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2008 Saturn Astra Drive - Edmunds

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GM's World Car Seeks To Conquer America
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By Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief | Link to Original Article @ Edmunds | Date posted: 09-26-2007


One letter. On paper, only one letter separates Frankfort, Ohio from Frankfurt, Germany. In reality, the two cities could not be more different. One is a small town with a blue-collar population of 1,045; the other is a true international city of 650,000 with industries ranging from biotechnology to banking.

Regardless, General Motors is betting the same small car will play in both places. The car is the Astra, and history supports the theory. "We sell the Astra everywhere," says Michael Harder of Opel, GM's German subsidiary. "From Iceland to South Africa, from New Zealand to Moscow." And it does so with great success.

Still, we can't help but think the little hatchback is about to embark on its toughest challenge: America, the land of the free and the home of the slow-selling hatchback. On top of that, the 2008 Saturn Astra needs to make people forget the horrible Saturn Ion, the very worst car ever sold in America. This won't be easy, even for the best selling three-door compact in Europe.

But after a day behind the wheel we're confident the Saturn Astra has a shot.

We Drove the Three-Door

Flat-out on the autobahn just west of Frankfurt, the Saturn's speedometer needle is creeping past 110 mph. Jon J. Lauckner, GM's vice president of global program management, told us we would be impressed with the Astra's high-speed stability, and we are. The road is smoother than I-70 just outside Frankfort, but the Astra is undeniably locked in.

We knew it would be. In the past six months we've taken advantage of the Astra's world car status and have driven the 2007 Opel Astra 1.8, which is sold throughout Europe and Russia, and the 2007 Holden HSV Astra VXR, which is a regular down in Kangaroo land.

This time we're in the three-door Saturn Astra XR, the hottest version Americans will be offered. It rides on standard 18-inch Dunlop SP Sport summer tires, which give the Astra plenty of road-holding. A quicker 14:1 steering ratio (optional on five-doors) is also standard, along with sportier suspension tuning and a 15mm lower ride height.

Under the hood, however, is the same 1.8-liter DOHC Ecotec four-cylinder that'll power every other Astra. It packs variable valve timing, a 6,500-rpm redline and an iron block. The compression ratio is 10.5:1 and it runs on regular. With ratings of 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 126 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm, it's strong for the class, especially for its size. The 1.8-liter in the Versa delivers just 122 hp.

Still, it's far from the class state of the art. The 2.5-liter in the VW Rabbit makes 170 hp and it's backed by a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The Astra's standard manual also packs five gears, but its optional automatic offers just four.

No Turbo, No Drop Top

Although the Holden HSV Astra VXR is powered by a turbocharged 240-hp version of the Saturn Astra's engine, that engine is not U.S. bound. We had hopes it would morph into the Saturn Astra Red Line, but Lutz tells us it's not happening. "Too much emissions work," he said.

The wagon version will also be left in Europe because Americans buy even fewer wagons than they do hatchbacks. Sadly, the Twin-Top convertible Astra, which has a retractable hardtop, won't make it because of the investment needed to make it meet U.S. crash test standards.

Instead just two body styles, both hatchbacks, will be offered: three-door and five-door. Trim levels? Also two. The five-door is offered in XE or XR trim, while the three-door is XR only.

Pricing starts at $15,995 (including destination) for the five-door XE, $17,545 for the five-door XR and $18,495 for the XR three-door. That may sound like a lot for a car in this class, but the standard equipment list is long. Even the XE comes with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, ABS, 16-inch wheels, OnStar, six airbags, stability control and a CD player.

Every three-door XR, like our five-speed test car, gets steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, power door locks, power windows and height-adjustable sport seats.

Nicely Finished but Noisy

Car snobs will check the Astra's chassis hardware and mock it for not having an independent rear suspension. And they might have a point, but the front-wheel-drive Astra XR is far more fun to throw around than its hardware and 63 percent front weight bias would suggest. Although understeer is definitely its preferred cornering attitude, on a snaking mountain road it should outrun and out-fun most cars that cost under $20,000.

We also like the tight shift linkage and easy clutch take-up, but had a hard time with the Astra's pedal placement. Heel-and-toe downshifting is easier in a Peterbilt. Praising the Astra's electrohydraulic steering is easy. It's a touch dead on-center, but it's weighted nicely and properly quick, and the leather-wrapped three-spoke wheel feels substantial.

Actually, everything about the Astra feels substantial. Unlike the Ion, which had a bucket-of-bolts quality, nothing about the Astra is tinny or cheap. From its overall structure down to its interior trim, the Astra has a tight, well-assembled, upscale finish.

Still, things aren't perfect. There's only one cupholder, for instance, and it's located where the missing center armrest should be. Rear visibility is compromised by the low roof line, small backlight and standard rear headrests and the 160 mph speedo writes a check the car can't cash. Top speed is about 130 mph. We also wonder why there's no engine temperature gauge.

Dynamically our wish list is limited to a 6th gear. The five-speed manual is geared too short. It gives the car a spunky feeling around town, but on the highway the engine is working for it. Eighty mph in top gear equals 4,000 rpm on the tach. That's too high and it causes quite a bit of engine boom to find its way into the Astra's cabin. If you're road tripping in an Astra, bring aspirin.

Rabbit Size

At 170.5 inches long, 69 inches wide and 57.4 inches tall, the Astra five-door is dimensionally very similar to the Rabbit. The three-door is the same length and width but is almost 2 inches lower to give it a more sinister squatted stance. The cost, of course, is some rear-seat headroom.

Cargo volume also takes a small hit. The five-door offers a maximum of 44.7 cubic feet with its rear seats folded (a Nissan Versa offers 50 cubic feet), while the three-door offers 37.8 cubic feet.

GM says that's OK because the three-door is more about style and driving fun than practicality. "The three-door shows the essence of the Astra design family," says Uwe Muller, the car's designer. He points out the car's wedge shape, dominant shoulders and arching greenhouse as its highlights. And there's no denying it's quite butch compared to the Versa or the Rabbit.

Exterior differences between an Opel Astra and a Saturn Astra are nearly impossible to spot, although Saturn says the front and rear bumpers are different, as well as the grille.

Christmas Present

When the Astra hits Main Street this December, it'll conclude a two-year-long product onslaught by Saturn, and it'll make the still-fresh Saturn Sky the oldest car in the brand's lineup.

Trouble is, the Astra isn't really a new car. This version of the hatchback debuted in Europe way back in January 2004, which means it's fast approaching another redesign. Rumor is there's a sedan in those plans that will find its way to America's 440 Saturn dealers around 2010.

In the meantime, the 2008 Saturn Astra is a real alternative to the popular Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and VW Rabbit. Is it perfect? Nope, it isn't even the best car in its class, but it is the best small car GM has ever sold in the United States, and it's worth a look.

----------------

The Versa, FWIW, is a boring box of rocks.
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I wonder if the 180hp 1.6L turbo would demand "too much emissions work" as well...

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When will we get the fuel economy ratings? That will be the deciding factor if having just the 1.8L was a good choice or not.

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They really need to bring the twintop over next redesign. It's really hot in person.

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Under the hood, however, is the same 1.8-liter DOHC Ecotec four-cylinder that'll power every other Astra. It packs variable valve timing, a 6,500-rpm redline and an iron block. The compression ratio is 10.5:1 and it runs on regular. With ratings of 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 126 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm, it's strong for the class, especially for its size. The 1.8-liter in the Versa delivers just 122 hp.

The Astra's standard manual also packs five gears, but its optional automatic offers just four.

So is this car Civic/Cobalt Coupe sized or is it a sub compact? Because the way they're comparing it to the Versa makes it seem like it is a sub compact. But the starting price and the last paragraph makes it seem like it's a compact: "2008 Saturn Astra is a real alternative to the popular Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and VW Rabbit".

If it's a real alternative to those cars, why not compare the engine to the 1.8L Civic engine for example?

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i've seen an opel astra over in new mexico, holloman airforce base a week or so ago... must have picked it up in a tour of a german airforce base...

but i was hardly impressed...

not to saying it is the exact same car, a recent model... looks pretty similar to what i've seen online...

but i'd say i'd probably by the cobalt over what i saw... maybe the interior or the way it drives is better... or maybe it was just a couple years older... just noticed it in a parking lot... didnt really pay it much attention other then that... i did a double take on the emblem... looked at the liscense plate... looked like the american plates fit naturally...

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So is this car Civic/Cobalt Coupe sized or is it a sub compact? Because the way they're comparing it to the Versa makes it seem like it is a sub compact. But the starting price and the last paragraph makes it seem like it's a compact: "2008 Saturn Astra is a real alternative to the popular Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and VW Rabbit".

If it's a real alternative to those cars, why not compare the engine to the 1.8L Civic engine for example?

The Versa is a compact priced to be a subcompact.

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forget the horrible Saturn Ion, the very worst car ever sold in America.
What a line of :bs:

Sure, the Ion isn't a great car but talk about being mellow dramatic.

Still, things aren't perfect. There's only one cupholder, for instance,

It's a frikkin' hatch, not a minivan... At most, 2, maybe 3 people will be in there at once.

and it's located where the missing center armrest should be.
Don't hand me that sh*t.. Honda makes it a TRADEMARK to sell cars with missing center and passenger armrests.
and the 160 mph speedo writes a check the car can't cash.

Like the average buyer is going to give a crap...

Top speed is about 130 mph. We also wonder why there's no engine temperature gauge.
And I repeat; like the average buyer is going to give a crap...
Dynamically our wish list is limited to a 6th gear. The five-speed manual is geared too short. It gives the car a spunky feeling around town, but on the highway the engine is working for it. Eighty mph in top gear equals 4,000 rpm on the tach. That's too high and it causes quite a bit of engine boom to find its way into the Astra's cabin. If you're road tripping in an Astra, bring aspirin.

I can only think of one place in america where one should be doing 80mph anyway. Otherwise, it's endangering the well being of others around them (Yep, I can spin bullsh*t too)

Either way, the car isn't going to be pulling these RPMs enough for the buyer to care.

In the meantime, the 2008 Saturn Astra is a real alternative to the popular Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and VW Rabbit. Is it perfect? Nope, it isn't even the best car in its class, but it is the best small car GM has ever sold in the United States, and it's worth a look.

Obligatory import mined media quote number 1 "It's good, but not quite good enough."

That seems to be the story for all of the excellent and BETTER ALL AROUND than any other automaker, vehciles that GM is putting out lately. Even the CTS gets this pre-determined and well rehearsed conclusion.

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FOG

I think the average buyer does care about a temp gauge. Take a look at the 03 CTS, no Temp gauge, 04-07 has temp gauge.

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Fair review. Its no best in class world beater but people will buy it because it looks good and is decently priced. XR buyers will have to buy winter rims/tires if they live where it snows apparently.

1 cupholder/no armrest would be a pain in the ass.

I would like to know how it drives compared to the Mazda 3 and 2008 American Focus.

Edited by frogger
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FOG

I think the average buyer does care about a temp gauge. Take a look at the 03 CTS, no Temp gauge, 04-07 has temp gauge.

correlation is not causation.

The temp gauge came along with a redesign of the instrument pod that was more about removing the analog clock than adding the temp gauge.

I really don't know why anyone really needs anything more than an "overheat" warning light.

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correlation is not causation.

The temp gauge came along with a redesign of the instrument pod that was more about removing the analog clock than adding the temp gauge.

I really don't know why anyone really needs anything more than an "overheat" warning light.

Much easier to identify something like thermostat issues earlier with a gauge.
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this car is exciting! maybe on my short list of next cars, as long as it can outdo the A3 in other departments besides a huge and welcome price advantage, and on looks cause I'm sold on both there [yes I'm sick of the Civic already, it's not me :(...........]

before anybody wets thier pants about the "Ion is the worst car" line... notice the direct juxtaposition to Astra is a terrific car, we love it. It's done for effect, comic effect.

The astra is awesome. sad that the others aren't joining it though. it would be nice if GM took the money saved from the retirees and invested some of it into CARS. the more Saturn keeps knocking at the door with great product the better they are. cool cars like this twintop and meriva, zafira have a real place in the American market, as well as in GM's lineup.

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What a line of :bs:

Sure, the Ion isn't a great car but talk about being mellow dramatic.

Yeah I found that to be a load of crap. Sure the Ion is very bad bad...but I'd take it over the POS Echo any day. Let's not forget those old Hyundais or Kias either.

It's a frikkin' hatch, not a minivan... At most, 2, maybe 3 people will be in there at once.

One cupholder sucks and I find it to be a valid complaint. I love thatthe Cobalt has 4 cupholders...and I make plenty good use of them.

Don't hand me that sh*t.. Honda makes it a TRADEMARK to sell cars with missing center and passenger armrests.

That's no excus to to have a center arm rest. Is one at least avaiable? If not than that is retarded...I hate not having one.

Like the average buyer is going to give a crap...

Perhaps not but it's still nice...does it have an Info center that displays the temp like the Conalt? If so than that's okay...although I still like having an actual gauge.

And I repeat; like the average buyer is going to give a crap...

True

I can only think of one place in america where one should be doing 80mph anyway. Otherwise, it's endangering the well being of others around them (Yep, I can spin bullsh*t too)

Either way, the car isn't going to be pulling these RPMs enough for the buyer to care.

Something is not right with the gearing if it's doing 4,000 rpm at 80...the Cobalt and my car are closer to 3,000 with their 4-speed automatics

Obligatory import mined media quote number 1 "It's good, but not quite good enough."

Well it is less advanced than the Cobalt right?

That seems to be the story for all of the excellent and BETTER ALL AROUND than any other automaker, vehciles that GM is putting out lately. Even the CTS gets this pre-determined and well rehearsed conclusion.

Technically they gave the CTS an outstanding review (full test)...the CTS makes no compromises while the Atra does...and some of them it shouldn't need to. I love it though, and I'd take the 3 door almost over any compact. :thumbsup:

I agree with Oldsmoboi that they should bring the twin top over here...I think it's the best looking small hardtop convertible...much better than the oddly proportioned Focus for example.

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On the contrary. I care very much to have a temperature gauge (or at least a digital readout), center armrest, and more than one cupholder. This isn't because blankity-blank has it, rather its because GM should have it.

When I get into an Asian car, I expect to be disappointed with the feature content, things like flimsy sunvisors with only one shade, big goofy LCD screens that do nothing, manual headlamps, non-auto-locking doors and the like. I expect those little features that make car ownership enjoyable and I'd expect nothing less from General Motors, which has traditionally brought me all those little features.

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FOG

I think the average buyer does care about a temp gauge. Take a look at the 03 CTS, no Temp gauge, 04-07 has temp gauge.

The same person who buys a CTS is not the same person who buys an Astra. I am sure it has an idiot light. The Astra is a temporary fix until the next Astra shows up, so this car fills the bill quite nicely for 2-3 years until the new one is released.

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Well, the Astra has been outselling the Mk. V Golf (Rabbit to us North Americans) recently, and is a solid class entry. For the OPC/VXR versions, Top Gear says it will worry any hot hatch in every area.

The Astra is a winner, it's just unfortunate that we get neither the super-frugal diesels nor the fast Turbo 4's. However, that's for the next cycle.

And, with the next generation, I expect the sedan, TwinTop, and yes, even the wagon to be available because isn't the Aura supposed to be available as a wagon in NG (EpsII)?

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Well, the Astra has been outselling the Mk. V Golf (Rabbit to us North Americans) recently, and is a solid class entry. For the OPC/VXR versions, Top Gear says it will worry any hot hatch in every area.

The Astra is a winner, it's just unfortunate that we get neither the super-frugal diesels nor the fast Turbo 4's. However, that's for the next cycle.

And, with the next generation, I expect the sedan, TwinTop, and yes, even the wagon to be available because isn't the Aura supposed to be available as a wagon in NG (EpsII)?

They canceled the plans to import the Vectra wagon for Saturn.

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Much easier to identify something like thermostat issues earlier with a gauge.

For real. I'll never know how the Cutlass is temperature wise until its hot enough to switch the light on. What about before then? How can I tell if its running hot before its too late? In the 23 year old Cutlass, it's fine, but every new car should have one. There's no reason not to. It's incompetence.

Otherwise, it's a good review. I can't wait to see one in person.

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I would definitely prefer to have a temperature gauge as well.

However, the majority of the buying public (Not enthusiasts or car people like us) really isn't going to be that concerned about having an idiot light as opposed to a gauge.

I would seriously consider the 3 door XR to replace my Focus were I in the market. Wonder if we can order the go-fast parts from europe somehow? :scratchchin:

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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So is this car Civic/Cobalt Coupe sized or is it a sub compact? Because the way they're comparing it to the Versa makes it seem like it is a sub compact. But the starting price and the last paragraph makes it seem like it's a compact: "2008 Saturn Astra is a real alternative to the popular Honda Civic, Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and VW Rabbit".

If it's a real alternative to those cars, why not compare the engine to the 1.8L Civic engine for example?

The Versa comparison is made because, with the demise of the Focus hatch (which was smaller) it's one of the few compact hatchbacks on the market (along with the Rabbit), and because it too is available with a 1.8 L engine.
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The Versa comparison is made because, with the demise of the Focus hatch (which was smaller) it's one of the few compact hatchbacks on the market (along with the Rabbit), and because it too is available with a 1.8 L engine.

But the Versa is priced considerably lower. It's like comparing a 5.3L engine in a Impala to a 5.3L engine in a Ferrari. You can't bash the Impala's for being weaker. The Versa is much cheaper, and competes with vehicles that have lesser horsepower. They should be comparing the Astra 3-door to the Civic Coupe, which is very similar in price, size, and has a 1.8L engine.

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But the Versa is priced considerably lower. It's like comparing a 5.3L engine in a Impala to a 5.3L engine in a Ferrari. You can't bash the Impala's for being weaker. The Versa is much cheaper, and competes with vehicles that have lesser horsepower. They should be comparing the Astra 3-door to the Civic Coupe, which is very similar in price, size, and has a 1.8L engine.

The real reason for that is Edmunds sucks in researching, comparing and analyzing vehicles. Many a times edmunds lacks integrity for their data and results. They make statements that are not supported by evidences. It is probably the scum of auto journalists along with the Consumer Reports but sadly have too much clout among the consumers.

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If you view the Saturn Astra as a stop gap measure to enable Saturn to dump the hopeless Ion from the lineup, then this is a wise decision. I don't quite understand offering a car in the U.S. with only one cupholder, no center armrest, and no temperature gauge (especially in what Saturn seems to want to market as an upscale "sportier" compact), but I'm sure these shortcomings are far better than continuing to offer the Ion. The Ion is truly out of step with the rest of Saturn's lineup and does nothing to convey Saturn's new brand image.

I would love to see the next generation Astra be offered in sedan, wagon, and coupe-cabrio configurations, in addition to the three and five door hatchbacks. This would give Saturn a chance to acquire more market share (hatchbacks, sedans, and wagons) and offer something with a more upscale aura (coupe-cabrio). Let's hope that the current stop gap Astra's shortcomings (cupholder, armrest, temp gauge) are addressed when the next generation hits the U.S. market.

Edited by cire
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