Astra la vista baby. Yes, tested here is the 2017 Holden Astra R manual, the newest iteration of the Astra family launched in Australian showrooms in November 2016.
Starting with design, the Astra has always been a good-looking car and this generation is no different. In base-model ‘R’ form, it really looks quite the package. In a former nod to its predecessor, the Astra retains its symmetrical oval headlights with a nice touch of DRLs (daytime running lamps). On the road, the DRLs really set this car apart from the competition, making it quite a head-turner.
Side on, it really looks the part thanks to the D-pillar design. This joins with the C-pillar window creating an uncommon execution not seen on many cars in its segment. On paper and through photos, the design can look odd and not well executed. But in the metal, the design emphasises the Astra’s athletic and svelte European lines perfectly.
At the rear, the Astra brings quite a masculine design to the table. In base model R, it really looks the business with its Alfa Romeo-esque tail-light design and over layer of dark tint, creating an imposing and ‘boss’ look to the design. Dressed in ‘Absolute Red’, it really brings a cohesive and exciting design to the table.
On the road, it is quite the nimble little car. In base ‘R’ format it comes equipped with a 1.4-litre turbo engine with 110kW at 5000rpm and 245Nm at 2000rpm (240Nm auto). The engine was previously seen in its predecessor ‘Cruze’ nameplate. Where the Cruze stumbled, the Astra succeeds with a 100kg+ loss over the Cruze scaling in at 1283kg, transforming the engine and meaning it is a hoot to drive around town, with steady power and good acceleration surge to keep most A to B drives fun and exciting.
The 0–100km/h dash sits at around the low 7sec to high 8sec mark, meaning the Astra is swift enough to navigate fast-paced freeways and roads without hesitation. How’s that translate to economy? Thought you’d never ask. With a 1.4-litre turbo engine and 1283kg of metal to move, it is quite efficient. Around town and with a heavy foot, it will sit on around 7–8L/100km. The highway is Astra’s strongpoint with the engine sitting comfortably just below 2000rpm in sixth gear, bringing a fuel-efficient 5.0–5.5L/100km to the table. For the record, my personal best on economy was 4.9L/100km.
The one downfall with the 1.4-litre turbo engine is, well, the engine itself. Although good on paper, it can feel quite asthmatic and sluggish to navigate. For a quick runabout it’s sufficient, but for a driver with a desire for a more enthusiastic drive it suffers.
But wait. Hit the ‘Sports’ mode button at hand and it completely transforms. With the aid of a six-speed manual transmission on board and ‘Sports’ mode applied, slick gear changes and tighter gear ratios transform its road manner from being a Biggest Loser contestant chugging on doughnuts to being ‘the Rock’ within seconds, with a more composed and focused drive while putting a smile on your face.
With a blend of European and Aussie Holden engineers kicking in, the steering is enticing, with a more involved steer tackling corners while remaining quite neutral on normal roads. Riding on 17-inch wheels, the Astra owns the road feeling extremely glued and composed on all surfaces.
Refinement levels are outstanding with minimal amounts of noise intruding into the cabin and it's whisper quiet, even on freeways. Suspension is quite firm, and even with a decent-sized pothole at hand, the Astra feels composed without fail.
Inside the cabin is simple yet well executed. Getting in the driver's seat, the 7.0-inch MyLink infotainment touchscreen system awaits. Sitting flush in the centre console, it hosts all your entertainment purposes including Bluetooth, radio, DAB, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and a reversing camera.
Digital radio works a breeze and Bluetooth connectivity is the best connection I’ve experienced in a car so far. Touchscreen commands are quite concise and also aided by the steering-mounted controls. Vision is acceptable, but the D-pillar design can intrude with rear visibility, so the included reversing camera isn’t a bad feature to use.
Storage is an interesting topic. Beside the driver's seat sits a centre storage compartment for items such as keys, wallets and sunnies. Oddly, though, the compartment stores a USB port and no AUX input. And even stranger, you can pull the centre storage cover forward to rest your arm on while driving, but can’t open it in this mode.
Door storage is adequate with one-litre bottles sitting comfortably and a driver’s storage tray for coins and gum is a nice touch too. The oddest storage quirk it has is a 15cm slit that sits below the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls) in the centre console. Although Holden doesn’t state its official use, it's big enough to fit a smartphone and, erm, sit awkwardly. In all its quirkiness, the space could be better utilised for a centre storage holder instead.
The driver and passenger seats are firm and supportive yet remain comfortable on short to medium runs, while the rear seats are supportive enough for passengers. All interior and driver dials are easy on the eye and HVAC controls below the centre touchscreen are easy to navigate.
Fit and finish are brilliant, and the piano black finish on the dash (a haven for dust) is quite classy, making the Astra’s interior more premium than the price suggests.
Overall, the Holden Astra R is quite an irresistible package. Aided by a handsome exterior, snazzy interior and a sporty engine, the Astra fits the bill for most individuals. Add in an affordable price tag plus strong dealer backup and support, and the Astra is hard to ignore.