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This is more than just a new Astra, it's the first sign of a fresh start for Holden.
The brand has soldiered on with one of the oldest showroom line-ups after its parent company General Motors delayed or axed new models in the grip of the Global Financial Crisis.
Now out of bankruptcy, GM is spending big and overhauling its global model range -- and it appears to be making up for lost time.
The Astra may look familiar but it's completely new from the ground up; only the headlight switch and start button are carried over.
There's a new lightweight structure, a range of super frugal engines and it's available with technology never seen before in a small car.
Massage seats (with three settings) and LED high-beam headlights -- that illuminate the road in front of and behind oncoming cars without flaring other drivers' eyes -- are world firsts for the class.
Other mod cons include automatic emergency braking which can bring the car to a stop from 60km/h (other cars function from 30km/h and 50km/h), while Apple CarPlay and Android operating systems bring smartphone functionality to the Astra's touchscreen.
This all-new Astra should not be confused with the three-door models recently reintroduced in Australia. They are derivatives of the previous generation nearing the end of their model cycle.
In smartphone parlance, the car we're talking about here is an iPhone 6S and the one in showrooms today is an iPhone 5.
The older model was brought in to revive the name locally and let more than 235,000 Australian buyers of European Astras (from 1996 to 2009) know one of their favourite cars is back.
Of course, not everyone loved their Astra, especially early models that required costly timing belt replacements after just 60,000km (at the time usually a $1600 service that, if avoided, would risk terminal engine failure and a $5000-plus repair bill).
The lower, shorter and sleeker body is in fact roomier than before
But those days are long gone; the timing belt has been replaced by a timing chain that lasts the life of the engine, and the modern Astra's service costs have come back to earth.
In fact the new Astra will likely be among the cheapest to maintain in the small-car class now Holden lifetime capped price servicing is available.
The next generation Holden Astra is a year away from local showrooms but if a preview drive is a guide it'll be worth the wait.
It's a good looking car in the metal; the horizontal tail-lights and chrome bars that extend from the grille into the headlights give it wide, imposing presence.
Its overall appearance is deceiving. The lower, shorter and sleeker body is in fact roomier than before (it has more rear seat headroom than the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, although the VW Golf betters it) and the cabin has stepped up a class.
Gone, thankfully, is the current Astra's maze of confusing Lego-like buttons to operate the radio and air-conditioning controls.
They've been replaced by a large touchscreen, simple controls (just two dials) and a logical display of buttons for the air-conditioning.
The cabin has ample soft-touch materials on the dash top and the elbow pads on the doors.
The seats are comfortable, especially when equipped with the massage function, although only the driver gets this option on luxury models.
Visibility has improved, too, despite the seemingly sleek window lines.
First up on our drive on European roads was the 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol. It's intended to be super frugal rather than a pace-setter, but even by these measures (and compared to engines of the same size and type) it appears to lack a little urge at low revs.
The 1.0-litre turbo three-cylinder (that Australia won't get, sadly) surprisingly had slightly more urge from the same light throttle inputs.
The all-new Astra will catapult Holden among the top of the small-car class
The 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder (also found in the current three-door Astra) has more than enough oomph, aided by its extra power over the 1.4 but also by the massive 200kg reduction in the new Astra's bodyweight.
Riding on 18-inch tyres (likely to be on the high grade models) the Astra was surprisingly comfortable over bumps, bulges and joins on European roads.
The electric power steering was light but precise.
Overall, first impressions of the new Holden Astra are positive. But it's worth reserving judgment until we drive it on Australian roads a year from now.
Holden says it will make some minor tweaks between now and its local arrival.
The all-new Astra will catapult Holden among the top of the small-car class.
The only question mark is the price. Sourced from a General Motors factory in the UK, the Astra will be sensitive to exchange rates with the British pound.
Don't expect the same $19,990 drive-away starting price of the locally-made Holden Cruze, which is due to be phased out about the same time as the Astra arrives.
|GTC||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$11,800 – 17,270||2016 Holden Astra 2016 GTC Pricing and Specs|
|GTC Sport||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$13,200 – 19,140||2016 Holden Astra 2016 GTC Sport Pricing and Specs|
|VXR||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$17,100 – 23,760||2016 Holden Astra 2016 VXR Pricing and Specs|
|R||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$9,700 – 14,630||2016 Holden Astra 2016 R Pricing and Specs|