone owning an Astra needs to be diligent about changing the belt, let it slip and you could be up for big bills.

When the belt is changed it's a good idea to check the water pump, as it's most likely that it will be leaking. Replace it as a precaution if there are any signs of leakage.

A Carsguide reader recently told us about the experience his daughter had when her Astra overheated on a trip, to the point the engine had to be replaced. It turned out that the cause of the problem was a pinhole in a hose at the rear of the engine and out of sight that caused a leak and eventually the engine to overheat.

SMITHY SAYS

Great looking, good driving small car, but it is blighted by cam belt breakages. Be warned.

STAR RATING

2.5 stars

Holden Astra TS 2001-2004

Price new: $20,840 to $25,100
Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder petrol, 90 kW/165 Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol, 108 kW/203 Nm.
Transmission: 4-speed auto, 5-speed man.
Economy: 6.4 L/100 km (1.8)
Body: 4-door sedan, 3-door hatch, 5-door hatch
Variants: City, CD, CDX, Equipe, SRi
Safety: Dual-airbags across the range, CDX had side airbags, SRi had ABS brakes.

Expect to pay 

Pay $7500 to $11,500 for the CD; $9000 to $11,500 for the CDX; $7000 to $10,500 for the City; $8500 to $13,000 for the Equipe; $8500 to $13,000 for the Astra SRi.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER

  • Toyota Corolla - 2001-2004 Great little car that does everything you could want in a small model. Hard to beat. Pay $6500-$15,500. 3.5 stars.
  • Mazda 323 - 2001-2004 The last of the small Mazdas before the big comeback with the 3 was a good little car, if too expensive at the time. Won't go wrong the 323. Pay $6500-$11,000. 3 stars.
  • Nissan Pulsar - 2001-2004 Solid performer was the pick of the small car bunch before the Astra arrived. Will do the job with little trouble. Pay $5000-$11,500. 3.5 stars.

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 4 comments

  • My wife has a 2002 Astra Equipe, which was bought as a demonstrator. We live 145 kms from Melbourne and a couple of years ago both her parents needed admission to a high dependency nursing home. For two and a half years we drove the Astra to and from the Home several times a week subsequently, combined with other driving, clocking up nearly 300,000kms ! The car has never missed a beat and has only been off the road for servicing and tyres. It still has the 'zip' it did when new, she plans on driving it till it dies - if ever.

    Robert Allen of Queenscliff Posted on 02 October 2012 2:15am
  • There was no 2.0 petrol producing 108 kW. There was a 2.0 turbo petrol producing 147 kW (SRi-T), and a 2.2 litre n/a petrol producing 110 kW (SRi). Timing belts on the 2.2 SRi are chains, and recommended replacement interval is 100,000km, not 60,000km. Water pump is part of the replacement items when doing timing belts. As for the girl who overheated her Astra, I'm guessing the coolant level was barely ever checked. A slow leak as described should have been picked up before causing such damage, so I don't think you can blame the quality of the car for that!

    Walter. H of NSW Posted on 01 October 2012 6:02pm
  • Dear Kelly Moore . . . the guy who hit you was only half asleep. You driving without insurance proves you were totally asleep. Sorry but its true. On the subject of the Astra though . . . provided you avoid the one that has traction control (it has 5 stud wheels) you will avoid many problems. Check its history and make sure the exhaust has been replaced as they backup and affect performance during the first 50k. Also make sure if the ignition has been replaced (again common under warranty) that the key fits everything. Then pay no more than $6k for a vehicle 12 years old with 180k on it.

    Wayne H. of Aldinga Beach SA 5173 Posted on 26 April 2012 9:04pm
  • A guy who decided to have a nap while driving,smashed into my car slamming me car into a tree' I did not have insurance at the time for my 07 FordFocus Hatch' $22,500 I was only able to get this brand new car due to the sudden death of my father.So at 37yrs' I never thought i would be put in the position of having to choose a used car again! I believed that i had nothing but problems from this ford,So i have been looking at Holden Astras hatchbacks' plus other hatchbacks but its so hard to know what do? As i love all the Madza,Ford Fiestas,Kia Rio's,Hyundia i40 & Toyota's latest hatchback models' But everytime i see a car i think"Omg what a beautiful car,stylish with the slanted front & rear lights" When i look it up it becomes overwhelming & all the cars i like are always out of my price range.What do you suggest for a deserving,struggling sole parent? Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you

    Kelly Moore of Perth Posted on 22 April 2012 1:08am
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