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Holden Cascada and Astra 2015 review

Holden's drop-top is an easy, breezy drive.

It's been about two years since I drove a new Holden that made me smile. That was the VF Commodore — but this week I've driven two smile-worthy new Holdens in one day.

I thought I'd enjoy the return of the Astra VXR hot hatch. I wasn't sure what to expect from the all-new Cascada convertible but was pleasantly surprised by the classy, comfortable drop-top.

The Cascada is the headliner as Holden renews its links to Europe for the mid-level heartland of its range, below the Commodore and above the Barina and Cruze.

There are also three Astra models, from the GTC at $26,990 to the VXR at $39,990.

The Cascada, priced from $41,990 and with the VW Golf Cabriolet as its toughest rival. has a three-layer "acoustic" folding roof, a 1.6-litre turbo engine and six-speed automatic gearbox.

The price is right for the car and class, and there is also a "launch" edition of 50 examples at $44,990 with 20-inch alloys, nappa leather on the seats (ventilated fronts), a sports leather-wrapped wheel and adaptive bi-xenon lamps). It is also covered by Holden's lifetime capped-price servicing.

The shape is elegant

Part of the Astra family, the Cascada looks and feels bigger and more plush. It has room for four adults in the cabin, although the boot space is tiny.

The shape is elegant, more appealing than the boxier Golf, and it retains its coupe lines despite the folding cloth roof.

The cabin layout and controls are straight-from-Astra but there are some nice examples of stitched leather panelling and leather trim.

Small windows in the windscreen pillars make for better outward vision and there are giant outside mirrors, which are essential because of the tiny rear screen.

I'm not a fan of the windscreen design, which means the top of the header rail is close to your head when you're bending down to get in.

There is no crash rating for the car yet but it gets front and side airbags, Isofix child-seat mounts, hill-start assist and a wide-view camera in the tail.

The Cascada package is straightforward. The focus is obvious because there are no paddle-shifters and the tuning is set for mid-range shove more than a top-end rush.

Outputs are modest and claimed fuel economy is 7.5L/100km.

The car also gets Holden's MyLink infotainment system, electric power steering, alloy wheels and the rest of the deal you expect for $40,000.

On the road

The Cascada is ideal for autumn, top up or down. It's a very quiet car as a coupe and when you drop the roof it is breezy without too much buffeting.

Drop-down side windows mean you can vary the amount of wind in the cabin — still giving good protection for rear passengers — and the roof folds quickly and easily at up to 50km/h.

It's a cruising car, not a thrasher

The Cascada gets along well enough and the chassis could easily handle more power. But that would defeat the purpose.

It's a cruising car, not a thrasher, with very classy compliant suspension, well-weighted steering and a driveline that does the job. The gearbox is set for slushing along in preference to sports shifting but that's fine most of the time.

On one of my favourite twisting hinterland roads, the car is surprisingly poised and compliant. There is a little shudder over mid-corner corrugations but it's an impressively rigid car that keeps its feet solidly planted in all conditions.

2015 Holden Astra VXR

One thing tells you everything about the Astra VXR — the last time it was sold in Australia it was part of the HSV line-up.

So along with proven credentials as a hot hatch, it's now cheaper at $39,990 compared to the $42,990 it cost back in 2007.

The VXR is the sports hero in a three-model Astra hatch range, with the GTC starting the action at $26,990 and the GTC Sport from $29,990.

  • 2015 Holden Astra VXR 2015 Holden Astra VXR
  • 2015 Holden Astra VXR 2015 Holden Astra VXR
  • 2015 Holden Astra VXR 2015 Holden Astra VXR
  • 2015 Holden Astra VXR 2015 Holden Astra VXR

It makes an obvious statement with 20-inch alloy wheels and Brembo brakes, 206kW 2.0-litre turbo engine and six-speed manual gearbox.

The car delivers as promised, with a raunchy power delivery, taut chassis, sports seats and rapid-fire manual shift.

It's up against a range or rivals including the Renault Megane RS and will eventually face the Ford Focus RS, but is potent and good value. It's not the best I've driven but I know a lot of people who will enjoy it.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

GTC 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $14,456 – 14,490 2015 Holden Astra 2015 GTC Pricing and Specs
GTC Sport 1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $12,950 – 15,990 2015 Holden Astra 2015 GTC Sport Pricing and Specs
VXR 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $17,990 – 19,998 2015 Holden Astra 2015 VXR Pricing and Specs