Life as Holden's go-to small car hasn't always been easy. First it was the Astra, then it was the Nova, then the Astra again, then the Viva, then the Cruze, and now the Astra once more. But is the latest iteration now the greatest? And does it offer small-car buyers enough incentive to get them out of their Toyota Corollas, Mazda 3s, Hyundai i30s, and Volkswagen Golfs?
Kicking off at $30,740 (before on-road costs) for the six-speed manual and $31,740 (before on-road costs) for the Absolute Red six-speed automatic tested here, the 2017 Holden Astra RS-V is the flagship variant of the five-seat, five-door hatchback range.
With Holden well aware of how hard it needs to work to drag potential buyers out of rival dealerships and into its own, the local lion has packed the all-new ‘BK’ Astra with plenty of kit.
Keyless entry, push-button start, remote start (for automatic variants), and automatic LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, and halogen projector headlights are all there, along with rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors and semi-automated parking, dual-zone climate control, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
Heated six-way manually-adjustable leather-appointed sports seats and a heated leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel are standard fare too, as is a 4.2-inch driver information display, six-speaker stereo with DAB+ digital radio, and an 8.0-inch MyLink infotainment touchscreen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, audio streaming, and voice commands, plus support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Sweetening the deal, the top-spec Astra boasts two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome and gloss black exterior highlights, and a dual chrome exhaust.
Safety is addressed with the inclusion of six airbags, two ISOFIX-compatible 60:40 split-fold rear seats, blind-spot monitoring, an electric parking brake, and hill-start assist.
Further, the James Bond-esque-sounding ‘HoldenEye’ safety net – comprising low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a forward-collision alert, following distance indicator, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist – is standard on all R+, RS, and RS-V Astras, helping them achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating (a rating not matched by the entry-level R).
If that’s still not enough gear for you, Holden offers two option packs for the Astra: a $1990 Touring Pack, which comprises adaptive cruise control and an electric sunroof; and a $3990 Innovations Pack, which is based on the Touring Pack but adds adaptive LED matrix headlights with cornering function.
A step up from the 110kW/240-245Nm turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine used in the Astra R and R+, under the bonnet of the RS-V sits a turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder, teamed to both a stop-start system and a ‘Sport’ mode.
An engine you can get your hands on for $4500 less in the form of the mid-spec RS, the direct-injection petrol-powered four-pot produces 147kW of power at 5500rpm and 280Nm of torque between 1650-3500rpm. Holden also claims up to 300Nm of torque is accessible between 1700-4700rpm via an overboost function.
Overboost or not, the figures place the Astra ahead of the Corolla, Mazda 3, and Golf we mentioned earlier, with only the 150kW/265Nm i30 winning the power battle against the Polish-built Holden hatchback.
With potential to appeal to both older and younger demographics alike, the Astra’s cabin combines trims and finishes of varying levels of quality, with basic components sharing space with more premium elements.
Although the doors are quite heavy to open, getting in and out is easy, and once you’re in, the interior generally feels solid enough.
There’s a soft-touch dash, slightly rubberised door tops, vinyl door inserts, and half gloss-black/half contoured-plastic door pulls that will please many, while the grey-stitched leather-wrapped steering wheel and matching gear selector both feel quite nice in the hands.
Plenty of harder, scratchier plastics abound however, and plain rubber pedals, some clicky stereo controls, and cheap-feeling indicator and wiper stalks and switchgear all ooze cost-saving. Annoyingly too, only the driver’s power window is auto up and down, with all others limited to auto-down, offering no auto-up function.
Visually rather simple and uninspiring, the Astra RS-V’s front seats are decently comfortable, with the driver’s scoring electric lumbar support.
In one of several ergonomic foibles noted with the car though, the manual backrest adjuster wheel is naffly located precisely between the seat base and seatbelt mounting location, meaning no matter where you position your seat, adjusting the backrest will undoubtedly result in you sandwiching your hand between the seat, the seatbelt base, and the B-pillar. Not ideal.
Big front door pockets, an adequate-sized glove box, and a handy cubby near the driver’s right knee help with storage, along with two rubber-lined cupholders that sit under a retractable lid; although, the centre console bin is on the small side and positioned far enough towards the centre of the cabin that accessing it almost requires a minor dislocation of one’s shoulder.
Device charging is taken care of by one USB port in the centre console bin and one 12-volt outlet located on the transmission tunnel.
Getting into the back too, is nice and easy, thanks to good rear-door apertures, and even though a lack of shape and support means plenty of sliding about, the rear bench still offers reasonable levels of comfort – provided you can stay put.
The second row can be split 60:40, and both outboard seats are ISOFIX compatible. That said, there’s no fold-down centre armrest and no specific cupholders, but the rear door pockets aren’t completely useless, and are joined by a pair of rear reading lights and two small map pockets.
The biggest catch though – and it is indeed a biggie if you ask us – is a lack of rear air vents.
It’s a real shame too, as, with excellent leg and headroom, good toe-room, and only a very minimal centre floor hump to contend with, the new Astra has what could well have been one of the best backseats in the class. But frankly, no rear air vents in a family hatchback in 2017 is simply unforgivable.
The Astra’s 360-litre boot capacity isn’t bad for the segment, although the boot itself is quite shallow, with a space-saver spare taking up a fair amount of under-floor space.
Pleasingly, the parcel tray lifts up nice and high and out of the way, and the tailgate itself isn’t too springy nor heavy, and opens up high enough to allow taller folk to clear their scones without knockin’ their noggin.
Hit the road, and one of the first things to impress is the engine – it’s a good un.
Sure, it’s not an emotive or notably characterful unit by any stretch of the imagination, but the turbo 1.6-litre does offer more than enough power and torque to get the 1363kg Astra around hassle-free.
Driving conservatively, the four-cylinder is attached to plenty of low-end response and pickup, meaning there’s little need to rev the thing out while racking up the majority of urban and even highway miles.
Gear changes are generally taken care of between 2000-2500rpm, but the engine’s happy coasting along at around 1500-1800rpm. And if you do decide to stick the boot in a little, the intelligent, and generally responsive, six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission will hold off from swapping cogs until around 6000rpm.
The Astra’s stop-start system is also impressively smooth in the way it shuts the car off when you come to a stop, although, this is not quite replicated by the restarting side of the sequence.
With the technology on board – and despite a decent amount of freeway kilometres under the RS-V’s 225mm-wide, 40-aspect Bridgestone Turanza tyres – we struggled to match the Astra’s 6.3 litres per 100km fuel consumption claim, instead averaging 7.9L/100km over our week with the car.
Although the steering wheel-mounted buttons are a little awkward and ungainly looking – and not the most automatically intuitive to use – the electric power steering system the wheel is attached to, is nice and consistent.
Accurate, decently engaging, and tied to respectable amounts of helpful feedback, the steering is balanced in its weighting, never feeling too heavy or artificially light and disconnected.
In fact, none of the new Astra’s key controls feel overly assisted or remote. From the steering to the throttle to the brakes, it all feels about right, combining to make drivers feel more connected to the car and the road.
For an everyday, family runabout too, the ride over speed humps, potholes, and coarse-chip surfaces isn’t bad either.
It’s not exceptional – it can get a little rattled by mid-corner bumps and sequential ruts, and road noise is a fraction more noticeable than perhaps it should be – but overall it does a commendable job, even if it’s a little soft and floaty over crests and undulations and the like.
That said, the McPherson-type front and Watts link rear suspension definitely prefers a smoother road to a choppier one, and if you happen to catch a sharper road imperfection just so, the Astra loses a bit of composure and refinement.
Mid-corner bumps can also highlight minor lapses in body control, but even when pushed out of its comfort zone – and remember, it’s no VXR or Golf GTI rival – it never falls apart, continuing to change directions well enough, thanks in part to fair grip from its tyres.
The days of the Nova, Viva, and Cruze are well and truly behind Holden, and behind the Australian buying public.
Astra, on the other hand, is a name that’s back (again), and it’s a name Holden hopes will prove successful. And when it comes to the 2017 Holden Astra RS-V, the General is on the right track.
It’s a car that does a lot of things well, and some other things not quite as well. It doesn’t really do anything terribly poorly, yet it struggles to do a whole lot outstandingly well either. It’s bang-on, to fractionally above, middle-of-the-road.
It’s not a bad car by any reckoning, it just suffers from being a touch flat and drab, and a little basic and sporadically low-rent in some areas. It’s also at the dearer end of its competitor set, and has some ergonomic foibles that could potentially prove deal breakers for some buyers. The omission of rear air vents too, remains a sore point.
It is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty with 12 months road-side assist though, which is good, and the first three nine-month/15,000km services are fixed at $249 per service, thanks to Holden’s lifetime capped-price servicing program.
At the end of the day, while the new Holden Astra is most definitely a small car to consider – and easily one of the best the local lion has offered in recent times – alternatives from Japan, South Korea, and Germany still, largely, have the edge.
Click on the Gallery tab for more 2017 Holden Astra RS-V images by Tom Fraser.