Abarth 595 VS Holden Astra
- Good engine/chassis combo
- Surprising grip levels
- Terrible driving position
- Ride not great around town
- No reversing camera
- Sedan's comfy and composed ride
- Hatch's beautiful styling
- Aussie tuning for sedan and hatch
- No AEB in sedan
- Hatch's storage could be better
- Sedan's rear headroom limited
Since 1949, Abarth has been giving the venerable Italian brand, Fiat, a patina of performance, based largely on giant-killing feats in small modified cars like the Fiat 600 of the 1960s.
More recently, the brand has been revived to boost the fortunes of the smallest Fiat on sale in Australia. Known formally as the Abarth 595, the tiny hatch packs a bit of a surprise under its distinctive snout.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
There are two types of people in this world*. Those who like hatchbacks, and those who prefer sedans.
We're not making any judgments. If you're a sedan fancier, it's your business, and hatchbacks have their leagues of loyalists, too. Whichever way you lean, Holden hopes it has something to please you with hatch and sedan versions of its Astra small car.
This is the mothership of Astra reviews, taking both the hatch and sedan into account to help you make a better decision.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
It’s tough to be kind to the Abarth 595. Based on a platform that’s more than a decade old, the car has been left behind by its rivals in many ways, including basic ergonomics and its value equation.
The larger engine does work well in this smaller package, and its road-holding ability belies its size. However, only die-hard fans of the Abarth brand will be able to cope with the uncomfortable seating position and a complete lack of even the most perfunctory features that cars costing $10,000 less are able to offer.
Could you look past the Abarth 595's foibles? Let us know in the comments below.
The Astra sedan is a different car to the hatch – but then it's really aimed at different people, perhaps more mature ones. I mean, one of the sedan's paint colours, 'Old Blue Eyes', isn't available on the hatch. This could be a hint.
Either way, the sedan could be a better pick for you because of its more comfortable ride, extra rear legroom and bigger boot.
The hatch is a much better looking car. It's also more refined and stylish inside and out. The hatch comes with a more powerful engine and better handling, but its ride is not as comfortable as the sedan's.
As for the sweet spots for each range. For the sedan it's the LS+ with its great safety equipment at a good price. For the hatch line-up, it's the RS because it comes with the larger 1.6-litre engine, advanced safety equipment, and many of the features on the top-spec RS-V, which is $4500 more.
*But wait, there really are more than just two types of people in this world. There are wagon people, too. And Holden will soon have that covered when the Astra Sportwagon arrives by the end of the year. And that one looks a lot like the hatch.
Are you a hatch or sedan person? Lets us know what you think in the comments section below.
Despite being based on a design that’s a decade old, the Abarths still stand out. Based on the classic Fiat 500 shape of the 1950 and '60s, it’s more cute than cut-throat, with a narrow track and tall roof giving it a toy-like presence.
The Abarth attempts to beef things up with deep front and rear bumper splitters, go-fast stripes, new headlights and alternate-colour wing mirrors.
The 595 rides on 16-inch rims, while the Competizione runs 17s.
Inside, it’s definitely different to most mainstream cars, with colour-coded plastic panels on the dash and a very upright seating position, along with a dual-tone steering wheel.
It’s a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. There’s no middle ground here.
Holden has performed cosmetic surgery to bring them closer together, but they still look like distant cousins at best.
Let's focus on the hatch first. This seventh-generation car looks damn good, but it's near impossible to identify the different levels. The easiest way is to look at the wheels (design and size), while the RS has shiny metal blades on the grille, and the RS-V gets that, plus the same trim around the windows for a posher look.
The cabin is also good looking, but regardless of grade, doesn't have the premium feeling the car's exterior looks suggest. Don't get me wrong, the RS-V's interior is cool and stylish, but the use of glossy plastics and a lack of contrasting colour cheapens the vibe.
All Astra hatches have the same dimensions - 4386mm long, 1807mm wide and a height of 1485mm, which is a smidge longer than the Corolla and a bit shorter than the Mazda3. The RS-V auto is the heaviest at 1363kg.
Now the sedan. Holden has styled the front to look more like the hatch but I don't think it's fooling anybody.
The sedan's cabin is also different to the hatch's. We're talking completely different, from the steering wheel to the temperature controls. I'm more of a fan of the hatch's interior styling than the sedan's relatively basic look.
The sedan is 30cm longer than the hatch at 4665mm end-to-end, it's shorter in height though, standing 1457mm tall (-28mm), but is exactly the same width at 1807mm across.
This is another area where the Abarth falls down. First and foremost, the seating position for the driver in both cars is utterly compromised.
The seat itself is mounted far, far, too high, and has little adjustment in any direction, and there is no reach adjustment in the steering wheel column to allow a taller (or even an average height) driver to get comfortable.
The more expensive Competizione we tested was fitted with a set of optional sports bucket seats from racing company Sabelt, but even they are mounted literally 10cm too high. They are also ultra firm, and even though they look supportive, lack decent side bolster support.
The tiny multimedia screen is okay to use, but the buttons are miniscule, while there’s a complete lack of storage places in the front.
There are two cupholders under the centre console, with two more in between the front seats for rear seat passengers. There are no bottle holders in the doors and no storage for rear seaters.
Speaking of the rear seats, they are the very definition of cramped, with little headroom for moderately sized adults and precious little knee or toe room. There are two sets of ISOFIX baby seat mounting points, though, should you fancy wrestling your wriggling toddlers through the narrow aperture.
The seats flip forward to reveal more cargo space (185 litres with the seats up, and 550 litres when the seats are down), but the seat backs don’t fold flat into the floor. Under the boot floor is a can of sealant and a pump, but no space saver spare.
In truth, it was a long day testing this car… at 187cm, I simply could not get comfortable in it at all.
This could be the clincher if you're wondering whether the hatch or sedan is roomier. And the answer may not be the one you expected.
So, in one sentence, the Astra sedan has more rear legroom, but less rear headroom than the hatch, while the sedan's boot is bigger, but I'd pick the hatch if I was using it to move house.
The first bit makes sense. The sedan has a longer wheelbase, meaning more legroom for passengers in the back. Even me, and I'm 191cm tall. In the sedan I still have about 5cm of space between my knees and the driver's seat set to my position, but I can only just squish my knees in when I'm in the hatch.
But in a cruel twist of design fate the roofline of the sedan is lower than the hatch's, and my head skims the ceiling.
The sedan's 445-litre boot is 85 litres bigger than the hatch's (360L), but I'd choose the latter to move house because it has a larger cargo opening. Fold the hatch's back seats down and you could slide a coffee table in, which is not going to happen in the sedan.
The sedan has better cabin storage areas, with four cupholders (two up front and two in the back), bottle holders in all the doors, and a decent-sized centre console storage bin. The hatch gets bottle holders in all the doors, and while there are two cupholders there aren't any in the back. The hatch's centre console bin is small, but there is a driver's side pull-out bin.
Price and features
The range has been stripped back to just two cars, and costs has come down slightly, with the 595 now starting at $26,990, plus on-road costs.
A new 5.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with digital radio), a leather wrapped steering wheel, TFT dash display, rear parking sensors, alloy pedals, 16-inch alloy rims, and (front-only) adaptive dampers are standard on the base 595.
A convertible, or more accurately, a rag-top (cabriolet) version of the 595 is also available for $29,990.
The 595 Competizione is now a whopping $8010 cheaper at $31,990 with a manual gearbox, leather seats (Sabelt-branded sports buckets are optional), 17-inch alloys, a louder Monza exhaust, as well as front and rear adaptive Koni shocks, and Eibach springs.
Unfortunately, what stands out more on the Abarths is what they don’t come with. Auto lights and wipers, cruise control of any sort, driver aids including AEB and adaptive cruise… even a rear view camera is missing.
What’s more puzzling is that the Abarth’s architecture, though a decade old, has provision to accept at least a rear view camera.
Abarth’s explanation that the car’s home market doesn’t see these inclusions as important doesn’t really hold water, either.
Let's start with the hatchback. There are three grades of Astra hatch: the entry-level R lists for $21,990; then there's the mid-spec $26,490 RS, and at the top-of-the-range is the RS-V for $30,990. These are all prices with a manual transmission, and it's another $2200 on top if you want an automatic. There's a sort of bonus level, too – the 'R+' which is an R with advanced safety equipment, but costs $1250 more.
There are three grades to the Astra sedan range, too – but wait, they don't align with the hatch line-up, and even have different names.
The sedan kicks off with the LS spec at $20,490, if you opt for the manual gearbox, or $21,490 for the auto. Standard features at this level include 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as rear parking sensors.
There's an 'LS+' grade for another $1250 which adds advanced safety equipment, LED daytime running lights and a leather steering wheel.
The $25,790 LT gets all of the LS+ features and adds 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, proximity unlocking, auto parking, sat nav and rain-sensing wipers.
At the top of the pile, the $29,790 LTZ has all of the above, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, climate control air con, and heated, leather-trimmed front seats.
Depending on the grade, the hatch costs $1000 to $2000 more than the sedan.
Engine & trans
The Abarth 595 pair use the same 1.4-litre 'MultiJet' four-cylinder turbo engine in differing states of tune. The base car makes 107kW/206Nm, while the Competizione makes 132kW/250Nm, thanks to a freer-flowing exhaust, a larger Garrett-branded turbocharger and an ECU re-tune.
The base car can do 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds, while the Competizione is 1.2 seconds quicker; the optional 'Dualogic' automatic is 0.2sec slower to the mark in both cars.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, and neither car is fitted with a limited slip diff.
The Astra hatch comes with a choice of two petrol engines. A 110kW/245Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo powers the R grade, and a 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo four sits in the RS and RS-V.
All Astra sedans come with just the 1.4-litre engine.
Buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual (when paired with the 1.4-litre engine torque is 240Nm) or six speed automatic.
CarsGuide test pilot Stephen Corby drove the Astra R grade and pointed out that Holden notes a 0-100km/h time for the base car of "n/a", which pretty much says it all, while our RS and RS-V hatch drivers, including me, found the 1.6-litre to have good acceleration (claimed 0-100km/h in 7.8s).
The six-speed auto in the RS-V hatch is slow and emotionless, while the six-speed manual's short gear ratios keep the turbo going hard.
When it comes to the sedan engine, that 1.4-litre, while competent, doesn't impress the socks off me. But (with socks still well and truly on) it does suit the nature of the sedan far more. The hatch needs a gruntier powerplant to suit its sporty styling and firmer suspension. Lucky there's a 1.6-litre that delivers more mumbo.
Over 150km of testing, the Competizione consumed a dash-indicated 8.7 litres per 100km, against a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.0L/100km. Our brief test of the 595 revealed a similar number, against the same claimed figure.
The Abarth will only accept 95 octane fuel or better, and its small 35-litre tank is good for a theoretical 583km between fills.
First the hatch. Sure, the 1.4-litre engine is the least powerful but it also uses less fuel, with Holden's claimed combined cycle figure being 5.8L/100km in manual and automatic. The 1.4-litre also only requires cheaper 91 RON fuel. The 1.6-litre engine needs 95RON, and the official figure is 6.5L/100km in the manual and 6.3L/100km for the auto. You'll 52 litres of it to fill the tank.
These are low claims and the stop-start tech would help achieve those figures. Our own driving found real-world consumption is higher, with the RS recording 8.6L/100km on the dash computer, while the manual RS-V scored 7.1L/100km.
After 250km in the RS-V auto the trip computer was reporting 10.2L/100km. I also found the fuel gauge needle moved towards empty faster than rivals I've driven. I don't think the Astra's efficiency is the core issue here, more my driving style, and it could be down to the Astra's 48-litre fuel tank, which is three litres smaller than the Mazda3's, and two litres less than the Corolla and i30's.
The sedan returns similar mileage, with official (combined cycle) fuel consumption for the manual sitting at 5.8L/100km, and the auto at 6.1L/100km. The trip computer in our automatic LS reported 8.2L/100km after a little more than 100km of country road driving.
Ergonomics aside, the combination of torquey engine and lightweight car is always a good one, and the 1.4-litre turbocharged four is a good match with the front-drive Abarth.
There’s always enough mid-range urge to give the Abarth the hurry-up, and the longer-legged five-speed gearbox is a good match for the engine.
It also grips and turns surprisingly well, despite the Sport button adding too much artificial weight to the Abarth’s steering feel.
That same button also firms up the front dampers on the 595 and all four on the Competizione, which works well on smoother terrain, but stiffens it too much over more undulating surfaces.
Around town it can be hard to strike a good balance between ride and comfort. The difference between soft and firm is much more pronounced in the Competizione, but it will still get tiring if your commute is a bumpy one.
The turning circle, by the by, is ridiculously large for such a small car, making u-turns - already compromised by the lower front bumper - unnecessarily fraught.
The Monza exhaust on the Competizione gives it a bit more presence, but it could easily be louder (or at least more crackly) again; you’re not buying this car to be a wallflower, after all.
Three CarsGuide reviewers drove three different versions of the Astra, and it's pretty clear the R didn't impress in the same way the RS and RS-V did. While the chassis felt great, the issue was put down to the 1.4-litre engine, which had to work hard while the automatic droned on.
I took the RS-V on my 150km country road test loop and found the chassis to be taut and well balanced, and by the feel of the firm dampers, set-up for more sporty driving and handling rather than comfort.
The RS-V's 18-inch rims, with low-profile 225/40 R18 92W Bridgestone Turanza rubber mean you'll feel almost every crack and bump in the road. Great grip, but the ride isn't comfortable.
The six-speed automatic doesn't match the 1.6-litre engine's perky personality, in that it's slow to change gears. Shift paddles on the steering wheel would add more connection to the driving experience.
Vani's RS-V was a six-speed manual and she loves how quickly that gearbox responds. All all our testers agree the steering is accurate, but artificial and light, although the sport mode gives it more weight, along with changing the throttle response to be sportier.
While the hatch has sporty styling and a firmer ride, Holden has tuned the placid-looking sedan's suspension to be comparatively supple. It's a far more comfortable drive.
I had seat time in each grade. The LS with the manual is the most enjoyable to drive - shifting is easy, the gear ratios are nicely spaced and I could get more out of that 1.4-litre engine.
Being tall and all arms and legs, I found I had to drive with the middle armrest up – my elbow kept bumping into it otherwise when shifting. The clutch also has a high return position.
The auto-only LT and LTZ ride just as comfortably as the LS manual. Steering on all grades has been tuned for Australian roads, and it feels accurate, well weighted and smooth. I've driven far fancier cars with steering that isn't anywhere near this good.
Cabin insulation is also impressive in the sedan – the hatch on the other hand has a fair bit of noise intrusion.
And that engine? Well, you're not going to win any drag races, but the comfortable ride and smooth steering, combined with looks that don't promise land speed records means it's far more suited to the sedan than the hatch.
Even with two well fed Holden employees and myself on board, the sedan didn't once feel like it was running out of puff, even on steeper hills.
The Astra sedan doesn't have the handling ability of its hatch sibling, it also has a ridiculously large turning circle of 11.9m (the Mazda3's is 10.6m), but it just skims in at seven out of 10 thanks to that great steering feel, and well-tuned suspension, keeping the ride comfortable and composed.
Despite a lack of electronic safety aids – and, somewhat amazingly in the current age, a rear-view camera – the Fiat 500 that forms the Abarth's basis still carries the maximum five-star rating from ANCAP it was awarded in 2008, by dint of its seven airbags and bodyshell strength.
It wouldn’t have the same luck if it were judged under new ANCAP regs coming into force in 2018, though.
The R+ hatch adds a safety pack which includes such as AEB and lane keeping assistance.
The LS+ sedan is $1250 more than the LS and comes with suite of safety gear including lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning and forward distance indicator.
You'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points for child seats across the back row in the sedan and hatch.
A three-year/150,000km warranty is offered as standard on the Abarth 595 range, with a suggested service interval of 12 months or 15,000km.
Abarth importer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia offers three fixed-priced services for the 595 range at 15,000, 30,000 and 45,000km, with the first costing $275.06, the second $721.03 and the third $275.06.
The Astra hatch and sedan are covered by Holden's three-year/100,000km warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or annually. The Astra also comes with Holden's life-time capped-price servicing. You'll pay $229 for each of the first four services, then $289 each for the next three before stepping up higher as the car ages.