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GMTruckGuy74

Saturn ASTRA Test Drive Event 12/6/2007

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The wife and I attended the Saturn ASTRA Test Drive Event last night (12/6) at the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia, PA. Even though it was cold and we were scheduled for the 6:00 PM time slot, it was a nice event.

Upon registering and signing the official GM waiver & rules, we where taken into the presentation room where there were two 3-door XRs (silver & black), one 5-door XE (white), and one 5-door XR (silver) on display along with a Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Rabbit for the attendees to climb around in and check over. A brief intro and video on the new ASTRA was given by a Saturn official and then we were escorted out to the parking lot for the driving portion. Another quick review of the road rules, what we could and couldn't do to the cars, and and overview of the models to drive, we were let loose.

A silver 3-door XR 5-speed manual, a white 5-door XE automatic, and a red 5-door XR automatic were available to drive. For comparison sakes, a maroon Mazda 3 (auto), a white VW Rabbit 2.5 (auto), and a beige Honda Civic sedan were available to drive back-to-back with the ASTRAs. Being that I can't drive manual, I stuck to the 5-doors, but those that were driving the 3-door seemed to be enjoying it around the course. I will say that I was very happy with the ASTRA and the way it performed on the course and that the VW Rabbit was very close to it in terms of ride & handling. The Mazda wasn't nearly as enjoyable and the Civic was okay. We each drove all of the cars at least once, and I did take the red XR out one additional time. One big disappoint is that you can't just get into the ASTRA and figure out the radio. It's a complicated system and will be sure to disappoint many potential customers. The HVAC controls were a little confusing too, but the buttons were small and made using the controls with gloves on difficult. The central locking system is a great feature, however try finding the button in the dark (if you don't know it's location before driving the car!). Being that it was 6:30 and it was about 28 degrees, some of the parking lot was slick due to the prevous day's snowstorm (parking lot was on a hill and some melt-off was being to refreeze). The wife liked the Honda Civic the best, although I felt the engine made more noise than the Ecotec in the ASTRA and I didn't like the road vibrations felt in the steering wheel.

Once back inside, we were treated to food (appetizers, fruit, vegetables, crackers and cheese) and drinks (soda, bottled water, coffee & tea). After the light snack we went back into the presentation room and examined all aspects of the ASTRAs on display, from trunk space to rear seat comfort to playing with all the gadgets and gizmos on the dash. I was impressed with the fit and finish of these cars, as they held up pretty good for being on a 7-month tour. I was impressed with the glove box door, as it has a clip for a pen and a coing holder that holds onto your coins. The downside for me is a lack of an armrest in the middle console area and no cupholders (one could argue that the cup indent on the inside of the glovebox door serves this purpose, but it's uncomfortable for the front seat passenger to have the low hanging door on your legs). For a small car, I could see being comfortable driving one to and from work each day (though I prefer and hope to get a full-size truck for those duties).

Upon leaving you were asked to complete a survey rating your experience, image of Saturn, and opinion of the ASTRA. The wife and I completed ours separately, but rated the ASTRA the same (on a scale of 1 to 5): PERFORMANCE = 5; EXTERIOR STYLING = 4; INTERIOR STYLING =3; SAFETY FEATURES = 5; OVERALL = 4. A nice smoke-colored ASTRA water bottle and a brochure fold-out were given as gifts.

All in all, it was a nice event and I appreciated the opportunity to test drive the ASTRA sales staff-free. Everyone there were pleasant, gracious, and helpful. The wife said if it had a better styled interior, she would consider it for her daily driver. As such, she rated the Honda Civic the best car there, and it's safe to say that she's basing that decision purely on looks (styling).

PROS

- Product displays and personnel were informative

- Opportunity to drive competitors cars

- Food was fresh and good!

- Hassle-free test drives of a new, unreleased car without any supervision (no officials riding with you)

- ASTRAs ranged from base models (XE) to standard and fully-equipped models (XR)

- Standard and safety features are very good

CONS

- The ASTRAs dated interior is a turnoff among the competition

- Confusing to use radio and HVAC system

- The central locking system button is located on the dash, and unless you know this prior to your test drive, you'd be fumbling around looking for it on the door

- Lack of a middle console or armrest

- Cupholders missing for the front seat passengers (glovebox door cup indent isn't a great idea)

Overall, I can see the ASTRA being a successful car for Saturn, as long as you don't get hung-up on the interior styling. If you like spirited driving and some exterior design flash, then the ASTRA should be included on your test-drive list.

(NOTE: I took some pictures from the inside but haven't had a chance to download them yet. I'll try to do it ASAP this weekend if they come out good <bad interior lighting>)

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Thanks for the link to the pictures. Those people must have been there around the same time I was (however, they don't look familiar). I didn't take any pictures outside figuring that they wouldn't come out too good. I have shots of the ASTRAs inside the presentation room. For interior, trunk, & engine shots, see that link (mine are all exterior shots).

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BMW has a central locking button on the dash or center console as well. It seems more secure than having a button on the door if somebody wants to take a coathanger and break into your car. The cars look good, thanks for posting, fellas. Edited by ocnblu
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Thanks for your comments.

Chris

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I'm seriously thinking about an Astra as my first new car when I'm done college next year, but as much as I love it what were they thinking not having cupholders and an armrest?

I know its European and European cars don't have a lot of the convinience features of American cars, but I mean come on I'm not asking for 8 big gulp sized cupholders and a storage bin that will fit a laptop... just at least ONE front cupholder and a simple armrest. Even the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio offer that.

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