2008 Saturn Astra 5-door XR Review


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2008 Saturn Astra XR 5 Door

  • SEE ALSO: Saturn Specs, Pics and Prices - Saturn Buyers Guide
  • THE AUTO PAGE
    by
    JOHN HEILIG

    SPECIFICATIONS
    Model: 2008 Saturn Astra 5-door XR
    Engine: 1.8-liter DOHC 4
    Horsepower/Torque: 138 hp A 6300/126 lb.-ft. @ 3800 rpm
    Transmission: 4-speed automatic
    Wheelbase: 102.9 in.
    Length x Width x Height: 171.1 x 69.0 x 55.2 in.
    Tires: P225/45R17
    Cargo volume: 12.2/44.8 cu. ft. (rear seat backs up/down)
    Economy: 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/23.8 mpg test
    Fuel capacity: 12.2 gal.
    Price: $20,960 (includes $620 destination charge and $3,415 in options)

    The Bottom Line – Once again, Saturn has delivered a nice compact. This time, the Astra is a hatchback (a 4-door is also available), with all the virtues of a hatchback and good styling. If the hatchback is the new “in” vehicle, the Astra is a serious contender.

    Saturn has always been the GM division that’s different. From the beginning, it disassociated itself from GM and went through its early life as almost a separate company. You can do that with GM behind you.

    Now, however, the division is a true GM division with all the good and bad that entails. Saturn has developed its own cars on non-common GM platforms. It has shared platforms for some vehicles. And it the case of the Astra, it has “raided” GM of Europe for its vehicles.

    The Astra, which replaces the Ion in Saturn’s lineup, is built in Antwerp, Belgium. The car that has sprouted out of this marriage of sorts is a worthy competitor in the newly burgeoning hatchback segment. It is a vehicle that can compete on equal terms with the VW Rabbit, Mazda3 and Honda Civic.

    You recognize its European heritage with the “switchblade” key that looks as if it came form the Audi/VW parts bin. That isn’t a bad thing; I happen to like the “switchblade.” Most of the parts came from Germany, with the engine from Hungary and the transmission from Japan. Now there’s a world car for you.

    My only complaint with the Astra, and it’s the only complaint, is that on winding roads on hills, the automatic transmission sometimes doesn’t downshift fast enough for the best performance. Pair the 1.8-liter inline four with a more practical manual transmission and you’ll get the kind of performance you’d expect.

    The only engine available with the Astra is the 1.8-liter four, which is rated at 138 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque. For most of the circumstance sin our test, this was an excellent engine. The only exception was with the uphill tight turns, but I could have shifted the automatic manually to extract a quicker response.

    Handling is excellent. I felt the cornering response was on a par or better than the competition. Over-the-road feel was good, with minimal harshness, despite a relatively short 102-inch wheelbase. The Astra has an independent strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear suspension with four-wheel disc brakes (and ABS) and power steering.

    Styling is very much in the “VW Rabbit” mode, but much rounder. Internal styling is typically Saturn, utilitarian with a bit of style. I liked, for example, the substantial turn and wiper stalks that give a feeling of solidity. They’re similar to those used on the Volvo XC70, for example.

    The Astra has projector beam headlights nestled in plastic-covered nacelles. They consist of three units on each side and they’re very impressive in a small car. It’s what you’d expect in a high-end mid-size for example. Like most projector beams, they worked fine on low and high beam.

    Front seats are comfortable with a decent amount of side support. There’s decent leg room in the rear., too, with the front seats pushed back to decent limits.

    Of course, the biggest virtue of a hatchback is the cargo capacity. With the rear seat backs up, cargo capacity is 12.2 cubic feet. This is good for a car this size and the “trunk” is deep. Fold those rear seatbacks down, though, and cargo capacity increases to a whopping 44.7 cubic feet. We were able to bring back the results of a gigantic Home Depot shopping spree back there.

    Fuel economy was around 24 mpg, about what was predicted. I feel it might have been better with a manual transmission, but even 24 mpg these days isn’t bad.

    2008 The Auto Page Syndicate

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