Honda City VS Holden Astra
- Roomy enough to fit four adults
- Huge boot
- Handsome looks
- Underdone engine
- Average CVT performance
- Multimedia system is a disaster
- 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
Honda built its four-wheeled automotive empire on the back of small cars, flying in the face of 1970s convention that bigger was better. As the ubiquitous Civic grew larger and larger, a niche for a smaller car appeared, and that niche was subsequently filled by the City in sedan guise, and the Jazz hatch that sits alongside it.
The buying public, however, is simply not as interested as it once was in small hatches and sedans, and Honda, along with other importers, is feeling the pinch when it comes to slumping sales for its smaller models.
We’re trying the range-topping, $21,590 VTi-L to see what we may have been missing.
|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|
Small sedan sales are on the wane, and as a result, the cars that remain in the market often aren’t the best in a brand’s lineup.
The underdone steering, too, makes the car uncomfortable for passengers more often than not, while the buggy, hard-to-use multimedia system is unforgivable in an almost-$22,000 car.
Are small sedans off your shopping list, or does the Honda City still hold appeal?
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.
The City does a good job of disguising the fact that it’s a micro-sized sedan; at first glance, the revised front bar and grille that’s meant to mimic the one on the new Civic does such a good job that some people will need to look at the bootlid badge to find out it’s not a Civic.
A high waistline and a solid yet stylish sweep over the roof keep the City from looking overly twee, and even though the 16-inch wheels look a bit narrow, the overall impression is one of a larger car.
The interior, too, is spacious and airy, while the controls and steering wheel give the City an upmarket feel. There’s a little too much grey plastic inside, and hard plastics aren’t difficult to spot, but the City presents well, on the whole.
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.
Up front, the City is a great fit even for taller drivers, and its height-adjustable seat also means that the, err, less vertically inclined pilot can find a comfortable position behind the tilt-and-reach adjustable wheel.
A regular gear shifter and manual handbrake means the two cupholders are squashed under the centre console, but there are bottle holders in all four doors, as well as two more cupholders in the rear centre armrest in the VTi-L.
The VTi-L also gains two extra 12-volt accessory power points in the rear to complement the USB and a third 12V point up front, while the keyless entry system is not something you’d usually find on a car at this price point.
Sadly, the City’s multimedia system lets the side down - big time. Try as we might, we couldn’t connect a phone to our tester, no matter what we did, and it’s just utterly unintuitive to use in most situations.
It’s a bit of a rude shock, actually; most manufacturers have media systems sorted, but there’s simply not a even a half-decent one in any Honda that’s currently on sale. And there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though you can find those mirroring systems in the larger Civic.
Rear seating has adequate headroom – just – for taller teens, and there isn’t a lot of compromise required from front seaters to comfortably accommodate four people. Five? That’s getting crowded, but it can be done.
Two ISOFIX baby seat fixtures are present, along with three top-tether mounts. Boot space measures 536 litres - which is actually 12 litres bigger than that of the new Camry - while both rear seats fold flat(ish) to increase load capacity further.
A good point; the seats can be unlatched via boot-mounted buttons. A bad point; you still have to reach in and push the seats down by hand. A space saver spare nestles under the boot floor, as well.
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 top shelf VTi-L is the best of a two-model lineup, and costs $21,590 plus on-road costs. It comes with an 88kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels, as well as LED daytime lamps, a part-leather interior, push-button start and smart key, climate control air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat nav and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
It also has a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shifter, and map pockets on both seat backs.
It does miss out on a lot of other stuff, though, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, automatic lights (remember when a car last beeped at you to turn off the lights? Me neither...) and automatic wipers, and it also misses out on driver aids like auto emergency braking (AEB).
It starts to look a bit dear when you look at similarly priced cars - even from the next size sector up - that do offer inclusions like AEB and automatic headlights, though the small sedan is a bit of a rarity in the Aussie market now.
Its only like-for-like rivals in the space are the Mazda2 sedan and the Hyundai Accent sedan. Other potential competitors like the Ford Fiesta sedan and, more recently, the Toyota Yaris sedan have been deleted from local line-ups after years of declining sales, while the subsequent rise of the compact SUV will continue to have an impact on the so-called 'light car' market.
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 i-VTEC four-cylinder 1.5-litre single cam engine is naturally aspirated, and it makes its 88kW at a high 6600rpm, while its modest 145Nm of torque peaks at 4600rpm.
It means the CVT gearbox needs to work pretty hard to get the best from the engine, which has been superseded by a twin-cam version in other markets.
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.
A 320km test loop netted us a dash-indicated figure of 6.3 litres per 100km, which is impressively close.
The 40-litre fuel tank is happy to accept standard unleaded petrol, too.
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.
Weighing just 1100kg, you’d expect the 1.5-litre powered City to have a bit of get up and go… but unfortunately it’s already gotten up and left by the time you drive off.
The 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is a carryover unit from the previous generation, and it feels like it, too. It’s also teamed with a CVT gearbox that isn’t a patch on more up-to-date trannies from the likes of Subaru and Toyota.
On any sort of incline, the CVT ups the revs of the engine to a point between bloody annoying and mildly painful, too. The VTi can be ordered with a manual gearbox, which has to be better than the CVT in this example.
The underdamped suspension tune is adequate for light duties around town, but the electric steering feel very odd underhand, especially at the very beginning of a turn.
There’s a big initial motion at the front wheels when you start to turn which then quickly tapers off, meaning that you have to be ultra precise with your steering to prevent the City from lurching into the corner and falling over its soft suspension.
On light throttle, with no hills and few corners, though, the City is just fine…
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.
Full-length curtain airbags are offered along with dual front and front side 'bags, and there's a reversing camera. The City holds a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, which it has had since it was tested back in 2014.
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.
Honda sells the City with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, while a no-catch seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is occasionally offered with its cars, along with premium roadside assistance for the life of the longer warranty.
Both warranties are also transferable to the next owner, should you sell your car before the warranty expires.
A fixed-price servicing regime is in place for the City, too, starting at $259 and peaking at $297. But Honda asks for the City to be serviced every six months or 10,000km, which does add to the cost of running the car.
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.