Holden Astra sedan

Honey, I shrunk the Caprice

TONY OíKANE

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE WHAT youíre looking at is an Astra in name only.

Sourced from Korea, rather than Europe where our Astra hatch comes from, the Astra sedan is in essence a rebadged new-gen Chevy Cruze.

Sheetmetal, interior plastics and critical dimensions all differ greatly from the hatch, and the Astra sedan boasts its own character and flavour.

There is, however, some commonality. The 1.4-litre turbo four that serves in the Astra R and R+ hatch powers all three variants in the sedan range, and though its 110kW and 240Nm outputs are modest compared with the firecracker 1.6 turbo in the fivedoor RS and RS-V, itís smooth, tractable and more than adequate.

Lugging four adults up hills at just 2000rpm doesnít faze it. Relaxed, unfussed and exceptionally quiet, it may be the smallest engine in the Aussie Astra family but itís a sweet one.

Paired with the slick-shifting six-speed automatic thatís optional in the base LS grade and standard in LT and LTZ, itís especially good.

Both Astra bodystyles share GMís Delta II platform, however itís elongated to provide a 38mm longer wheelbase for the sedan, which also boasts 280mm more in overall length. Think the Honda Civic four-door is huge?

The 4665mm Astra sedan is even longer and roomier.

All that extra metal goes into increasing cabin space, and therein lies the Astra sedanís greatest virtue Ė it excels at carrying people and their luggage. Front-seat accommodation is on par with the hatch, but rear-seat legroom is positively limo-like in its generosity and the rear backrest is tilted at a comfortable angle.

The Astra sedanís locally honed suspension is another key point of difference between it and the hatch, with Holden deliberately tuning the four-doorís dampers towards the comfort side of the ride/handling spectrum. It does a superb job of ironing out lumps and practically floats over even truly nasty surfaces, but there are a couple of caveats.

For one, the 18-inch alloys of the top-shelf LTZ grade introduce unwelcome sharpness to the ride, which jitters over smaller corrugations and negates the comfort advantage of soft spring rates. The 16-inchers of the base LS are far more compliant, while the 17-inch alloys of the mid-spec LT arenít objectionable, either.

The other catch is the sedan simply doesnít have the dynamic crispness of the hatch. Though equipped with a torsion-beam rear suspension like the hatch, the sedan is missing that carís stability-enhancing rear Watts linkage. Soft springs may be great for dispatching pockmarked roads, but the sedan doesnít corner as confidently as its fivedoor sibling.

The sedanís steering also has a slower rack ratio, though it shares its on-centre precision and progressive weighting. It requires a few more degrees of lock, but thatís in keeping with the carís softer nature.

And that needs to be kept in mind when considering the Astra sedan. It may share a name, but itís a very a different beast to the existing five-door. Itís little wonder that GM markets the two as distinct models overseas.

Value, space and comfort are the Astra sedanís greatest virtues, especially in small-tyred $20,490 entry-level LS form. Buy it on the basis of those strengths rather than an expectation of the same European panache as the hatch, and you wonít be disappointed.

PLUS & MINUS

Refinement; ride on 16s and 17s; spacious cabin; value No AEB; interior not as polished as hatch; no 1.6 turbo

THE HARD TRUTH 01

Cabin quality varied between cars at launch, with some having tighter dash trim gaps.

LS and LT get tactile cloth, while LTZ has faux leather. Chintzy plasti-chrome and acres of hard surfaces arenít a patch on hatch.

STOP YOURSELF 02

Safety-conscious buyers should be aware that autonomous emergency braking isnít offered at all in the Astra sedan range, despite being standard on the hatch from R+ grade and up.

Better keep your eyes up, then.

ON THE BENCH 03

Back-seaters miss out on console air-con vents; flipping centre armrest makes best use of narrow middle pew. The 445- litre boot is generous but a high lip and gooseneck hinges hurt its luggage practicality.

A bit of a stretch

Holden will add another variant to its small-car range at the end of the year with the arrival of the Astra wagon.

Also expected is an eventual successor to the GTC coupe and, presumably, a hot VXR flagship, by which time Holden hopes there will be an ďAstra for everyoneĒ.

The hatch that launched last year will be the mainstay of the range and account for around 60 percent of volume, with the newly arrived sedan expected to take a 30-40 percent slice of the Astra sales pie. The UK-built wagon, when it arrives, will be a niche model powered by the 1.4-litre turbo four.

OR TRY THESE...

Honda Civic VTi-L sedan $27,790

Likeable 1.5 turbo gives Civic more power but less torque, however its standard-issue CVT is mediocre and nowhere near as satisfying as Astraís six-speed auto. Shame, as the Civicís cabin is a nice place to be.

Subaru Impreza 2.0i-S sedan $28,990

Better active safety gear, nicer cabin furnishings and capable chassis are Impreza highlights, though relatively weak power and torque, CVT auto and high weight relative to Astra leave the Holden as better to drive.