The best compact Holden yet.
After first having axed the Cruze from the lineup, Holden has strengthened its compact range by bringing about an all-new Astra. Holden’s sales director Peter Keley describes the Astra as “one of the pillars of the Holden range,” and it will bring the fight on to established segment contenders like the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, and Mazda 3 among others.
The competition has gotten significantly leaner and competitive since the Astra nameplate first came about ever so long ago. And while sales of late have never quite matched the Astra’s heydays (like early in the new millennium), this new one certainly does a better job at planting itself firmly as a real competitor in the segment.
“I do think the classic Holden front looks a little awkward on a hatch – I always think it should be attached to a bulky sedan – but the Astra’s version is a little more streamlined.” - Motoring
Holden made a big deal about the fact that the new Astra was designed and engineered in Europe, and it certainly seems so. The fascia is reminiscent of existing Holden offerings, but it’s very European in its entirety. There’s a certain degree of streamlining and subtle surface manipulation that makes the Astra look rather smart, even when it’s stationary.
There are LED daytime running lights as standard, as are big alloy wheels. There’s a certain degree of desirability to it, and we think Holden specced up the Astra pretty well, ensuring that even the base R model doesn’t look spartan.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The 1.4 combined with the auto is lethargic in standard drive mode. But switch to sport and the shifts and throttle sharpen up noticeably.” - WhichCar
The entry-level R gets its motivation from a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine, while the RS and RS-V get a slightly bigger 1.6-litre turbo petrol unit. All variants get a choice between 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual transmissions, with a $2200 premium commanded with for automatic models. The 1.4-litre puts out a healthy 110kW of power and 245Nm of torque with the manual, while the automatic suffers a 5Nm deficit. Perfectly adequate even when fully laden, this is an engine that fares well in urban situations.
RS and RS-V models offer 147kW and up to 300Nm of torque from the bigger engine, and keen drivers will enjoy the persistent surge of power through the rev range. The only drawback is that the mid- and top-spec cars drink premium 95RON fuel, whereas the R can run on regular unleaded.
“Climb inside and you’ll find soft-touch plastic on the dash, high-grade leather for the steering wheel, plus lots of piano-black plastic to give the car a premium feel. It’s also very solidly screwed together, and it feels well up to the demands of family life.” - AutoExpress
While there was nothing particularly wrong with the outgoing Cruze hatchback’s interior, as time went by, it left many wanting. The Astra comes in with a great interior, designed and engineered to meet the needs of a more youthful market.
The rising window line limits rear visibility slightly, but the athletic look it gives the car is well worth the mild claustrophobia. The interior employs some plush-feeling materials here and there, while almost all of the tech available operable through the standard-fitment central touchscreen infotainment system (6.3-inches on the R, and 8-inches on the RS & RS-V). The screen itself sits within piano black trim, making it look properly swish in person.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto feature here as standard, and there’s a secondary information screen between the main instruments to display drive-related information. 370-litres of luggage space hides behind the rear seats, with a ribbed floor stopping things from rolling around. The seats fold flat too, should a trip to a flat-pack furniture store be in order.
Behind the Wheel
“As for the drive experience – well, it’s pretty darn good.” - CarAdvice
A lot was made of the new Astra’s 140kg weight deficit over the outgoing Cruze, and it really shows here. The base R with its smaller (and lighter) engine makes for a decidedly peppy experience, with the downsized turbo engine happy to rev to wherever you need it to be. The RS and RS-V models naturally enjoy more grunt across the rev range, while the automatic is the gearbox we’d recommend.
Ride quality is something worth noting of the Astra too. There’s a certain sure-footedness about the Astra that belies its European engineering, and the suspension setup allows the Astra to soak up more tarmac abuse than most without ever feeling upset. The ‘Sports’ driving mode was revised by Holden engineers in Australia to offer a truly sporty feel, though the omission of paddle shifters detracts from the experience somewhat. Out on the motorway, the bigger 1.6-litre unit feels a bit more at home, with more than enough torque to satisfy all but the most demanding long-distance cruiser.
Safety & Technology
“The 1.6-litre Astra RS and RS-V have five-star ANCAP results as assessed by EuroNCAP, but the entry-level Astra R is not rated.” - The Motor Report
The Holden Astra touts a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, though that is only half the story. While the entire range could have been awarded that rating if it had been tested here, the Astra was evaluated by EuroNCAP (as a Vauxhall). The European regulations will detract one star from the overall rating should a car not be offered with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard. As a result of this, only the RS and RS-V models get top-marks from the safety body, while the otherwise-identical R model gets no rating whatsoever. To make up for this, the Astra R will be offered in 2017 with AEB, lane keep assist, and forward collision warning as a $1000 option for the base model.
All Astras enjoy features like ABS, stability control, six airbags, ISOFIX points, rear parking sensors, and a reversing camera.
The Astra sits rather uncomfortably on the market, with its pricing putting it a little bit above its traditional rivals like the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 undercutting the Holden hatch by a not-inconsiderable margin. Despite dropping the ball somewhat by not offering the base-model with active safety tech from launch, the Astra marks a return to form for the marque. It’s great to drive and looks fantastic, and definitely leaves the Cruze hatch for dead.
Our recommendation actually lies with the entry-level R, but with a caveat: The optional active safety systems are what make the R very good value here, as it suffers without it. However, with the assumption that buyers would tick the box for the driver assistance systems (why wouldn’t you?), the R and its 1.4-litre turbo-petrol really does make for a wonderful companion, and there isn’t much lost from the bigger 1.6-litre unit. The RS and RS-V should be considered only if you’ll be spending a lot of time on the motorway, as the bigger engine and slightly plusher cabins will soothe long-haul brows a little better.
The Motor Report - 80/100 - “The new Astra is an impressive machine that represents a return to form for Holden. Impressive on the road and packed with technology, the Astra offers a counterpoint to established small car players.”
CarAdvice - 75/100 - “On the whole, the Holden Astra comes across as a good small car, but maybe not a great one. It is competent and confidence-inspiring in the way it drives, with willing drivetrains and great levels of driver involvement – which could be enough to get some buyers through the door. Based on our first impressions, it is the best small car Holden has had for a long time.”
Motoring - 90/100 - “Tech-packed and easy-to-drive. Mission accomplished, Holden.”
AutoExpress - 100/100 - “The [Holden] Astra is the best all-round compact hatchback you can buy today.”
Autocar - 80/100 - “General Motors deserves as much credit as we can give for grasping the nettle with this car. Although it may be broadly unassuming to look at and remains as relatively practical, unpretentious and well priced as ever, this car isn’t just more of the same.”
WhatCar? - 80/100 - “The [Holden] Astra is a well-rounded, good value family hatch that offers plenty of room at an affordable price.”
CarBuyer - 96/100 - "The [Holden] Astra is the best yet. It combines efficient engines, an enjoyable driving experience and a stylish design to make it one of the best family hatchbacks on sale.”
Wheels Magazine - 80/100 - “The all-new Astra is a convincing attempt at an enjoyable, comfortable, premium small car.”