In 2017 I decided I wanted to upgrade from my 2014 Ford Focus Trend manual. After owning a few mainstream hatches I knew I wanted another hatch, but this time with a bit more oomph from in the powertrain.
My shortlist was the Golf and the Astra. Initially I was interested in the 1.4-litre turbo R+ which had some welcomed safety additions and enough poke for city and freeway driving. During the test drive the salesman said they had an un-driven RS black demo manual which they just registered, so I thought I would just drive it to compare.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This review was submitted before news of Holden's closure.
The difference in drivetrain was instantaneous. The 1.6-litre turbo just sounded better and had a surprising amount of mid range pull, particularly in Sport mode that has a staggering 300Nm of torque. Not bad for a mainstream hatch for $23k. After some consideration I asked if I could have an extended test drive, and took it home for 24 hours. I think my mind was already made up after the first test drive, and a week later that was the car I took home.
2 years later I still enjoy driving this car. Being a hatch, it is extremely versatile, and comfortable enough for longer trips. I still find it an attractive hatch, particularly in black. I have always owned manual cars, and this 6-speed gear box suits the car perfectly. The clutch is nicely weighted, and the engine has enough flexibility to pull from 1500rpm around town happily. Pressing the Sport button sharpens up the throttle response and adds a bit more weight to the steering when you hit the windy roads, and is surprisingly fun.
Although not a hot hatch, I think it definitely borders warm hatch. Spending most of the time in the city you can expect fuel consumption in the range of 8 litres per 100 kilometres, and on longer trips it will drop down to high 5’s low 6’s. This engine does require 95RON which may put off some.
The technology both inside and outside is pretty standard for most cars on the market. Apple CarPlay was a welcomed addition from my previous car, and the suite of safety features is actually really handy. It also negates the need for built-in sat-nav that my car doesn’t have. Lane keep assist does take some getting used to, but the autonomous braking has saved me once in wet weather too.
No car is perfect, but the few qualms I have a relatively minor. The most irritating thing about this car for me are the parking sensors. This car beeps A LOT. Stopped in traffic if a pedestrian walks behind you, the reverse sensors pick this up, even when the car is not in reverse. The only other thing that can be a bit frustrating is the USB port which is in the middle armrest - not a huge deal if your cable lives in the car. One other thing I constantly wish the Astra had in RS form is auto up/down on all windows. Only fitting it to the drivers window seemed a bit cheap.
In 2019, Holden decided to stop selling the 1.6-litre in manual form altogether which did surprise me a little. The more recent decision for Holden to stop selling both the Commodore and Astra is disappointing but inevitable with their sale volumes. My plan is to hold onto this car for at least 5 years as it does everything I need it to and is a great day-to-day car. If anything I would describe the BK Astra as underrated. In such a competitive category I think the Astra really deserves to do better on the sales charts.