Perception changer

Core competence cancels out the niggles

TONY OíKANE

IF YOUíVE been paying attention, my opinion on the Metallic Moss hatchback that is my Astra RS long-termer has oscillated wildly from Ďloveí through to Ďmoderate discontentí.

So now, after nearly half a year behind the wheel, where do I stand? Am I any less conflicted than I was in the beginning?

Itís hard to develop an emotional attachment to something as prosaic as a mainstream small hatchback, and truth be told my eyes wonít be welling up as I hand back the keys to Holden. That being said, I will miss more than a few things.

For starters, the engine is undoubtedly the cherry atop the sundae that is the Astra RS. Its 1.6 turbo makes mega torque for a hatchback that isnít pitched as a performance car, yet itís refined, makes nice noises, and has the flexibility necessary to lug around town with ease.

It also loves to be worked hard, and thrusts forward with vigour when you prod the ĎSportí button that is hiding behind the gear lever, unlocking the overboost.

And the balance between ride and And the balance between ride and handling, for me, lands right in the sweet spot. Dynamically capable, the Astra RS also enjoys a ride comfort that is perfectly suited to ironing out even the shonkiest of suburban streets. Though itís a little too soft and compliant to properly harness its sizeable 147kW/300Nm outputs Ė not even brake torque vectoring can contain that inside wheelspin if youíre a bit heavy throttling out of a slow corner.

The Astraís interior has also won me over.

Its clean surfaces and uncluttered centre console places it somewhere between the charmingly minimalist Peugeot 308 and the ultra-efficient (if a little soulless) Golf 7.5 for aesthetic appeal. Material quality and selection, however, still doesnít tickle my fancy Ė especially its dust and fingerprint prone piano black plastics.

Thatís a minor concern though, and one thatís balanced out by virtues such as excellent seat comfort, standard smartphone mirroring, and a lovely six-speed manual.

And hereís the thing: over the past 16 weeks, there was never a day where I truly didnít want to drive the Astra home. Sure, there was the occasional overnight tryst in some of the more high-end cars that have rolled through chez Wheels, but Iíd always happily return to the comfort of the RS.

Thatís a ringing endorsement for a do-it-all small hatch that is designed for the average Aussie motorist. Stepping from the likes of a Lexus LC or a Mercedes E43, and straight into the Astra never felt like punishment Ė it was like slipping back into a pair of high-end sneakers after a day in dress shoes.

FOND FAREWELL

Some ho-hum plastics arenít enough to taint the Astraís stellar driving experience

HOLDEN ASTRA RS

Date acquired: March 2017 Price as tested: $26,490 This month: 551km @ 9.1L/100km Overall: 4003km @ 7.7L/100km WEEK 16 34 44 3 0 0 8 5 3 5 3

Big sipper

I was stunned when a 1.4-litre Astra returned a whopping 10.2L/100km average fuel consumption readout in a recent Wheels megatest. Admittedly that car was subjected to some spirited driving, but I was still expecting my larger capacity longtermer to have an even bigger drinking problem. Happily the opposite has been true. At 7.7L/100km itís appreciably close to the factory claim of 6.5L/100km, and my boost-happy, hoonish driving style likely accounts for much of the difference.