Holden Astra Hatch: The multi-national Astra
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The storyline is about Holden ending production of an Australian-built car and gearing up for a successor with a European pedigree.
The new car is built in Europe with some key Australian engineering input and the model line-up includes a version that wouldn’t exist without the insistence of Australia.
I could be talking about the next generation Commodore that will launch after the current VF II range reaches the end of the road in October.
But the same scenario applies to the new Holden Astra that has just gone on sale in New Zealand in its five-door hatchback configuration.
Astra hatch is designed in Germany and wears Opel or Vauxhall badges in Europe markets. It’s built in Gliwice, Poland and for Australasia it replaces the Adelaide-built Cruze.
And just as Holden insisted a V6 engine was included in the Opel Insignia programme that delivers the new Commodore, it was at Holden’s behest that a 1.6-litre automatic version was included in the Astra programme.
Holden’s engineers have worked on the hatch’s steering calibration and responses of the electronic driver assist systems so they are tuned to the gravel, camber changes and uneven surfaces of Australasian roads.
So the Astra showcases Holden’s new work flow as it becomes an import brand sourcing cars from global GM affiliates while adding some ‘‘down under’’ engineering flavour.
So even though the small car segment is significantly less important than it once was — for the foreseeable future the Colorado ute and Holden’s SUV models will probably outsell it — the Astra paves the way for how Holden will operate in the future.
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And that’s why Marnie Samphier, Holden New Zealand’s general manager, marketing, began her introduction to the Astra by calling it: ‘‘One of the most strategically important cars that Holden will launch in the next few years.’’
She said the Astra is one of the key models designed to appeal to customers who haven’t considered the Holden brand before. Astra is positioned as a more aspirational car than the Cruze with a higher level of technology and emphasis on its European design and manufacturing DNA.
The Astra presentation was followed up by about 300km looping around Hawke’s Bay roads that showcased the crisp driving dynamics and modern high-torque turbo urge that places the Astra among the more compelling drives in the small car segment.
With a performance advantage based on 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre direct injection turbo engines offering 110kW and 147kW respectively, the Astra will be positioned toward the premium end of the small-car segment against the likes of Volkswagen Golf and Mazda3.
Pricing however is more mainstream with a 1.4-litre R grade entry model kicking off the range at $30,990 and a six-speed automatic version at $32,490.
In total there are six hatch variants with 1.4-litre R and 1.6-litre RS and RS-V grades. Each — unusually these days — is available in both six-speed manual and six-speed automatic versions. The launch schedule brings both R grade models and the 1.6-litre manuals into the showrooms first with the 1.6-litre autos due in early April.
The 1.6-litre Astra has the mid-range response expected from a modern direct injection turbo unit with a healthy 147kW output and up to 300Nm of torque. It accelerates smoothly and easily carries uphill momentum on a small increase in throttle opening while having enough early torque to easily manage the reasonably tall gearing.
It’s not just output figures that deliver Astra’s enthusiastic performance. The GM D2 platform it’s built on and further weight saving in the suspension, powertrain and seat frames means its 140kg lighter than the Cruze it replaces. And it shows this advantage under acceleration, braking and with its agile cornering ability.
Yet it wasn’t the 1.6-litre RS and RS-V models I drove at the launch last week that proved the most compelling.
The entry level 1.4-litre emerged as the surprise package with its performance closer to the larger engine than the numbers suggest. It has a revvy personality and could be hurried along with plenty of enthusiasm and delivered the impression of punching above it weight.
Along with its 110kW output the 1.4-litre engine delivers 245Nm of torque from 2000-4000rpm when paired with the six-speed manual transmission and 240Nm from 2400-4800rpm for the six-speed auto version.
The steering tune shows off the progressive feel and consistent feedback that has marked recent Holden efforts as diverse as the VF II Commodore and the Spark while the Astra suspension offered a blend of compliance and progressive body control on some demanding roads.
A three-tier Astra range starts with the 1.4-litre R model in six-speed manual and six-speed automatic versions and running on 17-inch alloy wheels.
The R grade standard equipment includes rear park assist and a reversing camera, cruise control with speed limiter, auto headlights, LED daytime running lights and single-zone air conditioning.
The six-speaker audio system is controlled via the MyLink infotainment system including a 7-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone projection.
The Astra has 5-star Australasian NCAP rating with six airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
An optional Driver Assistance Pack for R models costs $1500 and adds Lane Keep Assist, City Stop autonomous braking, Forward Collision Alert, Forward Distance Indicator and rain sensor wipers plus a leather steering wheel.
The mid-grade Astra RS gains the 1.6-litre engine and has a five-spoke style of 17-inch alloy wheels.
Additional specification on RS models includes rain sensor wipers, heated mirrors, side skirts, a leather steering wheel, remote passive entry and push button start plus front park assist. It also gains Advanced Park Assist, Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Alert and Forward Distance Indicator, AEB-City Stop, Side Blind Zone Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.
Flagship Astra RS-V models step up to 18-inch alloy wheels and have the 8.0-inch colour screen for the MyLink system with embedded navigation.
There’s also a heated leather steering wheel, leather seat trim, heated front seats, LED tail lamps, dual-zone climate control, power lumbar support adjuster, an electric park brake, ambient lighting features for the instrument panel and door trims, an auto-dimming mirror and chrome belt line feature.
An optional Touring Pack for RS-V models priced at $1990 adds Adaptive Cruise Control with full-speed autonomous emergency braking plus a power sunroof.
Astra R and Astra RS and RS-V manual models are now on sale with the the first shipment of 1.6 auto models due in April.
2017 Holden Astra range:
1.4 Astra R manual — $30,990
1.4 Astra R auto — $32,490
1.6 Astra RS manual — $33,990
1.6 Astra RS auto — $35,490
1.6 Astra RS-V manual — $36,990
1.6 Astra RS-V auto — $38,490