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2008 Saturn Astra XR


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Last Friday I had set up an appointment for my 10,000 mile service update on my Volkswagen Golf (Rabbit)

Having made the appointment at Vordermann Volkswagen in Ft. Wayne, I decided to finally taste one of GM's German delights; the new for the U.S. Saturn (Opel) Astra.

The staff at Saturn of Ft. Wayne were very courteous and personal to work with.

Having explained my situation of why I ended up with a VW instead of the Astra and wanting to finally experience one, they gladly agreed to offer a test drive.

A few short minutes later, a silver Astra XR 3-door pulled up in front of my Volkswagen. Talk about nice looking but subtle versus hot looking and great visual pizazz concerning the Golf against the Astra!

This XR had (naturally) the manual transmission and also the available leather seating, and the optional stereo system.

In no time I was pulling away with the lovely Heather riding shotgun and onto the Avenue of Autos off from Illinois Road in Ft Wayne.

At the turnaround point, I cranked the steering to attain a sense of the steering and general chassis response even though it was at a very sedate 20 mph. The optional 18" wheel and tire setup feels phenomenal with minimal roll, and a very taut; poised sense of control.

The steering is sublime.

Perhaps a wee bit devoid of actual feel against my VW but it feels stiff and meaty. My idea of perfect assist. More effort is needed than in my VW's rack.

As we gently accelerated down the Avenue of Autos to Illinois road, I noticed only two obvious "faults". One regarding the manual gearbox which felt a little more vague and rubbery as opposed to the VW's. However, once one has adapted to the car, this becomes a nonissue.

My biggest issue regarded something sort of silly but important. The rear view mirror quivered at idle and low speeds like a bowl of Jell-O hooked up to a paint mixer. It's rather disconcerting especially in regard to the lack of actual vibration penetrating the Astra's cabin.

Also, the windows are only one touch down, not up and I don't know about pinch protection and wouldn't want to find out the hard way that's for sure!

I loved the fact that the car allows you to have the headlamps "OFF", on AUTO, P, O, and have the foglamps on in any of those settings. The high beams are interesting to turn on and off as there is no real tactile correlation between the lamps changing their setting and any noted "switch" in the signal lever. There is also a small delay as the electronics do their thing to switch between high and low beam. (I observed this in someone's bumper while sitting a one of the looong lights in Ft. Wayne)

For anyone concerned about the 138hp output of the Astra's 1.8L ECOTEC, it is acceptable. Initially, yes, it feels (and I'm sure is) more sluggish than my Golf with its 2.5L I-5 and 170hp but it is *just* enough power to ensure safe acceleration onto interstates (some blonde dingbat was actually holding us up in her HHR during the acceleration up the onramp to I-69 North. The trade off for this reduced power is undoubtedly in improved efficiency, but we really need to see the new 1.6L turbo ECOTEC offered here in the states with the manual. More power, better efficiency. More than likely, those who choose the automatic aren't enthusiasts and won't appreciate this car's level of capability. So it could remain the only transmission with the 1.8 in my eyes.

The Astra's air conditioning also performed admirably in the 90* F heat and humidity without damping the engines fun, revvy nature/

The stereo setup would take some getting used to and would probably be much easier with the owner's manual, but I managed to toggle through several different computer settings and adjusted the stereo's sound and speaker output location with relative ease. It's not that bad, I promise you.

Once underway upon the Interstate, the Astra is more refined and quiet than the Volkswagen Golf with less road and wind noise.

The ride is incredible. Very firm but never harsh or uncomfortable and always willing to play.

Changing lanes is an adventure though if one is not used to the pinched sightlines induced by that rakish greenhouse, but made easier through the one-touch-for-three blinks and auto-returning signal lever.

One item I was not able to figure out while underway was the electronic speed control. I would have to check the owner's manual for that one.

My verdict overall?

This is the BEST small car currently available for the money no question.

All it needs is a bit more power. Bring the CDTi's!

I am very glad that I was able to experience the Astra and its class leading attributes.

It truly is an amazing car and should actually be the hottest seller on the market.

I loved it!

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The Astra has always been a great car and one of the best in class. Glad you enjoyed it!

Oh yes I did very much. It's a shame GM waited so long to bring it. It is so incredible.

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i was blown away as much as you were when i tested the XR 5 door with 17" sport package.

I must say you basically are echoing a lot of the exact things i thought at the time.

And to top it off, i drove a Jetta 5 cylinder manual right after that that same day so i even get an idea of comparing it to the VW.

The VW feels larger and more stout, but not as sprite and energetic as the astra. The Astra really blew me away. handling and ride were perfect and power was fine although I would wish for about 20-40 more hp. I would not let the lack of power deter me from buying the car. the cupholder and armrest debacle do, however.

Why the Astra only comes in 4th in C/D's comparo and loses to a corolla shows nasty journalism. Did they test the manual? I thought the shifter felt fine, actually.

I got to revisit the astra feeling when i tested a 9-3 2.0T manual this weekend. Same type of thing. Light and nimble car, great ride handling and shifter.

If my budget does not allow a larger car, the Astra is almost a no brainer choice to me now, as long as Saturn drops the price a bit.

I would have a hard time deciding between the 3 door and the 5 door with twin panel S/R.

Edmunds users give Astra a 9.5. Might be the highest rating I've seen on that site. Go read the reviews. Civics and Accords and Camrys are not getting that rating even.

Edited by regfootball
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spent some more time in an Astra XR today, about 25 miles or so.

i have to say i like the car, the exceptions being the gearbox is sometimes reluctant. the -deal breaker- (this is a price thing) is the engine. 4000 rpm at 80+ mph where most traffic goes on the freeway is not acceptable. too much booming. its not coarse, but it just is too much. give me the saab 2.0 t motor with a 6 speed manual in this car and i would be giddy.

the astra really needs the extra gear, and also i blew the upshift to 2 3 times, i could not guide the shifter into 2 without really having to think about it.

the rest of the car? Love it. needs an armrest badly :). love the interior, badly! roll stiffness could be better in turns. BRAKES ARE PHENOMENAL.

cupholders? weird radio? i could get used to it.

bottom line, love the packaging and the manners, if its cheap enough its worth putting up with the engine. its a quiet honey in intown driving. get past 60-65 and its not enough. needs more grunt off the line too but for an econocar its ok, so at the right price this car is a wonder.

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I am amzed that GM has a 300+ day supply of these...I've seen exactly ONE Astra and ONE Aura on the road in the last 7-8 weeks.

Saturn is building some amazing cars and no one seems to notice/care.

I would love to have a Saturn Astra as my next car. Alas we just upgraded in the Miata department, replacing the former 91 with a 2002 so I've got to wait until I've got the Miata paid off...

But I really am still thinking of getting an Astra. Amazing, Amazing car, and I love the way they drive.

The Golf/Rabbit/GTI/Jetta et al are amazing cars also, and I'd love to have a TDI Jetta also...or a GTI.

So many cool cars, so little time to enjoy them.

Chris

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Also, the windows are only one touch down, not up and I don't know about pinch protection and wouldn't want to find out the hard way that's for sure!

Our Aura XR... that you saw at Derek's grad party... has one touch up but not down. Not sure why it can't be both ways? Been to the dealer there on Illinois road a couple times with the Aura for some minor bulliten stuff.

I sure like the Astra's exterior but the interior could use some revamping, of course it is a few year old design. It's deffinatly one of the few good looking small cars in this country.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I wonder why the hell this thing isn't catching on here in the states. It is one hell of a sexy car!

Last I knew, dealers had like a 300 day supply...

Chris

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cupholders

sunroof

mp3 player connection / control, none

radio wasnt made idiot proof for AMURCHANS

6 speed trannies

paddle shifters

high MSRP

no bluetooth

only 140 hp / no turbo option

4000 rpm at freeway speeds

no sport seats or 18" wheels for the 5 door

no sedan

18" tires are not all season

only black interior

tell ya what though, i am waiting to see what this months incentives are, at the right price i could totally be ok with one for awhile.

Edited by regfootball
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drove an xr coupe again today. yup, the engine is the dealbreaker. can't take the drone on the highway. too bad, the rest of the car is pretty sweet. especially when you drive the aura 4 cyl right after. i think its really making an impact on the aura sales.

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I thought about this, and most of us that have driven the car and liked it have driven the manual. I bet the auto isn't so slick, and is turning buyers off.

That and the interior is indeed a little dark...but I actually liked that about the car.

Chris

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cupholders

sunroof

mp3 player connection / control, none

radio wasnt made idiot proof for AMURCHANS

6 speed trannies

paddle shifters

high MSRP

no bluetooth

only 140 hp / no turbo option

4000 rpm at freeway speeds

no sport seats or 18" wheels for the 5 door

no sedan

18" tires are not all season

only black interior

tell ya what though, i am waiting to see what this months incentives are, at the right price i could totally be ok with one for awhile.

If they could have built the 3-door, 5-door, and sedan in the U.S. with cupholders, a sunroof, an improved mp3 accessible stereo, a front center armrest, and the Cobalt's engine choices, then I think they would have had quite a successful compact product. The sedan is a slick looking little car (except for the somewhat boxy rear, which still looks much more attractive than the Cobalt sedan's design). Although I generally hate rebadging, I would have given Pontiac the 3-door and 5-door (which would have been much better for them than the rebadged Cobalt clone G5 coupe) and Saturn would have received the sedan. Oh well, another missed opportunitiy for GM.

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If they could have built the 3-door, 5-door, and sedan in the U.S. with cupholders, a sunroof, an improved mp3 accessible stereo, a front center armrest, and the Cobalt's engine choices, then I think they would have had quite a successful compact product. The sedan is a slick looking little car (except for the somewhat boxy rear, which still looks much more attractive than the Cobalt sedan's design). Although I generally hate rebadging, I would have given Pontiac the 3-door and 5-door (which would have been much better for them than the rebadged Cobalt clone G5 coupe) and Saturn would have received the sedan. Oh well, another missed opportunitiy for GM.

bing!

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needs an armrest badly :)

When I took my AURA XE in for service in the middle of July, the ASTRA XE 5-door in the showroom had a dealer-installed armrest. I don't know if this is a Saturn Parts item or an aftermarket item, I didn't feel like talking to my salesman that day so I didn't ask him. It looked like it belonged in there and the installation was very professional. Maybe ask the parts department at your Saturn dealer about this item?

Our Aura XR... that you saw at Derek's grad party... has one touch up but not down. Not sure why it can't be both ways? Been to the dealer there on Illinois road a couple times with the Aura for some minor bulliten stuff.

As I mentioned in the other AURA thread, you need to get this checked out by your dealer (I think you may have a defective switch). My 2007 AURA XE has both AUTO DOWN and AUTO UP and both work perfectly!

I wish more GM vehicles offered the dual auto down and up feature on the power windows :yes:

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When I took my AURA XE in for service in the middle of July, the ASTRA XE 5-door in the showroom had a dealer-installed armrest. I don't know if this is a Saturn Parts item or an aftermarket item, I didn't feel like talking to my salesman that day so I didn't ask him. It looked like it belonged in there and the installation was very professional. Maybe ask the parts department at your Saturn dealer about this item?

Saturn Astra Armrest

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I really like this car, but the lack of some of the minor niceties will turn off a lot of people. This car is supposed to be an upscale compact product, but you still have to buy an aftermarket center armrest (that only offers one cupholder) for it. I also think it looks bad when the Chevrolet Cobalt (which is supposed to be the affordable, mainstream compact for GM) has more powerful engines than this car. I just hope GM gets the details right in the next generation car without diluting the great ride/handling that this generation offers.

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Yup, that's the one I saw. I didn't realize that it had a slide-out cup holder though!

a slide out cupholder that happens to get in the way of your working the stickshift to the manual tranny.

to be honest, the cupholder behind the brake lever does not bother me. having to have an armrest added, does. the lack of audio input is unforgivable in the 7-8 years since the ipod was introduced, but as i mentioned before, the real deal breaker is the high engine rpm and drone at freeway speeds. the lack of attention on the armrest and cupholder is a prime example of GM not caring enough about detail though. Another example of how they will not go the distance, only part way.

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They need to study other premium small cars harder perhaps.

Chris

The basic building blocks seem to be there, it's the weak engine and attention to details (at least those that are valued by the U.S. buying public) that stand in the way of a successful run for this generation of the Astra. It's really sad because this car looks great; it just lacks some of the necessities (again for the U.S. buying public) to justify its price tag.

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IMO you all need to understand the Astra is a car due to be replaced soon. The NG cars have been caught testing already. The current Astra provided GM with another small car entry in NA, one that is actually different from the Cobalt/G5 twins.

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IMO you all need to understand the Astra is a car due to be replaced soon. The NG cars have been caught testing already. The current Astra provided GM with another small car entry in NA, one that is actually different from the Cobalt/G5 twins.

Fair enough.

I had previously called this car a "stopgap" measure because GM basically shipped it in pretty much unmodified from the Euro version to fill in the compact segment void left from the discontinuation of the ION and the cancellation of its proposed U.S. replacement. Since GM was bringing it over relatively unchanged and so close to the end of its model cycle, I considered the move to be a "stopgap" measure. Labeling it as such seemed to upset quite a few people, though.

I can't wait to see the next generation. If GM can build on the strengths of this generation (looks/Euro tuned handling) while addressing some of the issues that will make it more attractive to U.S. buyers, then I think GM will have a genuine compact competitor on its hands (I know I will add it to my future car shopping list). I truly believe GM has the resources and talent to make the next generation a true standout in the compact segment.

Edited by cire
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oh oh. word is the astra 1.8 has timing BELT, and that the thing needs replacement at 75k as well as valve service. can anyone confirm or deny?

bad move for a domestic brand vehicle.

Isn't that pretty common on OHC 4cyl engines? I believe Hyundais, Hondas, etc use timing belts.

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oh oh. word is the astra 1.8 has timing BELT, and that the thing needs replacement at 75k as well as valve service. can anyone confirm or deny?

bad move for a domestic brand vehicle.

Been reading the Astra stuff on Saturnfans... saw the timing belt thing, and 36k spark plug service interval.

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Isn't that pretty common on OHC 4cyl engines? I believe Hyundais, Hondas, etc use timing belts.

very common. One of the main things that kills honda 4cyls is when people don't service their timing belts. It's an interference engine (as are most modern I4's), so if/when the timing belt goes, so does the valvetrain and likely the pistons. Basically new engine time. There's nothing wrong with using a timing belt, per se (they tend to be more quiet than a timing chaing), but proper maintenance is vital to long engine life.

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very common. One of the main things that kills honda 4cyls is when people don't service their timing belts. It's an interference engine (as are most modern I4's), so if/when the timing belt goes, so does the valvetrain and likely the pistons. Basically new engine time. There's nothing wrong with using a timing belt, per se (they tend to be more quiet than a timing chaing), but proper maintenance is vital to long engine life.

IIRC, my Escort diesel had a timing belt...replaced it at about 80k or so.

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And really, when you think about it... 75k per belt - you should be HAPPY to have to replace it more than twice in the car's life. Plus if it's like most maintenance items, it'll actually last well beyond the recommended time frame (not that it's worth it to try the odds with a part like this).

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  • 2 weeks later...

I love the astra, and to be honest it's too bad that hatchbacks aren't well received here in NA, as they are in Europe. I like hatchbacks as a whole. When it comes time, however, to add another car to the stable to relieve the vue of it's daily driving, I'll be getting my hands on a 4 cylinder aura. They are just too nice to pass up. I prefer them over the malibu any day. I'm in love with the euro look and feel in any car, and the Aura has that over the 'Bu.

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Try it with the 5 speed, that helps it A LOT!

Chris

i've only driven it with the 5 speed manual. i haven't driven an automatic.

but oh my, the handling and the brakes.

go take one out and get it up to high speed and then stand on the brakes. GM never does brakes like that on typical cars. WOW.

Edited by regfootball
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Now you know why I like lightweight cars that like to turn and stop. I just LOVE the old V8 RWD stuff also, but for a daily or a car I'm going to use...GTI, Miata, Astra, cobalt SS, MINI, Solstice, etc.

You'll love an Astra....trust me.

Chris

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  • 2 weeks later...

spent noon today on another LOOOONNNNNNGGG astra test drive.

really is a nice drive......sweet. we all know the shortcomings but this car makes up for those in other ways.

the car feels more like a glove than many other compacts. it has the feel of an expensive comfortable leather jacket you always want to wear.

i spent about 15 min playing with the advanced audio. the high res screen is awesome and once you figure out the menus and how to adjust your sound settings you get real sweet sound out of the effer.

sucks that this car is going so underappreciated.

salesguy said one customer went on a long trip with a 5 speed and averaged 42mpg for the trip....admittedly at only about 60mph, but still. he said mileage seems to be exceeding EPA #'s and this corresponds with user reports on edmunds.

Edited by regfootball
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to me its a matter of if i qualify for all the incentives, then i can get it at a price i know it won't cost me anything / much to drive the car for a couple years....then if i need to sell it to upsize again, i won't lose my shorts on trying to sell a car with no value. I can get the car fully loaded and not break the bank.

we got the taurus X and I love it, and even though its not as big as a minivan, it can serve as a family hauler enough I think. I know over time I will lose money on that car, even buying it lightly used. So its not like I need to get another large car, even though it would prove useful to have a second larger vehicle.

if i can get one at the price i want it might make sense....if i can't there are too many other options available at the higher prices that i can justify my money as better spent....price vs. value.

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I think the 17's would be just fine on a five door, the 18's look goooood on the two door/threedoor though.

If you get one get blue or silver, IMHO.

Chris

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'SILVER SAND' is the color i want. It a beige with a silvery undertone to it. Looks awesome vs. the black leather.

I love that color on the Astra. It looks so much better in person than online or in the brochure, and it makes the car stand out more then just plain silver.

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I love that color on the Astra. It looks so much better in person than online or in the brochure, and it makes the car stand out more then just plain silver.

absolutely. the depth and color switching of the silver sand is a knockout.

the aura has some interesting hues now. too bad the astras color palate is so limited.

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the aura has some interesting hues now. too bad the astras color palate is so limited.

I'd want an Astra in the Digitalgrun that used to be offered, or the Peacock. At least one of those colours is still availably (digitalgrun on the TwinTop) and peacock on the others.

I bet you could get it!!

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A question for you guys,

I'm looking at buying an Astra and would plan on keeping it 7-10 years. Do you think parts availability would be o.k? Will there be non-oem parts also? Anyone know how different the next-gen Astra will be. I obviously don't want to get taken to the cleaners with very expensive part costs years from know. If the next-gen is similar, then there shouldn't be a problem long term.

thanks

b

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A question for you guys,

I'm looking at buying an Astra and would plan on keeping it 7-10 years. Do you think parts availability would be o.k? Will there be non-oem parts also? Anyone know how different the next-gen Astra will be. I obviously don't want to get taken to the cleaners with very expensive part costs years from know. If the next-gen is similar, then there shouldn't be a problem long term.

thanks

b

For the most part, there isn't that much info on the next gen out yet. The Saturn version is expected to be built in mexico for the next gen, and we should be getting a sedan version. I want to say the next gen probably won't differ all that much mechanically from the current, but it's really hard to say that for sure, and especially when talking specifically about the Saturn version. GM should make parts readily available for the time frame you're looking at, but it's hard to say how much aftermarket & used availability there will be. You may be stuck paying dealer prices quite often. That may not bother you, though.

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For the most part, there isn't that much info on the next gen out yet. The Saturn version is expected to be built in mexico for the next gen, and we should be getting a sedan version. I want to say the next gen probably won't differ all that much mechanically from the current, but it's really hard to say that for sure, and especially when talking specifically about the Saturn version. GM should make parts readily available for the time frame you're looking at, but it's hard to say how much aftermarket & used availability there will be. You may be stuck paying dealer prices quite often. That may not bother you, though.

Thanks for the response "Purdue Guy"

b

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Wow.

I just equipped an Astra with the options that I would prefer on Vauxhall's site, and Great Britain's currency converted over to U.S. dollars as equipped was close to $40,000.

I'm not sure if the Euro would fare any better, but damn. That was insane.

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I saw them in Europe in their Opel equivalent and liked them. I would have liked to have had one as a rental. It's amazing that cars we consider $ 21.99 a day or $ 149 a week rentals over here are significant upgrades over there that put a dent in one's wallet.

Good review.

Edited by trinacriabob
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I've also got Astra on the brain as well. Though I won't be purchasing one till about 3-4 years from now. Keep us posted if you grab one of the astras. I love those cars.

One of the best things GM has done in a really long time.

Chris

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  • 5 years later...

Not sure-kind of sad to see that this car never really sold well. It is a much better car IMHO than the Hyundai Veloster.

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