Mazda 3 SP25 Astina sedan 2016 review
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Mazda3 SP25 Astina Sedan with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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The thing about awards – as parents out there can attest – is that they pretty much lost their lustre as soon as we started handing them out just for turning up.
Who changed the rules so that everyone wins a prize in Pass the Parcel? Who are you going to brag to about your 'I ran in a race' ribbon? And a gold-edged certificate for attendance? Really?
So, when Holden brought the new Astra to Australia, fresh from its 2016 European Car of the Year win, it would have been easy to dismiss it as just another award. But thankfully, not all awards are created on the same cheap Dollar Shop certificate.
The prestigious European Car of the Year is judged on design, comfort, safety, economy, handling, performance, functionality, environmental requirements, driver satisfaction and price, by a jury of more than 60 motoring writers across Europe, and is one of the most sought after accolades.
The Opel/Vauxhall based Astra is one of just three cars to have won the top gong more than once in the Awards' 50-year history.
The first time the Astra took line honours was in 1985, the same year as it happens, that 2016 European Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo was born.
Ronaldo's soccer prowess is undoubtable, the Portugal and Real Madrid forward has lifted aloft more than his share of trophies for club and country. He has also scored almost 700 first-class goals.
You can bet that like the Astra, his wasn't a certificate for just showing up either.
|Holden Astra 2017: RS-V|
|Engine Type||1.6L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
So, the Astra can't rival Ronaldo in the looks department, but it's no Lady Gaga (2016 European MTV singer of the year) in an enveloping meat dress either. The trademark Holden grille looks better in a larger, chunkier sedan, but the sporty lines and wider haunches hold it in good stead. A sculpted rear leaves an arresting impression too, one that is nicely complemented by new LED lights and bigger alloy wheels.
Inside, an astute dash design leaves dials and buttons within easy reach while the use of better quality plastics at the touch points adds credence to Holden's claims the Astra belongs on the aspirational end of the small-car market.
In some ways, however, this premium hatch doesn't feel all that premium. Piano black highlights and the odd brushed metal attempt add interest but seem to mark easily while the attention to detail and finish served up to front-seat occupants is not generally the preserve of those in the rear.
Back there Holden has given the nod to harder, cheaper materials although the seat itself seems to be better shaped and more supportive than that found in most competitors.
A roomy interior makes the Astra RS-V seem larger than it actually it is with a swooping dash and rising beltline no doubt supporting that illusion. The front seats are fairly comfortable without being ideally supportive – it's the Holden way, after all – and aside from a four-way lumbar option on the driver's seat, have to be manually adjusted in search of that perfect position.
For the driver, at the very least, this cabin is easy to settle into. Sporty instrumentation sets the tone matched for intent by an integrated 8.0-inch touchscreen and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Rear head and legroom is more than acceptable for a small car, too, although it must be said kids will be happier than adults.
Two ISOFIX points add to the Astra's practicality, as do door bins that are large enough to hold a proper water bottle. The lack of air vents does not.
Sure, in theory a good climate control system should be enough to cool down a car of this size through the front vents only, but try telling that to littlies who are whining on a sticky hot day.
While overall cabin feel is pleasant, overall cabin storage is less enamouring. Aside from the obligatory cup holders, and a small covered console bin, there is little to rejoice about. A few more useful nooks and crannies would not have gone astray.
The boot, at 360 litres, is not the biggest in the class, but is certainly useful enough, and will easily take a reasonably-sized shop – from Woolies and Coles, I mean, rather than Costco. The 60/40 rear seat folds flat if you want to carry bulkier items.
While power steering was the dizzy heights for our parents, for us, a car without all the bells and whistles is simply far too horrible to comprehend. Holden, not usually known for its generosity, has excelled with the Astra RS-V, however, chocking it up with more inclusions than there are expletives in (the 2016 European artist of the year) Justin Bieber's vocabulary. Crazy, I know!
Cost of entry is $30,990 for the six-speed manual (+$2200 for the six-speed auto), and standard fare includes an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, digital radio, reverse camera with rear sensors, heated front seats, 18-inch alloys, LED head and tail-lights, auto headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate control and proximity key entry and push-button start, just to whet the appetite.
If that is not enough, there are two option packs available. The 'Innovations Pack' ($3990) adds matrix LED headlights with cornering function, radar cruise control, and electric sunroof, while the 'Touring Pack' adds the latter two features for $1990.
Having on trend technology is only half the battle, it has to be usable too. The multimedia system in this Astra RS-V is easy enough to navigate, but the graphics package feels a bit dated and could be sharper. That fuzziness is echoed in the picture generated by the rear view camera, not enough to hinder its effectiveness, but enough to irk.
Despite driving enough small cars to know better, I still tend to expect a car of this size to be zippy and fleet of foot with a hint of the adventurous. And this Astra RS-V is certainly that, thanks in no small measure to the 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit lighting a fire in its belly.
With 137kW of power at its disposal and a lusty 300Nm of torque (peaking at 1700rpm), it hustles the RS-V along. Yes, in a fashion more akin to the Golf GTi than R, but enough to get the blood flowing.
This car is a real hoot to drive.
In our test car, the 1.6-litre engine was more than ably accompanied by a silky smooth six-speed manual transmission that was hard to fault.
Our week of mixed distance driving over a variety of surfaces saw our usage figures around 7.1L/100km – not far off Holden's claimed combined average of 6.3L/100km. The RS-V is a discerning drinker though, so you have to spring for 95RON, not a bad trade-off for a spirited drive.
Okay, let me start by saying that I love driving a manual, just love it.
There is a feeling that comes from the vibration of the engine underfoot, the note finding a growl or purr on a quick change of gears, that can never be replicated, even by the slickest auto and finely attuned paddle shifters.
There is a magic in the changing of the gears itself, finding that perfect spot with your clutch foot, that delicate balance as the car readies to spring forward, the beautiful synchronicity of it all.
So, naturally there was all kinds of excitement just waiting to happen when I ensconced myself in the driver's seat of the RS-V. It didn't disappoint. No, not even in that bumper to bumper traffic that can give the calf muscles quite a work out.
It is an exhilarating feeling when it all works, unspoilt, even with the kiddies in the back complaining about twirling tummies.
This car is a real hoot to drive. The gearbox is quick to respond, the engine is punchy, the steering accurate and the ride pretty refined.
The Astra RS-V is light on its feet, tiptoeing through tight city confines only to lengthen its stride easily during highway forays.
It is self-assured even when you change your mind quickly or sling it into corners, keeping its poise thanks to a willing drive train and an excellent stability control system. It is an exhilarating feeling when it all works, unspoilt, even with the kiddies in the back complaining about twirling tummies.
The steering, tuned for Australian conditions, offers a decent amount of feedback, especially on secondary roads. The suspension keeps its European settings which offers a firmish ride but can be surprisingly supple too, allowing the RS-V to settle quickly over regularities.
This means enjoyment is not dulled by wallowing or excessive thudding should you come across a number of speed bumps or potholes in quick succession.
Sport mode adjusts the tune of the engine and electronic steering making for a more engaging drive and would be our pick as a default setting.
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
ANCAP Safety Rating
Incidentally, Dutch-German engineer Anton van Zanten, who developed the electronic stability control system, was honoured with the 2016 European Inventor Lifetime Achievement award, while Holden was celebrating the Astra's ECOTY win.
In Europe alone, the ESC system has helped prevent almost 300,000 crashes and saved close to 10,000 lives since it was first fitted to cars.
Van Zanten has been involved in 36 automotive safety additions in the last four decades including the second collision mitigation which automatically locks the brakes to all four wheels once your vehicle has been involved in a collision.
Aside from these life-saving systems the Astra RS-V also sports six airbags, auto emergency braking, collision warning alert, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. In a bid to remind the driver about keeping safe distances, it can also tell you how many seconds away you are from the car in front.
The Astra RS-V come with a three years/100,000km warranty, a deal that falls short of most competitors who either offer unlimited kilometres over that same period or a decidedly longer warranty altogether. It is puzzling given that Holden needs to tick the confidence box now that manufacturing has ceased in this country.
Holden does offer a fixed-price servicing plan. It will cost you $916 for the first three years or 60,000km with service intervals at 15,000km or nine months.
Competition is tight in a segment that offers classy possibilities from the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai i30, Mazda 3 and Ford Focus to name but a handful. Yet the Astra RS-V, with its heady combination of space, technology and sweet, punchy drive is difficult to ignore. It may not reach the numbers achieved in Astra's heyday here in the late 1990s but it will give it a good go. This is an engaging, fun car and by this account is likely to be around long after its European award winner counterpart hangs up his boots.
|GTC||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$13,200 – 19,140||2017 Holden Astra 2017 GTC Pricing and Specs|
|GTC Sport||1.6L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$13,600 – 19,690||2017 Holden Astra 2017 GTC Sport Pricing and Specs|
|R||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$10,999 – 18,000||2017 Holden Astra 2017 R Pricing and Specs|
|R+||1.4L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$12,990 – 16,990||2017 Holden Astra 2017 R+ Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||8|