European Car of the Year - Holden Astra

Holden has been talking up the European heritage of their new Astra range and rightly so – Ebbett Tauranga Holden’s dealer principal Julian Clements wasted no time in reminding us it is the reigning European Car of the Year with huge appeal to the more aspirational end of the small-car segment.

And while considered a small car by definition, we found the Astra substantially roomier than its little brother the Holden Spark, on the inside at least. Despite smaller exterior dimensions than the model it replaces, the room in the Astra cabin is more deserving of a mid-size car categorisation, with ample head, leg, shoulder and elbow room up front and excellent visibility through the heavily-raked windscreen and rear window. Scalloped sections of the car’s ceiling and trimmed down front seats ensure ample space for rear-seat passengers too.

Considering who would be lucky enough to become this week’s Bay Driver, we decided to head over Mount Main Beach and pick up Fee Brando and take her for a spin. Fee owns Pronto Burger on Marine Parade with her sister Kate and husband Caesar. And as an Aussie-turned-Kiwi beach babe she’s no stranger to the Holden badge. “I love it, my first car was a Holden Astra,” says Fee.

Base model – really?

Inside the base model R, Fee couldn’t believe it was the entry-level into the Astra range. Sure it has cloth trim on the seats and the steering wheel doesn’t have leather, but the materials look and feel high end. Soft-touch dash materials are broken up by lovely gloss black inserts and brushed chrome flourishes. Lovely design touches such as the integrated 8-inch touchscreen are welcome inclusions, while all controls and dials are visually appealing, easy to reach and use. The indicator stalk on the right-hand side is welcome too, given it is built in Europe this came as a bit of a surprise. “Shouldn’t that be on the left?” Fee exclaimed.

Julian says the RS and RS-V due to arrive in the next few weeks both have, amongst a host of enhanced features, have a leather wheel and nicer seat trim to further enhance the feeling of being in a more expensive European car. “There are a couple of German premium carmakers that could learn a thing or two from the Astra’s cabin in terms of providing a premium feel,” says Julian.

An awesome drive!

The base R is the only variant to use GM’s new all-aluminium 110kW/240Nm 1.4-litre turbo-petrol unit, which is available with a six-speed manual or automatic. Our time behind the wheel of the manual 1.4 revealed that anyone choosing the more affordable option was certainly not missing out with the smaller powertrain. Clearly there is a divide when it comes to power and torque – the RS and RS-V have a potent 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine – but the smaller engine is no slouch.

Around town and cruising on country roads, the performance was well above expectation.

The taut chassis is perfect for putting the Astra into corners at surprising pace, and the well-sorted suspension set-up – the MacPherson up front and Watts link at the rear – minimises body-roll and ensures a smooth ride over a variety of surfaces. And we do mean a variety – on our test drive we took the Astra for a decent drive around the roads above Papamoa, which ranged from perfect suburban seal in town to shoddy B-grade roads and even a couple of unsealed surfaces, ending on the expressway heading back into town where we managed to overtake a few slowcoaches easily without fear of running out of puff. The Astra maintained its cool and didn’t skip on the looser surfaces, providing us and Fee with loads of confidence in its capabilities.

The steering set-up – tweaked by Australian engineers – was a real highlight, offering a perfect weight and precision that is up there with the best in class. Watch out Golf and Mazda3. Another highlight was the cabin noise, which, aside from a little road noise, is definitely one of the best we’ve experienced in the mainstream small-car sector.

The Verdict

The new Astra is the best small car from Holden in decades and given its sharp pricing, strong packaging and impressive ride, handling and performance, it is sure to nab more than its fair share of buyers. Dare we say, it is better than a number of those aforementioned German premium rivals too.

Highlighted specifications as standard

• Engine: 1400cc Turbo 4-cyclinder petrol engine
• Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission (6 speed manual optional)
• 17” alloy wheels
• Rear view camera and parking sensors
• Electronic stability control
• Sports seats
• LED daytime running lamps
• MyLink infotainment system with 7” colour
touchscreen and 6 speaker premium audio
• Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
• Illuminated steering wheel controls for voice recognition, cruise control and audio system
• 6 airbags
• 6-way manually adjustable driver seat
• RRP: From $30,990 (Manual)
• Dealer: Ebbett Tauranga - Holden,
123 Cameron Rd, Tauranga. Ph: 07 281 1934.


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