The small car segment has never been so tightly contested. It’s the most crowded passenger car market with over 20 models to choose from. Even at the top of the chart there’s at least five “you can’t go wrong with anyone of these” options, namely the ever popular Mazda 3, long dominant Toyota Corolla, all rounded Hyundai i30, reborn Honda Civic and versatile Subaru Impreza.
The status quo is not looking to change anytime soon, but we see a great challenge coming from a nameplate that is no stranger to Australia – Astra. Holden’s small car has been around since 1984 and has evolved through five generations before disappearing three decades later, only to return in 2012 wearing an Opel badge. It’s stint Down Under was short lived as Opel decided to call it quit after only 12 months. The Astra was brought back as a Holden in 2015 but sales never really caught up, partly due to strong competition.
For 2017, an all-new Astra graces Holden’s showroom floor, offering buyers yet another selection. But unlike all generations before it, the new Astra has high hope and never been so promising. Pricing for the three-tier Astra line-up ranges from $21,990 to $33,190 plus on-road costs. Every Astra variant – from the base R to the top-spec RS-V – is available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, the latter lobs a $2,200 premium. This is quite unlike many of its rivals, where the manual option is only available in base form, if offered at all. Good news if you prefer a DIY box, but don’t want to drive a poverty pack base model.
The new car is said to be the company’s best effort yet at reinventing the Astra. Indeed. It makes good first impression with a confident exterior, complete with bold lines, striking headlights and taillights, sharp creases and a contemporary-looking “floating” roof – the blacked-out C pillar giving the impression of a suspended roof.
Penned in General Motors’ European design studio in Germany, the new styling is unmistakably European and looks classy from all angles, though I’m not personally a fan of the cab forward design and the front overhang looks quite long and heavy.
Inside, the Astra pushes upmarket with a premium feel interior and I must say it’s done a pretty good job. If the Volkswagen Golf is the interior benchmark, then the Astra would be a close second. Building on the previous generation’s already well built cabin, the new Astra makes even better use of materials, with soft touch surfaces for the dashboard and upper door trims, accompanied by generous application of high gloss piano black plastics, lifted by splashes of aluminium inserts on the door, steering wheel and centre console. Even the stitches on the seats and steering wheel look flawlessly straight and delicate.
The instrument binacle looks sharp and comes to life at night with illuminated surrounds for the gauges. An intuitive seven- or eight-inch touchscreen sits neatly in the dash, dispensing some of the highest clarity and resolution graphics we have seen in this class. The larger eight-inch version on my range-topping Astra RS-V test car is great to use and responds well to touches, only let down by the blurry and grainy rear view camera vision.
Despite some 5cm shorter overall than its predecessor and sitting on a 2cm shorter wheelbase, the new Astra is more spacious with room that rivals some of the best in class. There’s enough legroom and headroom front and rear to accommodate six-footers. Compared to the old model, rear passengers enjoys 35mm more legroom thanks to improved packaging and less bulky front seats. As with most cars in this class (except for the Skoda Octavia), sitting three adults in the rear bench will be an intimate affair.
All seats are comfortable for long trips, with the front pews providing good support. From the driver’s seat, all round visibility is also excellent.
There are few qualms, however. The front centre armrest tends to get in the way when shifting with a manual transmission, the steering wheel stalks feel like they’ve been pinched from a Barina, there’s no rear air con and most annoyingly, the parking sensor audible alert is deafening (and there’s no volume control for it!).
The boot opens up to 370 litres of space, slightly bigger than before but still trails key rivals like the Kia Cerato and Peugeot 308. It’s a nice square shape with a ribbed floor – very handy to stop items rolling around.
The 2017 Astra is available with two turbocharged petrol engine options – a 1.4-litre producing 110kW and 240Nm that sips a frugal 5.8L/100km, and a more powerful 1.6-litre boasting 147kW and 300Nm. Both powertrains are paired with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. Diesel variants available overseas are sadly not offered in Australia.
The 1.6 turbo found in the RS-V tested here is a strong performer, delivering extra 15kW and 70Nm over the old engine. It impresses with good refinement and smooth power delivery, though some turbo lag is evident in the lower rev range. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and coupled with a light clutch pedal, it’s easy to drive in everyday traffic.
With direct injection and auto idle stop/start, fuel use is relatively frugal. Over my week long test, the Astra averaged 7.4L/100km with a mix of urban driving and freeway driving, slightly higher than its rated 6.5L/100km but still a respectable figure. The 1.6L engine does sip on the more expensive 95 octane fuel, though.
Holden claims the new model is up to 130kg lighter than before thanks to clever design and lightweight construction. The car’s bodyshell itself is said to be 20% lighter than the outgoing model while use of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steels, more compact subframes and lighter front and rear axles contributes to a further 50kg reduction.
A lighter body has helped the Astra deliver zippier handling with quicker responses and sharper turn in. On a stretch of winding back roads the Astra can actually be quite fun to drive, with a nice sporty feel to the suspension and quick steering.
On the road the Astra threads on the firm side but still offers a supple ride, rounding up most ruts and bumps nicely. It’s generally quiet inside though road and tyre noise can be better suppressed at three digit speeds.
In terms of equipment, the Astra range comes standard with cruise control, dusk sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers and dual-climate control. An infotainment system with 7-inch full colour display is also standard and features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ and Bluetooth.
On the safety front, the Astra is equipped with 6 airbags, electronic stability control with antilock braking system and traction control. Rear parking sensors and reversing camera are also standard.
The mid-spec RS model hits the sweet spot in terms of value and equipment. More powerful 1.6 turbo engine aside, you get a forward facing camera offering automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and forward collision alert with head-up warning. There are also parking assistant (automatic parking), front parking sensors and blind spot alert.
Opting for the full-fat RS-V gets you 18-inch wheels, LED taillights, remote start, heated front leather seats and steering wheel, 8-inch touch screen and colour digital instrumentation display.
Our test car has been further optioned with the $3,990 Innovations Pack which adds an electric sunroof, adaptive cruise control and Holden’s IntelliLux adaptive LED matrix headlamps.
Design and Comfort: 8.0/10
Performance and Handling: 8.5/10
Features and Equipment: 8.0/10
Finally, an Astra that manages to impress even in this crowded segment. The seventh-generation Holden Astra is not without its flaws but it gets big ticks for design, comfort, performance and features. It is the best Astra yet and also easily one of the best small cars on sale today.
- Sporty dynamics
- Refined powertrain
- Premium cabin ambience
- Looks sharp
- Some minor cabin annoyances
- Short service interval
- Sat nav only in top-spec model
2017 Holden Astra Pricing and Specification
|Pricing (Excluding on-road costs):||1.4L turbo R manual – $21,990
1.4L turbo R automatic – $24,190
1.6L turbo RS manual – $26,490
1.6L turbo RS-V manual – $30,990
As tested: $30,990 (RS-V manual)
|Warranty:||3-year / 100,000 km|
|Country of Origin:||Poland|
|Service Intervals:||9 months/15,000km|
|Engine:||Turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol (R):
110kW @ 5600rpm, 245Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
Turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol (RS, RS-V):
147kW @ 5500rpm, 280Nm @ 1650-3500rpm
|Transmission:||6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic|
|Power-to-weight Ratio (W/kg):||87.7 (R); 111.8 (RS, RS-V)|
|Combined Fuel Consumption (L/100km):||1.4 Turbo:
Claimed: 6.3 (manual) / 6.5 (auto); Tested: 7.4 (manual)
|Fuel Capacity (L):||48|
|Safety:||6 airbags, ABS, BA, EBD, ESC, reverse camera, rear parking sensors, ISOFIX|
|Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) mm:||4,386/1,809/1,485/2,662|
|Kerb Weight (kg):||1,283 – 1,363|
|Towing Capacity (kg):||N/A|
|Entertainment:||7-inch touch screen, AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, AUX, iPod, navigation (Zen and above)|