Holden's Astra sedan: first drive
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Holden’s full-throttle new product plan has been illustrated at recent press functions by a graphic that lines up 24 new vehicles which are set for introduction before 2020.
In fact some have been on sale since 2015, some were launched during 2016 and others have been revealed but are still making their way to showrooms. Eight still remain hidden behind covers.
One of the recent reveals is the sedan version of the new Astra. With hatch models just on sale in New Zealand the sedan will be phase two of the Astra introduction expected in mid-2017. The Astra sedan also offers a case study of how the global motor industry works.
GM’s Opel subsidiary based at Russelsheim, Germany is the so-called "homeroom" for the design of the new D2 vehicle architecture on which the Astra family is built.
The five-door hatch is manufactured in Poland. After the engineering for the sedan is signed off it will get built in South Korea. The hatch will wear Opel, Vauxhall and Buick branding depending on the market it’s sold in while the sedan is branded as a Chevrolet Cruze for North America and Asia.
Uniquely Holden will get both hatch and sedan models to sell in Australia and New Zealand and use the Astra name on the four-door version.
In between the work in Germany and the production line getting started in Korea the Astra sedan has been around the world. The Idiada proving ground in Spain has played a key role in development and so has Holden’s facility at Lang Lang in Victoria.
And Holden input into how the sedan will drive runs deeper than it does with the hatch.
Holden engineers were happy to leave the driving dynamics of the 2016 European Car of the Year winning Astra hatch pretty much as their Opel counterparts set them.
The suspension hardware is common with the Euro specification with Holden’s input being an Australasian calibration for the electronic power steering, vectoring characteristics and electronic stability programme for ‘‘down under’’ gravel and poor quality bitumen.
The sedan is a different recipe. It rides on a wheelbase which is 38mm longer than the hatch and for its main target markets it’s tailored for more of a comfort-oriented driving experience.
Holden wanted a middle-ground position that retained the sedan comfort with added some of the agile dynamics of the hatch.
So for more than a year there have been two German-built Astra Integration Vehicles — hand-built prototypes at 65 per cent of final completion — in the hands of Holden engineers at the Lang Lang proving ground.
Back in December Driven got the chance to go behind the security checks at Lang Lang — handing over smartphones to have camera lenses stickered over — and drive these priceless early workhorses that are destined for the crusher after their work is done.
And not just drive them but give the IV cars a spirited workout that included sliding around a gravel autocross test and lapping a hillclimb loop that’s hidden away in the Lang Lang complex.
It’s really a tarmac rally blast with a long full throttle climb that showcased the eager response of the 1.4-litre turbo engine and six-speed auto followed by a downhill rush through tight and twisting turns that had the brakes making a smokey protest after a couple of runs.
There was also a chance to take the camouflaged cars out onto the public roads near Inverloch.
It’s an unusual experience driving camouflage pre-production cars in open road traffic and sitting in a car with only part-finished interior finishes and bits of tape across blanked off switches.
These cars are not a fair sample of the noise, vibration and harshness qualities that can be expected from the production version but it was an early taste of the Astra sedan being well-sorted across the bumps and camber changes of some demanding roads.
The sedan applies the same lessons learnt on electronic power steering "lead and pull’’ calibrations and torque vectoring response as the hatch and there is an Australasian damper tune that gives improved primary body control.
The sedan also differs from the hatch because it doesn’t have a Watts linkage as part of the rear suspension.
It was quickly evident the two IV units felt quite different.
One shod with 16-inch wheels had the finished article suspension tune. The other on 17-inch rims and wider rubber had an earlier version of the suspension tune and was being used mainly for electronic verification.
The more recent specification offered progressive body control and a composed ride over corrugations and uneven surfaces and gives an indication of the ‘‘driver’s car’’ feel which Holden has instilled in the Astra sedan.
Beyond steering and suspension tune Holden has also worked on calibration of transmission shifting response and features that have greater importance in our corner of the world such as 1200kg braked towing capacity and Trailer Sway Control.
We also know how the line-up of four-door Astra models will be positioned in the market and that the sedan has received some bespoke styling input from the GM Australia design team. The Holden-specific grille and fascia treatment echo what has been revealed for the Next Generation Commodore.
The sedan is a larger car than the hatch with a gain of 38mm in its wheelbase that provides additional rear passenger legroom. Most of the overall length increase of about 280mm is at the rear and will result in improved luggage capacity.
Holden has confirmed the Astra sedan range will consist of entry level LS, mid-grade LT and flagship LT-Z models – which will closely match specification levels in the R, RS and RS-V hatch grades.
All sedans will be powered by the 1.4-litre ECOTEC direct injection turbocharged engine delivering the same performance as the Astra R hatch with 110kW output from 5000-5600rpm.
Peak torque is 245Nm from 2000-4000rpm when paired with the six-speed manual transmission and 240Nm from 2400-4800rpm for the six-speed auto version.
The LT and LT-Z models will offer the Holden Eye driver assist system with Lane Keeping Assist, Forward Collision Alert and Forward Distance Indicator along with rain sensor wipers, blind spot monitoring and front park assist.
And because Holden has adopted the Astra name across its small-medium range the Cruze nameplate is being parked.
That call is based on similar thinking to the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 line-ups using a common badge on hatch and sedan models. Holden believes it’s is a more effective approach in this market segment than having two nameplates — in the way Hyundai has i30 hatch and Elantra sedan models.