Holden Astra sedan

Range-opening Astra aims for comfort. Just don’t call it Cruze

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST PROTO DRIVE

IT SEEMS Holden has finally learnt from its mistakes of the past. In any other market, this stickered-up sedan would be wearing a Chevrolet bow tie and a Cruze bootlid badge, but when it launches here next month, this Korean-built four-door will become the Holden Astra sedan, bringing it into line with other D2-platformed Astra variants and creating Holden’s most cohesive small-car line-up in over a decade.

This US-styled sedan will feature a unique Holden front bumper and grille, but shares the hatch’s mechanical layout, its dynamic DNA and many interior details. It looks different to its Euro hatch relation, but to a smaller degree than Hyundai’s similarly related i30 and Elantra. The Astra four-door isn’t so obviously the budget-conscious, conservativevoting, God-fearing alternative.

GM’s Aussie outpost is keen to play up its involvement in the new sedan’s chassis tune, one that has been standardised for all D2-platform sedans sold in the Middle East, South Africa, South East Asia, and Asia Pacific.

While there’s definitely been an emphasis in making it ride more comfortably than the sportier hatch, Holden’s chassis engineers have aimed to retain as much of the Astra’s trademark handling and steering crispness as possible.

Holden has modified the hatch’s steering calibration slightly, in keeping with the sedan’s more even ride/handling bias, and there’s been local input into the ESC tune, torque-vectoring overlay, and trailer sway control. As with the hatch, the new model’s D2 architecture achieves a weight loss of up to 120kg compared to its thick-limbed Cruze predecessor.

So how does Astra sedan drive?

Given the camouflaged cars we’re having a strafe in – a lower-grade sedan wearing Hankook Kinergy 205/55R16s and a top-spec LTZ on Kumho Ecsta 225/40R18s – are “65 percent IV cars” (meaning Integration Vehicle, 65 percent towards sign-off), it’s impossible to say for sure, but the dynamic flavour is definitely there.

Around Lang Lang, you can sense the balance-enhancing goodness of the torsion-beam rear axle’s Watts linkage, even though one proto sedan is clearly closer to final suspension sign-off than the other (it rolls less and doesn’t lift-off oversteer as much). The four-door may hail from South Korea (rather than Europe), but it definitely feels like an Astra.

Out on the road, the drive impression is even more positive.

A calmer, more absorbent ride – particularly wearing 16s – endows the sedan with a real dynamic point of difference over the almost aggressively firm hatch, which will be appreciated by country buyers. And the LTZ’s 18-inch Kumhos seem to transmit less road noise than an RS-V hatch’s 18-inch Continentals.

Drivetrain-wise, the sedan range will be one-size-fits-all, relying solely on the gutsy, refined 110kW 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four from the Astra R hatch. Base sedans (LS and LT) will offer a sixspeed manual ’box, while the LTZ will be six-speed auto only.

Disappointingly, there will be no direct replacement for the old Cruze SRi/SRi-V 1.6 turbo variants, though with the new car’s weight loss, the 1.4T is just as quick, and offers a broader working range and much-improved refinement.

With a German-designed Astra wagon also on the way, as well as a new-gen GTC Coupe further down the track, Holden is secretly hoping its vast Astra line-up will pick up some of the sales-volume slack when it loses the rear-drive V8s that still make up 30 percent of its Commodore mix.

At least this time its small car will have a consistent nameplate.

Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Holden Astra LTZ sedan 1399cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 110kW @ 5000-5600rpm 240Nm @ 2400-4800rpm 6-speed automatic 1364kg (US) 8.3sec (estimated) 6.0L/100km (estimated) $30,000 (estimated) May

PLUS & MINUS

No AEB for Holden; not quite the German hatch’s equal for design chic Fluid dynamics; plusher ride and lower pricing than Astra hatch; space

Not on my watch

Unfortunately, our Chevy Cruze, I mean Astra sedan, won’t feature Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), even as an option, though the mid-spec LT and primo LTZ will offer a forward distance indicator and collision alert, lane-keep assist, blind-spot alert, auto park, front parking sensors and automatic wipers, as well as the rear parking sensors and rear camera fitted to the base LS. Yet despite the lack of AEB, Holden is expecting a five-star result when ANCAP crash tests the Astra sedan.

OR TRY THESE...

Toyota Corolla ZR $31,920

A less entertaining car than a Corolla hatch, in a similar vein to Astra’s bodystyle relativity, but the Toyota is true heartland stuff. Reliable to a fault but also deeply conservative and utterly flair free, it sells on its nameplate reputation, not its ability.

Mazda 3 Touring sedan $27,290

Not as well-equipped as its rangetopping Holden and Toyota rivals – Mazda leaves that to the sporty SP25 – but clearly aimed at the same market. Rock-solid reliability and quality reputation backed by sharp styling and driver appeal.