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Thread: 2008 Saturn Astra

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    2008 Saturn Astra

    There is no shame in trying again. Or even one more time after that.

    Saturn's first small car - the SC and SL series - had some unique features (flexible body panels) looked kind of neat and did OK sales-wise, initially. But they couldn't stand up to the name brand Japanese econo-compacts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. They were buzzy and cheap feeling in comparison.

    Then came the Ion.

    It also had some unusual design features - including a backward opening mini-door on the coupe. But it didn't quite cut the mustard, either.

    Now comes the Astra (via Opel - GM's European subsidiary) as Saturn's third try at bat.

    And based on initial impressions, this one might do the trick.

    ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

    The Astra (both three-door coupe and five-door hatchback versions) comes with just one engine - a 1.8 liter DOHC four rated at 138 hp. This is par for the class. The Toyota Corolla, for instance, comes standard with an identical in size 1.8 liter four that makes an almost identical 132 hp; Honda's Civic also comes with a 1.8 liter engine that is just slightly more potent than the Astra's at 140 hp.

    However, the Astra weighs considerably more than either the Corolla or the Civic - with a curb weight for the base XE sedan of more than 2,900 lbs. vs. about 2,700 for the Corolla sedan - and a flyweight 2,628 lbs. for the Civic sedan. The Astra's also heavier than the Mazda 3 sedan, which weighs in at 2,780 lbs - and which also has a larger/stronger 2.0 liter, 148 hp engine as its standard mill.

    No doubt, this accounts for the Astra's slightly below par (compared to "benchmark" competitors) fuel economy - which is 24 city/32 highway vs. 26 city/35 highway for the Corolla and 26 city/34 highway for the Civic. Not a huge difference - but for an economy-type car, fuel economy is a major draw and losing a couple of MPGs at $3 per gallon may hurt the Astra's appeal relative to its mainline competition from Japan's Big Two.

    On the upside, performance is lively - at least, when the car is equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission. The zero to 60 time of 8.5-8.6 seconds is solid in its own right and quicker by several tenths than either the base Honda Civic sedan or the Corolla sedan - and on par with the Mazda 3 even when that car is equipped with its optional (and more potent) 2.3 liter engine.


    On the downside, the Astra's only optional automatic is a four-speed automatic. Yes. A four speed. In 2008.

    Outside of Kazhakstan and other former Soviet Republics, a five-speed automatic is pretty much a given these days. A four speed automatic works ok - but so does a carburetor, and you don't see many of them anymore. The wider gear spacing that comes with just four forward gears hurts both potential fuel efficiency as well as performance feel. Time between up-shifts seems - and is, in fact - longer.

    This is a serious flaw - even if only as an image issue. The four-speed automatic makes the Astra look a bit dated relative to segment leaders like the Civic, Corolla and Mazda3 - all three of which offer five-speed automatics as their optional transmissions.

    RIDE & HANDLING

    I tested out an Astra coupe - and all coupes come with sport-themed XR trim/suspension gear - including 17-inch alloy wheels with all season performance tires, bucket seats and a fast-ratio electric-assist steering box. Base XE sedans come with 16 inch steel rims, standard-type tires and a softer suspension - as well as more econo-oriented seats.

    The five-door hatchback version of the Astra can also be ordered in XR form.

    Driving the Astra was both pleasant and enjoyable. Pleasant because the ride was firm - but not too firm - for everyday puttering around. Enjoyable because it was still firm enough - and responsive enough - to play with when the urge hit and the opportunity presented itself.

    Now, the Astra's not as amazingly gifted in a corner as Mazda's 3 - which is arguably the best performance econo-compact your $14k can buy right now. But it has bucketloads more personality than the superbly competent but also superbly bland Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. Those cars are appliances refined to the nth degree. If you want a near-perfect commuter/econo-box, they are hard to beat.

    Except when it comes to eliciting any kind of emotional response. On that score, they are sheetmetal Lunesta - guaranteed to make you sleepy.

    The Astra at least seems to have a pulse. If thrown into a curve at a decent clip, it doesn't seem appalled that you'd do such a thing. The action on the five-speed is nicely mechanical, with little slop in the linkage. I like the clutch, too. Not too heavy, not too light. It gives a good sense of where you're at. And there's Hill Start Assist to keep you from rolling backward into the car behind you. It applies brake pressure for about 1.5 seconds after you take your foot off the pedal and move it to the clutch. (Subaru had this idea first, but that doesn't mean it's less of a good idea when copied by someone else.)

    Another (and related) area where the Astra really shines - and where its origins in Europe's higher-speed driving environment become evident - is out on the highway.

    Seventy to 80 mph seems natural to the Astra - whether by accident of design or as a result of things like gearing intended for Autobahn-esque motoring. It may also be the extra pounds - which come in handy here. Really light economy cars sometimes get more and more unsettled the faster you push them as wind builds up underneath the floorpans; a sudden gust of wind - or the slipstream of a passing semi - can deliver a physical push into the next lane. This, in turn, requires a death grip on the wheel and hypervigilance as precautionary measures. Try it for 3-4 hours sometime. It's a major buzz kill on a road trip.

    But the Astra XR I tested felt not just composed but happy at fairly high speeds; quiet, too.

    STYLING & UTILITY

    Astra's strongest card is its curb appeal. The coupe especially. It's not just that it looks good - it looks different. The snarky roofline, cat's eye side glass, mini- pontoon haunches over each wheel and little touches like the "slash" door guards on both flanks and vertical parking light slits just ahead of each front wheel give it a dramatic - and distinctive appearance. it is several notches sportier than the Corolla and also the vanilla-looking Civic.

    The interior, on the other hand, is functional but a bit on the industrial side - at least, the standard version. Lots of fairly bleak looking monotone grey plastic takes away from the overall layout - which deserves better. Little things would go a long way. For instance - why doesn't the Saturn badge in center of the steering wheel have the same contrast red finish as the same badges on the outside? Contrast piping for the upholstery, maybe some chrome/aluminum trim.

    Just... something.

    It also takes a little bit of time to get used to the "euro" symbols for some of the Astra's basic functions, such as the audio/cruise control and so on. If you've spent any time in a Saab or Volvo (or European Ford) you'll pick it up quickly. But it's still quirky and may annoy a few first-time drivers.

    Because it's a hatchback, the Astra sedan is very usable in terms of carrying cargo - or at least, more usable than a standard sedan. Drop the second row seats and you've got about 45 cubic feet of capacity. In the hatchback coupe, you'll sacrifice some of that usability for style - a consequence not just of having two less doors but also because of the coupe's sharper roofline. Still, the hatch configuration does allow you to manipulate odd-shaped stuff and get it home from the store that would be tough if not impossible to do with a sedan and a regular trunk.

    QUALITY/SAFETY

    The Astra's greater weight/size than many cars in its class is a safety advantage all by itself. It is also very well-equipped for a car with a base price of $15,375 (XE sedan). Both side impact and curtain air bags are included across the board. Every Astra also comes with ABS and anti-whiplash head restraints. Hatchback coupes also get standard stability/traction control.

    Triple aces.

    Also worth a mention - and praise - is the fact that the Astra comes standard with rain-sensing wipers, an unusual feature to find in a modestly priced car. Even more unusual that you don't pay extra for it. Ditto a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and power one-touch windows. You can also order seat heaters - another unusual amenity in a budget-class car.

    Unfortunately, AC is not included.

    That's a potentially significant omission given the Astra's supposed to be a cut above the basic Blue Light Special. While a few competitors still charge extra for it also (such as the Honda Civic) AC is standard in the Toyota Corolla - which also has a lower base price of $15,250 vs. $15,375 for the Astra XE sedan without AC. Add the AC - a $960 option - and the base Astra's price climbs to $16,335 - or $1,085 more than the equivalent Corolla. You can also get a base Mazda 3 ($13,895) add AC ($880) and still come out well below the Astra's base price - without AC.

    Overall, however, the Astra comes across as a substantial and well-built car whose few weak areas aren't serious and which could easily be dealt with by next year.

    DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

    Better in every way than the Ion it replaces - and more entertaining than just about any small car in its price range except for the Mazda3. And unlike the Mazda - which comes in four door sedan or five-door hatchback versions only - the Astra is available in the sportier hatchback coupe configuration. (The Corolla is a sedan-only deal - as are many others in this segment - with the exception of Honda's Civic.)

    Bottom line: I enjoyed the week I spent in the Astra. It didn't look cheap, it didn't feel cheap - and it didn't drive like a cheap car, either. Those are three things you couldn't say about the Ion - at least, not without some money coming to you under the table in a manila envelope courtesy of General Motors.

    It may not be the best performer - or the most economical. But it is one of the best cars of its type - on the whole - that you can buy right now.

    Maybe not a home run. But a triple isn't bad in my book.

    And there's always next year!

    END



  2. #2
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    As a Saturn owner, I would like to drive one myself. If I were in the market for a FWD economy car, I would probably give one of these a look.

    It looks like it has the proper blend of price, performance and economy.

    Does this beast have On-Star on it?

    I guess you didn't flog it into enough turns to make GM call you up!

    If weren't for On-Star, make mine with a 5 speed.




  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry
    As a Saturn owner, I would like to drive one myself. If I were in the market for a FWD economy car, I would probably give one of these a look.

    It looks like it has the proper blend of price, performance and economy.

    Does this beast have On-Star on it?

    I guess you didn't flog it into enough turns to make GM call you up!

    If weren't for On-Star, make mine with a 5 speed.



    Unfortunately, it does have OnStar...standard equipment....

  4. #4
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Added this article to the main site with pictures, link is below:




    http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/...4&Itemid=10848

  5. #5
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    We have that car here ....re-badged as Holden
    They are popular and the previous have been also.

    We can get the 4 door in diesel.
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  6. #6
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1
    We have that car here ....re-badged as Holden
    They are popular and the previous have been also.

    We can get the 4 door in diesel.
    It's a decent little thing; the coupe's lines, though, are much better than those of the 5-door....

  7. #7
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric
    Quote Originally Posted by Kwozzie1
    We have that car here ....re-badged as Holden
    They are popular and the previous have been also.

    We can get the 4 door in diesel.
    It's a decent little thing; the coupe's lines, though, are much better than those of the 5-door....
    Much, much better. The 5-door is frumpy. I hope GM doesn't force the issue by loading the dealers up with sedans and then trickle out a few of the coupes, because if they don't manipulate it the coupe would outsell the sedan 5:1, just based on looks.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Kwozzie1's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric

    It's a decent little thing; the coupe's lines, though, are much better than those of the 5-door....
    Totally agree as far as looks go. Very snazzy little beast....and I guess more appeling to younger folks
    Rex
    On the Sunshine Coast, in the Sunshine State Queensland (QLD), Australia

  9. #9
    Senior Member J. ZIMM's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Just a note; you need to check first to do it files. The Studebaker Company was one of the first to come out with a hill holding device on their cars. It was called a Hill Holder. It was connected to the clutch pedal and worked very similar to the way the new cars use it. But being before electronics, it had to be a mechanical device. When you pushed in on the clutch, a mechanical rod was activated that went to a one way type of valve body. When the brakes were applied, fluid would pass through the one way valve and keep the brakes applied until the clutch was releast allowing the brake fluid to return to the master cylinder. Although it was invented about 50-60 years or so ago, it was a neat device that saved many rear bumpers as well as many grills. The negative thing i didn't like is that when you shoved in the clutch and applied the brake at the same time, the brakes would not release unless you let the clutch out at the same time. Most of us ended up disconnecting them after a while.... 8)

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 2008 Saturn Astra

    Quote Originally Posted by J. ZIMM
    Just a note; you need to check first to do it files. The Studebaker Company was one of the first to come out with a hill holding device on their cars. It was called a Hill Holder. It was connected to the clutch pedal and worked very similar to the way the new cars use it. But being before electronics, it had to be a mechanical device. When you pushed in on the clutch, a mechanical rod was activated that went to a one way type of valve body. When the brakes were applied, fluid would pass through the one way valve and keep the brakes applied until the clutch was releast allowing the brake fluid to return to the master cylinder. Although it was invented about 50-60 years or so ago, it was a neat device that saved many rear bumpers as well as many grills. The negative thing i didn't like is that when you shoved in the clutch and applied the brake at the same time, the brakes would not release unless you let the clutch out at the same time. Most of us ended up disconnecting them after a while.... 8)
    Good stuff - thanks for the refresher!

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