Holden Astra RS-V – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
General Motors Australia has been a mixed bag for decades. Consistency has not been a strong suit with Australian-delivered models merely being rebadged versions of other GM products. Being an avid European car enthusiast, the Astra always piqued my interest having rolled out of GM Opel’s factories.
My love for the Astra dates back to the TS running in production from 1998–2005. Although reliability was horrid, the build quality was second to none. It felt and looked solid from top to bottom. Fast-forward nearly two decades and we arrive at the BK Astra. Having driven the entry-level Astra in R guise in 2017, I was immediately impressed.
The refinement was superb, performance well above benchmark, and the standard equipment list long. And the best part was that it was a Holden I could see myself owning – a European Holden. I knew, however, that a base-model car wasn’t for me. I am a sucker for bells and whistles, and after seeing the performance outputs of the RS-V (147kW/300Nm), I knew it was the car for me. And it’s a bloody handsome car too.
I can only describe this car as a true sleeper. It never fails to put a smile on my dial when I plant the right foot. The torque is incredible, the delivery is linear, and the gearbox has the perfect blend of smooth and responsive. Upshifts, albeit not as nanosecond quick as VW’s DSG, are plenty fast, and kick-down happens almost immediately after flooring the accelerator.
With peak torque happening from only 1650rpm, the driver is almost always on boost. Meaning that the only time I ever experience turbo lag is from a complete standstill when planting the accelerator – which is sometimes actually fun because the thrust the car gives you into the seat is far more aggressive. With a tested 0–100km/h of 6.6 seconds (Motor Magazine), the Astra’s sleeper status really comes to life. Overtaking is a breeze, and so is zooming about with torque and close-ratio gearing always on tap. It would really give the Golf GTI owners a run for their money, especially given the significantly cheaper price tag.
Surprisingly, the handling of the Astra is superb. Having driven the Mk7 Golf and the Mazda 3 SP25 GT, I can comfortably say the Astra has by far the best steering. Although electronically assisted, the Astra’s steering does not feel artificial or non-communicative, but rather feels very connected and precise. The weight is fantastic, especially when activating sport mode that firms up the steering, increases throttle response and changes gearing patterns.
Considering the Astra sits on 18-inch two-tone wheels with painted-on tyres, it surprisingly glides over rough surfaces with grace and composure. The rebound rates don’t make the car bouncy or jittery, but rather soak up bumps on our harsh Australian roads; a testament to the Australia arm of GM that tuned the suspension. Don’t be fooled by the comfort of the suspension, however. The Astra has very little body roll and handles like it’s on rails. This adds to the directness of the steering and enables the driver to make a quick decision with confidence.
Technology is an enormous selling point in today’s car market, and especially for Generation Ys like me. The Astra has everything you could want and more. The RS-V boasts infotainment features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in GPS navigation, voice recognition, multi-function steering wheel, a very impressive six-speaker sound system, USB and AUX inputs.
Other standard RS-V features include remote start (for auto only) that enables the engine to be started via the remote securely, electric-folding heated mirrors, proximity key with passive entry and push-button start, LED tail lights and daytime running lights, illuminated overhead console and ambient door lighting, electric park brake, automatic headlights and wipers, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, and automatic parallel parking.
My car has been optioned with the Touring Package, which brings with it an electric sunroof and adaptive/radar cruise control with speed limiter. Adaptive cruise in the Astra is an example of technology done right. The following distance is perfect, and the braking smooth.
The Astra also boasts a comprehensive list of impressive safety technology including all-speed automatic emergency braking (cars not optioned with adaptive/radar cruise control have AEB up to 60km/h), forward-collision alert with head-up display, lane assist, hill start assist, brake assist, blind-spot warning, six airbags including full-length curtain airbags for rear occupant safety, ABS, traction control and stability control.
Comfort and space
The Astra is a very comfortable car. Both the driver and front passenger can enjoy height-adjustable seats with four-way electronic lumbar adjustment. The RS-V comes with leather-appointed heated seats, heated leather steering wheel and dual-zone climate control. Finding the perfect driving position will be a breeze, and leg room front and rear is impressive being able to carry four adults with ease. Boot space is average, but more than enough to do a sizable grocery shop or carry a full sized-pram, but not both.
Although the Astra ticks a lot of boxes on paper, it is more of a ‘Jack of all trades, but a master of none’. A lot of the technology in the car has bugs and can be a nightmare for a fastidious owner like myself.
For starters, the auto headlights. These drive me insane. There is a fault with the software that affects all cars, whereby the system detects low light and turns the lights on, however when the light returns (for example, going into a tunnel and back out) the lights remain on, and all instruments inside have their illumination dimmed. Also dimmed are the blind-spot monitoring lights that render the safety system useless in direct sunlight. The only way to rectify this is to to turn the car off and back on, as there is no off function on the headlight switch.
Apple CarPlay is glitchy and sometimes playback stops, and once again, the only remedy is to power down the car and turn it back on. The rain-sensing wipers are very slow to respond to changes in rainfall. This can become frustrating when a fine mist has the wipers going flat stick, and heavy rainfall has them laying idle, forcing the driver to interfere with the system.
Road noise is something I feel the need to complain about. I am unsure whether this is due in part to the low-profile tyres or the lack of sound deadening. It is definitely better than that of the Mazda 3, but not on par with the quietness of the Golf at high speeds.
The backseats are rather sparse, lacking amenities such an armrest, cupholders and face vents. Paddle-shifters on the steering wheel would also be a nice addition.
The placement of the driver air vents is an ergonomic disaster. Both air vents are placed directly behind the driver’s hands at the nine and three position on the wheel. This means that in summer the cold air from the powerful AC system isn’t hitting you face, it’s hitting your hands. You shouldn’t have to use the heated steering wheel in the midst of an Australian summer.
Fuel consumption: I have no idea how it is possible to come even close to the claimed fuel-consumption figures Holden advises. The Astra, although not horrendous on fuel, is definitely not that economical. This falls under ‘the ugly’ for me, as fuel economy was a big selling point and I have found myself disappointed with how frequently I see the bowser. Most of my driving is suburban. Holden claims 8.3L/100km, and my manually calculated figures (not the overly optimistic on-board computer) consistently shows at least 10L/100km.
Gone is the solidity of the TS Astra from two decades ago. I have been very unimpressed with the number of rattles and creaks that have already surfaced in my car with only 13,000km on the clock. The doors close with a nice solid thud, but after wearing in the car, hitting the smallest bumps creates way too much noise for my liking.
Traction in the wet. What traction in the wet? Hit the throttle with more than 30 per cent and you’ll experience violent and terrifying wheel hopping. Where is the traction control? Who knows. He must be out on smoko and only clocks back in after the front-end has really lifted off.
Grip is surprisingly the opposite in the dry. One would assume a FWD 300Nm car only weighing 1360kg (kerb weight) would wheel-spin like no tomorrow, but even on poor surfaces, the Astra stays planted. But the inactivity of the traction control in the wet is one that concerns me, even as an experienced driver.
Depreciation. Oh my god. I have come from driving BMWs, known as the kings of depreciation. Well, the Astra puts my old luxobarge to shame in this department. I bought my example as a dealer demo with 6000km on the clock and it was nine months old. The RRP of a brand-new example with the same options list is roughly $36,500. I paid $26,500 drive-away. In the last four months I have trolled Carsales.com.au and they seem to be going for even less. Potential buyers should really consider how important it is for them to buy brand spanking new, because honestly, it isn’t worth it. New adjacent models such as mine have already depreciated by more than 30 per cent.
The Astra in RS-V guise is a superb car. Its value for money can’t be beaten, and neither can the grunt from that engine within the same price bracket. Handling is class-leading and the equipment list is amazing. But it doesn’t do everything exceptionally well… And the interior isn’t put together with the best craftsmanship… And it’s a little too thirsty.
Would these things stop me from recommending it? Definitely not. The car is fantastic, and bar some of its idiosyncrasies, I’ve enjoyed every minute of being behind the wheel. Especially when planting that right foot. GM Holden, you’ve done it right.