As a Shepparton local who regularly travels to the big smoke of Melbourne, let’s compare city driving with country driving. One has traffic jams, boring freeways and impatient drivers, the other potholes, occasional road kill, and a laid back approach. These days a new car must be just as capable in either world, and the ‘new’ Holden Astra VXR is more than up to the task.
The Astra has been around since its 1984 N12 Nissan Pulsar-based days. The first hotter version coming four years later in the form of the HSV Astra SV1800 – dubbed the Baby Walky after its connections with Walkinshaw Performance.
Cut to September, 2012 and the Astra is back, now wearing its native European Opel badge. Early 2013 marks the local arrival of the most powerful production Astra ever built, the Opel Astra OPC. Sadly, less than 12 months after entering the Australian market, Opel exits, taking the high-performance Astra with it. That is, of course, before the car returns to Oz, yet again, in October, 2014 wearing a shiny new ‘Holden’ badge. Got all that?
As soon as the CarAdvice roller door opens, the striking Arden Blue paint (a $550 metallic finish option) and spectacular styling hit me. I find myself double-checking that it is in fact, a Holden – it’s just too good looking.
I love how from the door handles back, it looks like a bullet has been moulded into the body – a sign of what’s to come when you unleash what’s under the bonnet perhaps.
Generally one of the market’s best, Holden’s MyLink infotainment system has its moments. While the sat-nav does a perfect job of getting me out of the city via unfamiliar freeways, a one-off freezing issue makes pairing my phone a frustrating and time consuming affair. We get there eventually.
Nipping through slower traffic on Melbourne’s M1 is easy with the Astra’s light electro-hydraulic steering. But it can be a bit heavy when negotiating tight corners. More fun though, is the VXR’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, producing 206kW of power and an astonishing 400Nm of torque.
Exclusively partnered with a six-speed manual transmission and a mechanical limited-slip front differential, the engine is easily kept in check by front Brembo brakes that are almost too good, as my nose nearly hits the windscreen the first time I use them.
A few hours in, the Astra doesn’t need filling up but I do.
I pull over at Wallan for a dinner stop. Tucking into a burger and fries, I take the time to figure out why I was still cold, even with the heater on. Then the moment of realisation: dual-zone climate control. Whoops.
After my minor ‘blonde’ episode, I decide to take a powernap, but it doesn’t last long. Why? The VXR’s leather appointed sports seats are very supportive, with lumbar support and power bolsters, but they’re not designed for having sweet dreams in. There’s just no softness to snuggle in to. On winter nights though, the VXR seats would be warmer than your electric blanket, with heating for both driver and passenger.
Fed and (slightly) more rested, it’s back out onto the Hume Highway. Doing my best to remain within the legal 110km/h limit, I utilise the easy to use cruise control – with this much grunt it’s too easy to unknowingly have your speed creep up.
Road noise is kept to a minimum, even with the sexy looking 20-inch wheel and low-profile tyre package.
Arriving safely home at 8pm, the Astra’s bassy exhaust note seemingly sets off not only my dog, but the neighbours dogs too. I awake the next day to find cat paw prints on the roof and bird droppings down the window. Whatever animals may think of the Holden Astra VXR, I disagree.
I take the blue beast into town to get some groceries, but disappointingly, it’s raining – at least that takes care of the bird poo. The roads aren’t drenched, though briskly getting the car up to 50km/h results in some wheel spin. Like any car, you need to be careful in the rain, but I take it extra easy in the punchy VXR.
Giving you the option to adjust the car to suit your mood, the Holden hot-hatch offers effectively four driving modes: Eco, Normal, Sport and VXR.
The Eco option is tied to fuel saving stop-start technology that means the engine turns off whenever you’ve been sitting for a few seconds. It’s brilliant for saving petrol while stuck in city traffic jams and waiting at long lights, but I found it unnecessary when driving in country towns where you’re stationary time at intersections is usually much shorter.
The rear vision mirror is nearly eye level with me, so it’s easy to check behind you with a simple glance up. The rear window has no obstructions, so the view is very clear. Doing a shoulder glance can be a bit tougher though, as the side rear windows are very small.
Arriving at the supermarket, I’m also disappointed by the top-spec Astra’s lack of a rear-view camera – a fair surprise if not a poor omission in a car at this price.
Opening the heavy and long door, I come only centimetres away from hitting another car. If you’re buying a ‘new’ Astra, mind those doors.
An hour later and I’m back with a trolley full of shopping – the perfect boot test. Without the dog food squashing even one egg, all bags fit in perfectly, with some of the boot’s 380-litre capacity to spare. I get home, park the VXR in the carport for the last time and get out to take one last look.
I really loved my time in the 2015 Holden Astra VXR. From freeways in Melbourne to dirt roads in Dookie, I believe the ‘V’ in VXR stands for ‘versatile’. For me, it took on every challenge I threw at it and proved more than capable at juggling either world: city or country.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Holden Astra VXR images by Mandy Turner and Tom Fraser.