For a company with such a rich history in Australia, Holden sure is a lot like Europe - it means many different things to many different people. There are fans that bleed the lion red and will defend the brand’s contribution to the local automotive landscape until their very last breath. Then there are those who have developed a taste for new flavours and filed their Holden experiences alongside memories of a misspent youth. It’s a very broad spectrum.
Unique is the best way to describe Holden’s place in Australia. At some point, most locals would have had some contact with the brand. Is it mathematically possible to live here and not have driven, or at least ridden in, a Commodore?
Over the past decade, Holden has somewhat lost its way. So much of its culture and identity was tied up in the Commodore to the point that the rest of its range felt like an afterthought.
With the end of local vehicle manufacturing, Holden is in search of a new identity and trying to reconnect with motorists who have left the brand behind. 2018 looms as the most important year in Holden’s decorated history. There is a great deal hanging on the launch of the all-new imported Commodore.
Now credit where credit is due, the brains trust at Holden realise that pushing all the chips to the centre of the table and letting its fate rest on the shoulders of one model is a gamble that’s unlikely to see a positive result.
Over the past 18 months, Holden has focused on strengthening its portfolio by deploying improved models into key segments. The arrival of fresh metal has changed the look and feel of its showrooms.
One such model is the 2018 Holden Astra sedan, a car looking to land a few blows in a category owned by Asian rivals. It also takes up space on the forecourt once occupied by the Cruze.
Although the Astra name will be familiar to many, name recognition is the only relationship this new model shares with previous generations.
Our test car is the LT trim level, this is where the smart money is. The LT is listed at $25,790 plus the obligatory on-roads, which is the midpoint of the Astra sedan’s pricing spectrum. Despite the midrange pricing, the LT is loaded with equipment. Heated wing mirrors, 17-inch alloys, rain sensing wipers, keyless entry and start, park assist and automatic headlights are all standard inclusions.
There’s also an intuitive 8.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, digital radio and a very accurate satellite navigation system.
The LT is a well-equipped car, there is only one feature that’s conspicuously absent. Strangely, the Astra sedan has a comprehensive safety package yet it misses out on autonomous emergency braking.
For a car designed in North America, the styling of the Astra sedan takes a conservative approach. The exterior is missing the obnoxious attention seeking grille and slabs of unnecessary chrome that are traditional hallmarks of American automotive design.
Rather than a brash ‘look-at-me’ exterior, the Astra sedan is understated with a subtle elegance. The only thing that detracts from the clean styling is the old looking antenna, a shark fin would be a much better choice in keeping with the overall aesthetic.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the key, it feels substantial with a great look. It’s significantly better than some of the keys from premium brands.
Upon entering the cabin, occupants are greeted by a thoughtful layout with some nice styling elements that add a bit of character. The curvature on the top of the dash, for instance, is a different approach to the usual horizontal lines found in the majority of cars.
Interior packaging is one of the Astra sedan’s greatest assets, there’s an abundance of space. Rear legroom is excellent even with tall people riding up front. The boot is also cavernous and has an official capacity of 445 litres.
With so much space to work with the interior storage options are very limited. There is no real room to store phones and other incidentals which are so commonly required in a contemporary lifestyle. The storage compartment under the centre armrest would struggle to hold more than an empty wallet.
Unfortunately, the interior materials feel a long way off the pace. The majority of surfaces are covered in rock-hard plastic from another era – possibly one where Fred Flintstone would feel at home. There’s some fabric slapped on the dash and door cards to dress things up a bit, but the look and feel again fall short.
The fabric covering the seats lifts the standard, but the steering wheel is the highlight, it’s covered in soft leather and is lovely to touch.
Most of the controls are well positioned, however, the audio buttons located at the back of the steering wheel are a nuisance.
The lack of chrome on the outside is well compensated for on the inside. There is far too much chrome garnish throughout the interior. The chrome surround that houses the gear selector is blinding if the sun hits it at the right angle. A bit less bling would be more proportionate with the classy exterior.
The interior’s shortcomings are quickly forgotten when the driving starts. Driving through Melbourne, the Astra’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine delivered plenty of performance. It’s a very responsive drivetrain with no noticeable lag. The six-speed transmission is decisive and smooth with up changes occurring rapidly in the name of economy.
The Astra sedan is a great all-rounder that shines in city and country driving. The levels of comfort and refinement are well above what most buyers would expect. It’s a remarkably quiet car even at highway speeds. This is where the Holden has an advantage over its big selling rivals.
After a run up the Hume, we tested the Astra on a dreadful section of course chip road and it maintained the serenity.
It’s such a composed ride aided by local tuning. Holden engineers were tasked with determining the correct suspension calibration for local conditions. The suspension irons out uneven surfaces without fault.
Perfectly weighted steering adds to the driving enjoyment. The Astra isn’t trying to overplay a sporty angle by adding unnecessary artificial steering resistance.
Another interesting aspect of the drive is how precise lane keep assist is. It kicks in quickly to correct the car’s line.
Throughout the drive, the Astra established itself as a car worthy of genuine consideration if a small sedan is required.
Comfort and refinement are not the only aces the Astra sedan holds. At the conclusion of our test week, we returned a combined consumption figure of 6.4L/100km which is very close to the official claimed figure. On the open road, we returned a very impressive 4.7L/100km. Efficient can be added to the Astra sedan’s list of virtues.
Holden offers a very detailed capped price service program. The Astra sedan requires maintenance every 9 months/15,000km. The kilometre allowance is spot on, but a time frame of nine months could surely be extended to 12. Service costs are competitive, the Astra’s first four visits to the hoist are capped at $249 each.
In October Holden temporarily bolstered its warranty coverage to seven years. Unfortunately, this offer expired on December 31, meaning all Holden models have reverted to the standard three year/100,000km warranty.
Holden should carefully consider making the seven-year offer permanent. Establishing or re-establishing (depending on your perspective) meaningful connections with the car buying public takes longer than three months. A long warranty sends a very clear message about the perceived quality of the product in question. A pro-active approach is needed to challenge the growing presence of the Korean brands.
We are now well and truly anchored in the era of the badge snob, an era where the badge trumps everything else. We all know not to judge a book by its cover and the same rule should apply to cars. In some circles of society, Holden isn't as desirable as it once was.
To truly appreciate the Astra, egos and preconceived ideas need to be left at the door. This is a car that proves Holden is moving in the right direction.
The new Astra sedan is a very good car and the best small car to wear a Holden badge in some time. It’s a car that will pleasantly surprise those who give it an opportunity. In LT guise the Astra is well featured, comfortable, refined, efficient and importantly, it’s nice to drive. Any potential buyers should insist on a test drive that includes a stint of highway driving, this is where the Astra will change minds. That’s what Holden is aiming to do, change minds. Cars like the Astra sedan will certainly bring some momentum to that process.
2018 Holden Astra LT Sedan Specifications
Price from $25,790 plus on-road costs Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol Power 110kW @ 6500rpm Torque 245Nm @ 2000-4000rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 6.1L/100km Tank Capacity 52L Length 4665mm Width 1807mm Height 1457mm Wheelbase 2700mm Performance 0-100km 8.2 seconds Turning Circle 11.9m Kerb Weight 1294kg Service Intervals 9 months/15,000km Warranty three year/100,000km
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