Car reviews - Holden - Astra - City 5-dr hatch
European solidity in design and construction, good highway cruising abilities, well-styled interior, comfort, zippy 1.6 engine
Room for improvement
Dull dynamics, staid styling, durability questions from European experience, not a patch on its TS Astra successor
9 May 2003
IN 1994 Holden decided to bring its small cars back into the GM family.
Up until then the General's small range was a hotch-potch of re-badged cars from other manufacturers - the previous Astra was a Nissan, the Nova a Toyota and the Barina a Suzuki.
Realising it had perfectly good products in the entry and small car classes in the form of the European Opel Corsa and Astra, the company acted to establish GM-made cars across its entire Australian range.
The TR model Astra, already a success story in Europe, was offered in a model range covering the City, with 1.6-litre engine, the GL with 1.8-litre engine and the sporty GSi with tuned suspension, powerful 2.0-litre engine and body enhancement kit to match.
The City is the base model, available in four-door sedan or five- door hatch versions.
It is marketed against a host of similarly equipped rivals in the most fiercely contested segment in the four-cylinder market.
The City has a transversely-mounted, 1.6-litre, single overhead camshaft engine, which drives the front wheels through a four- speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox. It produces a useable 74kW of power and 135Nm of torque.
The auto has sport and economy modes, and lock-up clutches on third and fourth gears to improve economy.
Suspension is by MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front, and torsion beam rear axle with trailing arms and coil springs at the rear.
Steering is by a high mounted rack and pinion, power-assisted, and brakes are power-assisted ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear with a load sensitive proportioning valve to prevent rear wheel lockup.
A strong feature of all German-bred cars is the brake system which is designed to cope with high speed autobahn driving and is more than adequate for Australia's conservative speed limits.
The styling of the Astra is somewhat conservative and dated - the design was already several years old when the car was introduced to Australia - although its lines are pleasant enough.
Inside, there is room for four adults in comfort, five at a squeeze, with adequate headroom in the rear.
Luggage space is good and the rear seat back can be folded forward to provide a large flat area if extra storage room is required.
The seats are well shaped and give good support. The dash has a cluster of instruments in front of the driver and the ventilation and radio controls are housed in a central console which also has a multi-function display giving time, date and ambient temperature readouts.
Exterior rear view mirrors can be adjusted manually by stalks from inside the cabin. Ventilation controls are the twist type.
The Astra drives well. The engine has good mid-range torque and revs willingly to the 6000rpm red line.
The manual gearshift is positive and easy to use while performance is good as long as the engine is kept spinning above 2000rpm.
The ride is a little bouncy but the car corners well with some understeer evident if pushed hard into tight corners.
Brakes are light and effective and should be fade-free under normal driving conditions.
Fuel economy is important to buyers in this class and the Astra should return about 8.5 litres per 100km in average city/suburban driving.
The Astra City offers good value in the small to mid-range class. Although its appearance is unexciting, it has a well-proven engine design and should provide economical motoring for a small family.
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