2017 Holden Astra review
Jane Speechley’s first drive 2017 Holden Astra review with performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL: Holden has its sights set squarely on the Mazda3 and Volkswagen golf with its new astra, pitched as a premium sports hatch.
2017 Holden Astra
PRICING From $21,990+ORC WARRANTY 3 YEARS / 100,000km Engine 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol; 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol POWER/TORQUE 110kW/240kW or 245Nm (1.4L); 147kW/300Nm TRANSMISSION 6-speed auto; six-speed manual DRIVE FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE BODY 4386MM (L); 1809MM (W EXC MIRRORS); 1003MM (H) SPARE SPACE SAVER TOWING 1200kg-1420kg (maximum braked depending on variant) TURNING CIRCLE NOT SUPPLIED SEATS 5 WEIGHT 1283kg-1363kg (depending on variant) FUEL TANK 48L THIRST 5.8L-6.3L/100KM FUEL 91RON in the 1.4L; 95RON in the 1.6L
THE HOLDEN ASTRA is carrying a lot of weight for a small car. Not in kilograms – in fact, it’s about 160kg lighter than the previous model – but in the weight of expectations that this model will mark a turning point in Holden’s Australian story and achieve the brand’s desired shift into the premium car category.
Holden sees the key to accomplishing this is through a combination of high technology and design; or as the brand philosophy says, ‘Sculptural Artistry meets German Precision’.
This Astra represents the half-way point in Holden’s commitment to deliver 24 new models by the end of 2020. Developed and built in Europe with substantial adjustments by local engineers for Australian conditions, it’s already bringing with it the valuable flag of 2016 European Car of the Year as well as a Golden Steering Wheel Award.
That the Astra is geared to directly challenge the leaders in the premium hatch category – being the Mazda3 and Volkswagon Golf – is no secret, and was very much the key theme when we were invited to take the range through its paces on the outskirts of Canberra this week.
Beyond the trusted name, it certainly has enough in the way of snazzy new features to catch the new car buyer’s attention. The modern Australian car buyer, as Holden understands them, is into technology and travel as well as being image-conscious and ambitious, so these are the sentiments that the Astra is designed to tap into. Whether they’re enough to make Australians rethink the Astra, we’ll soon find out.
Holden is currently rolling out what it’s calling a staggered launch. Advertising has been running for a few months now, while the vehicles will be on sale from 1 December. However, some of the most hotly-anticipated features – notably, the Driver Assist Package discussed below – won’t be available until April 2017.
2017 Holden Astra pricing
1.4L turbo R manual $21,990+ORC
1.4L turbo R automatic $24,190+ORC
1.6L turbo RS manual $26,490+ORC
1.6L turbo RS automatic $28,690+ORC
1.6L turbo RS-V manual $30,990+ORC
1.6L turbo RS-V automatic $33,190+ORC
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
We were fortunate on our test drive to be joined by Opel’s Chief Designer – Interior, Kurt Beyer, the man responsible for designing the Astra’s insides (as well as having some input into the exterior as well). There’s something pretty special about hearing about a car’s styling and features directly from the person who created them, and it’s all the more impressive when delivered in a German accent…
The word that kept coming up during our drive was ‘natural’; this is a car that feels very comfortable and natural behind the wheel. Clever design means all your usual dials are kept in line with the steering column, so you don’t need to reach (sounds obvious but a lot of manufacturers get this wrong).
Depending which model you buy, you’ll be reaching for either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen that supports mobile projection via both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The app icons (several in-built) are nice and big too – no mucking about trying to hit the right one. A lot of effort has been put into designing an iPad-esque screen that looks good and integrates smoothly into the dashboard design, and it shows.
Your mobile phone connection will also provide your navigation system, unless you shell out for the top-line RS-V model, which has embedded navigation.
On the right of the steering wheel, you’ll find audio controls, including source, volume and mute. On the left are your speed controls – cruise control, and speed alert if you want a pleasant little chime to let you know when you’re pushing your luck. The digital display between the taco on the left and the speedo on the right is nice, capturing handy facts like your current driving distance and speed as well as fuel consumption and eco info – though it’s a little busy for a quick-glance update.
Sleek lines and high-gloss black panels give the interior a very cool and contemporary feel. The furniture design is modern, but most of the dash and door plastics are pretty hard, cheap-feeling and scratchy. The leather on the top version’s seats frankly resembles vinyl too. And the seats are a bit flat, failing to support you in corners. But hard cornering isn’t the mission of this economy special. The dark grey seat fabric is complemented by white stitching, and the seat cushions are a stylish and understated black and grey check pattern.
The always-important storage space is a strength as well. In addition to the neat glovebox, there’s a roller-covered console with two drink holders and enough space to pop your mobile phone in there as well, plus a leather-topped storage bin further back between the seats and a tiny shelf beneath the climate controls. Both seats have pouches in the back for documents, umbrellas, etc.
While on the topic of climate controls, these are pretty standard, with no dual option (see picture above). One thing we noted is that there’s no vent through to the rear, although I didn’t get a chance to poke my head under the seats, so, we’ll reserve ultimate judgement until we’ve tested the car for a week.
When I took a spell in the back seat, I was impressed by the amount of space and legroom (and the driver was a good six-foot too). This is the point at which I really do think, this feels like a much larger car. If you have big or little people that will be spending a lot of time in the back, this could be a real bonus for you.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?
The simplest way of putting it is that the Astra feels great on the road. It has that nice, snug feeling you expect from European cars, and as we swerved and swung our model through a short ‘motorkhana’ course, it didn’t miss a beat (the same possibly can’t be said for the quality of this reviewer’s stunt driving skills).
Both the 1.4L and 1.6L come in automatic or manual transmission with turbo overboost – you’ll feel this kick in if you give it a bit of a push in a lower gear. Stop/start technology which is available on the lower end auto and both manual and auto version of the RS and RS-V. I liked the performance of the auto much more in the motokhana than on the road; but to be fair, it was a pretty challenging, winding road, and I’m very used to driving a manual.
One feature that Commodore owners will be familiar with is the Performance Mode Lift Foot (PMLF) in Sports Mode, which automatically shifts gears down while braking, then back up while accelerating, to help match revs and drive more smoothly through, and then quickly out of, corners.
Holden engineers found the European tuning of the Astra didn’t work as well on Australia’s rugged roads – including gravel roads and poor-quality bitumen – so they made three particular tweaks for cars coming to Australia.
First, the anti-lock brakes, stability control and torque vectoring were tweaked for our rubbish roads. Then, the steering was also de-tuned from its direct European standards (responsive to small movements of the wheel) to make it less twitchy for Australia drivers (who knew we liked slow steering – Ed). Finally, our love for the automatic transmission over manuals meant a chunk of work went into calibrating this. Holden didn’t elaborate on what they changed in the way the transmission shifts on Australian cars to those out of Europe.
It would be remiss not to mention the IntelliLux adaptive LED matrix headlamps, which we got to experience on a short country night drive, and which drew murmurs of admiration from even the most hardened motoring journos in our group. Similar options are already found in luxury vehicles, and these types of headlights have already captured about a quarter of the European market, so it’s only a matter of time before they become more common here.
Essentially, the lights dip and adjust direction to avoid blinding a vehicle in front of your or oncoming driver. You can see them in operation here – from behind the wheel, it’s fascinating to watch the dark ‘v’ shape form around the car in front, or the shade drop over the oncoming lane as they work. This dynamic operation means the lights can basically function in high-beam the rest of the time. So overall, you get greater visibility and improved safety, both for you and others on the road.
Holden went to pains to talk up its servicing schedule and capped pricing for the new Astra. The service interval is 15,000km or an odd nine months with servicing costs for the first three years estimated to be around $916.
WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY FEATURES?
A point that’s likely to attract a little controversy is that the higher end RS and RS-V models both score a 5-star ANCAP safety rating – but not the entry-level R type. The short answer is that all the passive safety features that a buyer would expect – airbags, quality seatbelts, child seat attachment and reverse camera –are there in the R model. It’s the active safety features that are missing in the base model, that secure the 5-star rating for the higher end.
If you want these active features in the R model, you’re looking at a $1000 Driver Assistance Package, only available from April 2017 onwards. It consists of a leather steering wheel, electro-chromatic rear view mirror and rain-sensing wipers as well as the Holden Eye forward-facing camera which incorporates Forward Collision Alert with Head-Up Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Keep, and Forward Distance Indicator, helping you break any bad tail-gating habits.
The RS and RS-V models also have Blind Spot Assist, using sensors on the bumpers to let you know if you’re about to lane-change into the side of someone; and, Advanced Park Assist, the always – fun automatic parking option that lets you wave your hands in the air while the car backs itself into both reverse and rear-to-kerb parking spaces (you still control the speed and brake).
True to its premium hatch pitch, Holden expects owners will pay the extra for the upper-end models, to get all the bells and whistles. From 1 December, we’ll know how right they are.
2017 Holden Astra Feature Highlights
- 1.4-litre turbo ECOTEC engine
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- 7-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay® and Android® Auto
- Rear View Camera with Rear Park Assist
- Digital Radio
Astra RS (above Astra R)
- 1.6-litre turbo ECOTEC engine
- Passive Entry Push-button Start
- Advanced Park Assist
- Side Blind Spot Alert
- Holden Eye forward facing camera with:
- Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB)
- Forward Collision Alert
- Lane Keep Assist
Astra RS-V (above Astra R)
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Leather-appointed, front heated seats
- Heated Steering Wheel
- 8-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Embedded satellite navigation
- LED tail lamps
- Dual zone climate control