Maybe now weíre getting warm

Suburban schlepping and the morning commute sees Astra gain points

TONY OíKANE

ITíS zero-dark-six-fifty, Iím bleary-eyed, uncaffeinated and on my way to work.

Funnily enough this is one of the more enjoyable moments in my day, and I have my trusty moss-green steed to thank for that.

Though Iím yet to warm to the Astraís idiosyncratic interior, Iím definitely gelling with its joyously flexible powertrain. Its four cylinders may only displace 1.6 litres, but thanks to some clever turbo trickery this small-engined hatch has surprisingly muscular legs.

Torque is abundant from 1500rpm and up, and though my car is a theoretically terrible-at-commuting manual gearbox version, the flexibility endowed by this twist-happy 1.6 means thatís not such a big deal. Bear in mind, 300Nm of torque is huge for a small hatchback.

Skipping second gear is possible if you time it right, reducing the amount of times your left hand needs to meet the shifter.

Fifth gear, meanwhile, covers a range of speeds that stretches from suburban cruising all the way up to 110km/h without feeling strained Ė but sixth gear is a better pick if you want to drop revs and conserve fuel on the highway.

School zones? Whatever. Keep it in fifth, itíll happily deal with a forty-kay crawl without complaint.

And if the road is flat, slipping it into sixth at 50-60km/h is perfectly kosher. It happily lugs along in the lower reaches of its tachometer, sipping fuel with monk-like restraint. In fifth, itíll lug up surprisingly steep hills at 60km/h thanks to the turbineís willingness to spool from just above idle.

And this engine is quiet. Unlike some engines in the segment, especially naturally aspirated contenders, the Astraís 1.6 is quiet and smooth throughout its rev range. It feels relaxed and understressed, which is precisely how cars in this segment should feel Ė hot hatches being the sole exception.

But to drive, the Astra feels a lot more substantial than your average hatch. Yes, it fulfils the functions of commuter/grocerygetter, but thereís a built-in sporty edge.

The Astraís appeal is more multi-faceted than I first thought. Thereís no question thereís proper warm-hatch performance in here thatís begging to be unleashed, and the Astra RSís 147kW and 300Nm outputs back up that notion. Remember: those stats would have qualified it for entry to the fasthatch club ten years ago. Is the chassis of the same calibre? Methinks itís time to head for the hills.

Barrels of fun

Remember how the marketers of the Leyland P76 touted its ability to tote a 44-gallon drum in its boot with ease? Timely and relevant consumer information, I know, but some (quite likely very few) of you will be interested to learn that the humble Holden Astra hatch can achieve the same feat.

Yes, youíll need to sacrifice the ability to carry any passengers in your back seats, but who needs friends when you have 200 litres of lubricant?

HOLDEN ASTRA RS

Date acquired: March 2017 Price as tested: $26,490 This month: 661km @ 8.1L/100km Overall: 1220km @ 8.4L/100km WEEK 4 34 44 3 0 0 5 7 5 1 3 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY