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Holden's current Astra is the second go the car has had in this country, after first being badged an Opel to the sounds of crickets from the buying public. That hubristic exercise was followed by a brief withdrawal from the Australian market before returning, rather more sensibly badged (and sensibly-priced) as a Holden.
It chugged along quite nicely in 2017. It didn't break any records, no, but regularly broke the 1000 units per month mark to end up with about five percent of the small car market, which it shares with some serious competition from Europe and Japan.
The + in R+ means more safety, but also more money. Safety is good, but do you get anything else for your money?
|Holden Astra 2018: R+|
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Astra range opens with the R which, typically, you'd expect at the other end of the range with a lot more power, but there you go. You'd think the R+ was even more of a beast, but marketing is an imprecise science... apparently.
R isn't for racing, in our case it was a very bright shade of red. Starting at $23,740 for the auto (you can get a manual for a few bucks less), you get 17-inch alloys, a six speaker stereo, cloth trim, air-conditioning, reversing camera, power windows and mirrors, rear parking sensors, cruise control, auto headlights and wipers, remote central locking and a space-saver spare tyre.
The seemingly tiny screen (it's actually a competitive 7.0-inch unit) runs Holden's 'MyLink' but also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. For some reason you have to tell it to use those two useful additions rather than the system picking them up through the USB. Mystifyingly the button is marked 'Projection'. Aside from that, the system works well and sounds alright.
The reversing camera is of limited use - you'll see what's behind you but it's very flattened out and super-grainy.
The Astra is a sleek if slightly anonymous-looking thing. Having said that, it's a really nice design that looks more expensive than it is. That's important in this segment. Holden is at pains to tell us it's from Germany (the Astra is manufactured in Poland) and it does look Euro-influenced. Despite its coupe roofline, it's an easy in-and-out proposition but does sit a little lower than, say, an i30.
The odd blacked-out section of the C-pillar takes a bit of getting used to but the sheetmetal is otherwise faultless and well put together.
Inside it's a sea of grey plastic and various shades thereof, but again, it hangs together really well and is a welcome change from the Teutonically angular Golf. The materials are largely reasonable, but for some reason the stalks feel flimsy to touch and use.
The cloth trim is hardy but comfortable and I was grateful for its relative coolness versus what you might expect from the textile leather you're more likely to get at this level.
Riding in the front, there's room aplenty for passengers, with good headroom and a well-designed space to maximise what's available. Rear seat passengers do okay as long as the front occupants are being generous, but the seat itself is comfortable and there's even good headroom, despite the falling roofline.
Only the front scores cupholders, with the rear passengers making do with door pockets that might swallow a small bottle. There isn't an armrest or air vents back there either.
There's somewhere for one front occupant to put their phone, a horizontal slot that doesn't like phones with covers or the larger format iPhones or Androids. If your phone does fit (iPhone Xs do, as it happens), it's useful because it's in your eyeline, although a bit untidy if you're plugged into the USB.
The boot starts at a class-compeititve 360 litres, rising to 1210 when you fold the seats down.
The whole Astra range is turbo, but here in the cheaper seats it's a surprisingly capable 1.4-litre unit with 110kW and a healthy 240Nm. Power finds the road via the front wheels and a six-speed automatic. It's an otherwise unremarkable technical story, with start-stop to help cut fuel use.
The Astra is rated to tow 750kg unbraked and 1200kg braked.
Holden claims the Astra will drink standard unleaded at the rate of 5.8L/100km on the combined cycle.
Our time with the car, which was a 70/30 mix of suburban and highway, yielded 8.3L/100km, and it's worth noting it was stinking hot for most of the time, so the air-con had to work hard.
The Astra range (with the exception of the lowest-spec R) scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating in November 2016.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Holden's three year/100,000km warranty includes roadside assist for the duration. You can also extend the warranty by up to three years or to 175,000km, for an extra cost.
Servicing is scheduled every nine months or 15,000km. Holden calls its fixed-price servicing 'Know Your Price' and it applies for the first six services (63 months or 105,000km). The first four services are set at $249 each, and the final three $309.
I'm going to get my biggest gripe with the Astra out of the way first - the driving position is rendered awkward by the pedal placement. Every other part of the driving experience is perfectly fine, with good adjustment in the seat and steering wheel but the pedals are Not Right. The transition from accelerator to brake means a big lift of the right foot rather than a sideways shuffle and that gets boring. Perhaps I'm getting old and my knees are weak, but I ended up left-foot braking for a lot of the time.
On with the show. The Astra's 1.4 litre turbo is a punchy thing, more than vaguely reminiscent of Peugeot's excellent 1.2 in the 308. The six-speed auto isn't quite as well sorted, occasionally lurching a bit on light throttle like a dual-clutch. The pay-off for that is crisp shifts and a positive feel for most of the time.
The thing about the Astra is that it really takes it to its competition from behind the wheel. It feels almost as good as a Golf, i30 and arguably is as good as a Mazda3 thanks to its extra torque and better refinement.
It's very quiet, composed and is good fun if you like that sort of thing. Otherwise, it's streets ahead of the Corolla which continues to sell like it's going out of fashion.
The Astra's biggest problem is probably the Holden badge. Despite the company's best efforts, some buyers are wary of the company's longevity and some of the other cars in the range do the Astra no favours - Trax, Colorado and Barina feel cheap, because they are. The Astra isn't cheaply made and holds up very well in excellent company.
|GTC Sport||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$17,900 – 24,970||2018 Holden Astra 2018 GTC Sport Pricing and Specs|
|R||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$11,700 – 17,160||2018 Holden Astra 2018 R Pricing and Specs|
|R (5YR)||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$12,500 – 18,150||2018 Holden Astra 2018 R (5YR) Pricing and Specs|
|R+||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$12,900 – 18,700||2018 Holden Astra 2018 R+ Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||7|