The Volkswagen Golf has been a massive sales success for Volkswagen Australia. While Dieselgate had the potential to dampen spirits and kill sales, the Golf remains one of the best selling small cars on the market.
So you can imagine why Holden was so keen to get the all-new 2017 Holden Astra into Australia, launching the vehicle in late 2016, following on from it winning the prestigious 2016 European Car of the Year award.
While the entry level of the small car segment is dominated by deal hunters buying Hyundai i30s, Toyota Corollas and Mazda 3s, those after a more premium offering veer towards cars with a European feel to them, like the Golf.
So, we thought it would only be fitting to stack the all-new Holden Astra against one of our highest rated cars in this segment, the Volkswagen Golf.
We’ve already benchmarked the mid-spec Astra RS against its two newest competitors, the Subaru Impreza and Renault Megane. This time around we’ve opted to run with the top-specification Astra, the RS-V.
It goes head-to-head against the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline, with both car priced circa $35,000 on the road. To be precise it’s $31,740 (plus on-road costs) for the automatic Holden Astra RS-V and $33,340 for the automatic Volkswagen Golf 110TSI Highline.
Astute readers will note Holden decided to gut around $1700 out of the price of the automatic Astra RS-V, so it did previously sit at $33,440 (plus on-road costs) — within cooee of the Golf tested here. Its new pricing makes the value proposition even stronger against the impressive Golf.
Both vehicles are loaded with kit — especially when you consider what the small car segment looked like only five or 10 years ago.
The Astra comes with an impressive MyLink infotainment system that includes an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with built in satellite navigation. The system also comes with a clever voice recognition system that allows you to input full navigation addresses and call contacts. It can also trigger your phone’s voice recognition software.
Standard features include six airbags, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring, lane departure assist, forward collision alert, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity key entry and start, leather appointed seats with front heated, LED tail-lights, DAB+ digital radio, electric park brake, electrically assisted steering, electric driver’s lumbar adjustment, automatically dimming rear-view mirror, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, semi-automatic parking, automatic headlights and wipers, heated leather wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and remote engine start.
In terms of audio connectivity, the Astra comes with a single USB port (which can be used for charging and streaming) and an auxiliary input, in addition to Bluetooth phone and audio streaming either via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto or directly using Bluetooth.
Two option packages can be selected — the Innovations Pack and the Touring Pack. Priced at $3990, the Innovations Pack includes matrix LED headlights with cornering function, radar cruise control and an electric sunroof. The Touring Pack, which is priced from $1990, comes with radar cruise control and an electric sunroof.
Over on the other side, the Golf comes with a much smaller 6.5-inch infotainment system that features a colour LCD touchscreen. It too features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but strangely, buyers need to visit their dealer for the voice recognition software to be installed and enabled. With our test car, pushing the voice button displayed a message on the screen about the feature needing to be enabled.
Fitted with eight speakers, audio can be streamed via Bluetooth for telephone and music and through two SD card slots, while a USB port can be used for charging and streaming, alongside an auxiliary port for music streaming.
While the Golf is well equipped, it misses out on a number of safety features. Standard features include: Seven airbags including a driver’s knee airbag, electromechanical emergency brake, keyless entry and start, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, cruise control with speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors with rear-view camera, automatic headlights and wipers, automatically dimming rear-view mirror, leather appointed seats and manually adjusting heated front seats.
Three option packages allow buyers to option in safety and comfort equipment. These include the $1500 Driver Assistance Package, the $3000 Luxury Package and the $2400 R-Line Package.
The Driver Assistance Package includes rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind spot monitoring, semi-automatic parking, radar cruise control and selectable driving modes.
Further up the tree, the Luxury Package includes bi-xenon adaptive headlights with washers, a wind deflector and an electric sunroof. Those after a sportier look can option the R-Line Package, which includes gloss highlights, privacy glass, sports pedals, colour headlining, embossed seats, door sill plates, paddle-shifters, rear mounted spoiler, 18-inch alloy wheels, sports steering wheel and sports suspension.
From a value point of view, the Astra easily trumps the Golf, offering a raft of extra standard safety and comfort equipment, in addition to a lower asking price.
We mentioned earlier the level of standard advanced equipment in the small car segment has exploded in recent years. The same can be said for the quality of interiors.
One of the Astra hatch’s biggest draw cards is the size and quality of its interior. Where some older competitors in this segment begin to feel a bit dated — such as the Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf, the Astra represents a fresh look at the segment.
Both the i30 and Golf are due to be replaced with new models shortly, but current models should still be considerations for buyers looking to snap up a bargain.
As you get into the Astra it feels big. It doesn’t have feel cramped and that’s thanks to an impressive glasshouse, soft touch materials on key contact points (such as the steering wheel, centre armrest and door armrest) and clever use of brushed aluminium-look highlights.
While the interior does look and feel high end, it’s let down by piano black surfaces that easily mark. But, it’s one of the few complaints we had.
Unlike the Golf, the driver’s information screen is colour and displays the car’s vital statistics. The Golf’s screen is a black and white and looks quite dated in comparison.
In the second row, leg and headroom is very good. I’m around 185cm tall with long legs, so I’ll normally have my seat almost all the way back. This position was used to compare rear legroom for both vehicles.
Getting in and out was easy, but I found my foot could catch on the lower section of the B-pillar as I was trying to get out. Again, doesn’t help that I wear size 12 shoes, but something to consider if you plan on frequently ferrying passengers in the rear.
Missing from the rear of the Astra is a set of air vents for cooling. Rear seat passengers need to rely on the front two centre vents for cooling to reach the rear. It’s not a huge issue in a car this size, but it’s never comfortable being stuck in the back of a car with no air vents on a stinking hot summer day.
The second row folds in a 60:40 configuration revealing a boot that offers 370 litres of cargo capacity. It’s 10 litres down on the Golf, which offers 380 litres. The boot lip drops into the boot floor, meaning that you’ll need to slide things over the lip for them to fit.
Two sets of ISOFIX points exist in the second row, with three tie down points located on the seat back.
The big infotainment screen is easy to use on the move and loaded with features. While some of the fonts and graphics don’t look as classy as some of the competitors in this segment, it has enough CPU power to quickly enter addresses and switch between screens.
Astra also has live traffic updates, which the Golf doesn’t. This can sometimes mean sitting in gridlock traffic for no reason because the car can’t get traffic updates over the air.
Inside the Golf’s cabin, things look pretty familiar. Despite its age, it’s still very well presented, with clever use of soft-touch plastics around the dashboard and doors. As with the Astra, the use of reflective piano black material on the dashboard and doors cheapens the feel of the cabin due to the amount of marks it collects.
The cabin is narrower than the Astra’s by 10mm. It’s not a huge amount, but the cabin doesn’t feel as roomy as the Holden's, despite a big glasshouse and excellent visibility out the front and rear.
In the second row there’s less leg and toe room. The Golf is 36mm shorter than the Astra and as a result, it can be a bit tricky to clamber in and out of the second row. Like the Astra, my shoes were constantly catching on the back of the driver’s seat and the base of the B-pillar.
Two sets of ISOFIX points are located on the outer two rear seats with a total of three tie down points available across all three seats. The second row folds with a 60:40 split folding configuration and exposes a generous 380-litre cargo capacity.
With a little over 1m of load width, the Golf’s boot is more accessible for larger items like luggage. Both cars sport a space saver spare tyre beneath the boot floor.
The 6.5-inch infotainment screen looks tiny in comparison to the Astra's and is a little laggy and pixelated in comparison. Because the voice recognition function doesn’t do anything, manually entering address or changing stations on the move can be fiddly and distracting.
We compared both rear-view cameras and found the Golf's to be far better than the Astra's with greater clarity. The Astra'a camera was blurry and performed very poorly at night. To compare both, we used a receipt to show the difference between sharpness (Astra first, Golf second).
The Astra takes the win again, trumping the Golf on infotainment, rear legroom and cabin presentation. But the Golf does claw back slightly with a more usable cargo space.
It’s under the bonnet where these two cars really live worlds apart.
A punchy 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 147kW of power and 280Nm of torque powers the Astra. Instead of using a dual-clutch gearbox, the Astra uses a more conventional six-speed automatic gearbox with a torque converter.
While this results in higher fuel use (6.3L/100km for the Astra compared to 5.3L/100km for the Golf), it does provide a smoother driving experience at low speeds.
During testing, we found the Astra would dash from 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds, with the initial 0-60km/h portion taking 3.5 seconds.
When it comes to stopping power, the Astra pulled up in 3.0 seconds over a distance of 38.8m from 100km/h with the worst of three runs taking 3.1 seconds and 41.5m.
The Golf’s drivetrain uses a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. It’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox
During performance testing, the Golf could only achieve a 0-100km/h time of 9.3 seconds, quite a way off the manufacturer’s 8.2-second claim.
But, when it came to stopping, it was superior across all three attempts. The best stop took 2.7 seconds and 37.4m, while its worst run was 2.9 seconds over 39m.
While the Astra was quicker from 0-100km/h, we were very impressed with the Golf’s stopping ability. Especially considering its braking consistency. Often braking performance degrades after the second or third attempt.
Driving dynamics and comfort
Our comparison drive route included a mix of urban, highway, country and gravel driving. This wide cross section covers all types of driving an owner is likely to do during their ownership period.
And, the Astra has been marketed with a huge amount of Australian engineering input, so we were keen to see if it stacked up across a variety of conditions.
In the urban sprawl, Astra performed well, despite the fact it’s shod with 18-inch wheels with 40 profile tyres in comparison to the Golf’s 17-inch wheel and 45-profile tyre combination.
The Astra’s ride aptly soaks up sudden bumps like speed humps and does away with potholes and coarse city streets. It provides a great deal of feedback through the steering, but can kick back at times — such as when hitting the throttle with steering lock and catching a bump or cobblestone.
Outside of this, it does incredibly well across all surfaces during city driving. Its gearbox is quick to respond regardless of the speed and takes off from a standing start smoothly. There’s also plenty of punch from the engine across its rev band.
But, the Golf outclasses it with an incredibly supple ride. It feels like it sits closer to the ground, but despite this the 45-profile tyres work in unison with a softer suspension tune to aptly tackle any road surface thrown at it. It settles quickly after hitting speed humps and does well across constant cobblestones.
But the Golf is absolutely let down by its gearbox at low speeds. In fact, it becomes incredibly frustrating because it’s jerky and lacks the refinement of the Astra’s torque converter.
Another element that’s bizarre, but not uncommon with Volkswagens, is a throttle flat spot at low speeds. At times you need to need to essentially bury the throttle to urge the car forward. We found that driving in the gearbox’s Sport mode was the most effective as it reduced throttle lag.
Once moving though, the drive was very smooth and the engine responsive enough to switch gears and accelerate on command.
Steering response in both cars was good, but the Golf edged ahead with slightly heavier steering that offered superior feedback in tight city conditions.
As we hit the highway, it became immediately obvious the Astra offered better sound deadening and a quieter ride at highway speeds. We measured sound at 68.7dB at 100km/h in the Astra and 69.2dB at 100km/h in the Golf.
The highway run also confirmed the Golf used less fuel on the economy cycle, with the Astra consuming 5.6L/100km (with an average speed of 80km/h) and the Golf 5.1L/100km (at an average speed of 82km/h).
But things changed as the driving became more dynamic and poor quality country roads hit. Fuel consumption in the Astra climbed to 6.9L/100km (with an average speed of 76.2km/h) and the Golf increased to 7.0L/100km (with an average speed of 77km/h).
The country run included several full throttle starts out of T-intersections and several dynamic corners. This section of road also included continuous undulations attacked at 100km/h.
This road surface allowed the Astra to excel. It’s slightly firmer ride allowed it to remain composed as it hit consecutive waves. The Astra settled quicker allowing the car to dive into the next wave, where the Golf would hit the face of the next undulation while it was still on its way down causing it to crash over some bumps.
It was the same story through faster sweeping bends and on the open road for the Astra. Overtaking was far easier, as was getting away from a standing start. But, it was let down by a very noticeable amount of torque steer.
Torque steer is a phenomenon where the steering wheel fights the driver away from the intended track. It’s caused by the tyre with most traction grabbing uneven surfaces and sending more torque to that wheel. It’s most noticed under full throttle with the wheel slightly turned.
The Golf’s lack of power in comparison meant that it didn't suffer from this — but it was markedly slower when taking off.
A gravel road loop with corrugations revealed that both cars sat nicely and remained unfazed, even at 100km/h. They both offered direct steering feel and communicated everything through the chassis, which inspired confidence behind the wheel.
At the conclusion of performance testing and the country loop, the differences in fuel economy also grew in a surprising direction. The Astra ended up consuming an average 8.7L/100km (at an average speed of 58.7km/h), while the Golf came in at 8.9L/100km (with an average speed of 57km/h).
On the driving dynamics front, the Astra proved better on the highway, in the country and on gravel. But, the Golf took the win for city driving, with unmatched refinement — it was ultimately let down by a fussy gearbox and lack of pick up from a standing start.
The last thing you need when buying a car like the Astra or Golf is expensive servicing or a short warranty period.
Unfortunately both the Astra and Golf lag behind their Korean competitors, only offering a three-year/100,000km and three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty respectively.
Both cars have 15,000km service intervals, but the Astra requires servicing every 15,000km or nine months, while the Golf is 15,000km or every 12 months.
That means that in a three-year period, the Astra will require four services for the Golf’s three services.
At $229 per service, the Astra costs $916 per three years, while the Golf costs $333 for the first two services and $396 for the third service, coming in at $1062 over three years.
While on paper the Astra uses 0.9L/100km more than the Golf on a combined average fuel consumption cycle, actual testing found that they were quite similar in terms of fuel use. It’s also worth noting that both vehicles require 95RON premium unleaded petrol.
The Golf has been a long time favourite of ours for its simplicity, efficiency and excellent driving dynamics.
While it still manages to impress, offering a comprehensive package that feels robust and well built, it’s outclassed by the all-new Holden Astra.
The Astra steps it up a notch with excellent driving dynamics, is loaded with features and technology, and brings the game forward when it comes to value for money.
So it narrowly takes the win in this comparison. But we’re excited to have a drive of the Volkswagen Golf 7.5, which is due to launch globally in the coming months.
That will be a real test for the Astra, which goes into battle with a European Car of the Year award under its belt.
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss this comparison below briefly, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.