So, what is it?
First you saw it. Then you didn’t. Now you see it again. The Holden Astra nameplate has been bumping around the Holden universe for more than 30 years, but most recently sat alongside the Opel badge, disappearing without trace after the German GM brand’s spectacular failure to launch here in 2012/13. Now it’s back, filling a premium hot hatch niche in the Holden range.
Why should I care?
Holden believes the Astra’s reintroduction is critical in its transition to a more “stylish and sophisticated” brand. And it’s the first of no less than 25 major vehicle launches for Holden over the next five years, drawing on current and future General Motors product from Europe, Asia and North America.
Leveraging its larger overall sales volume, Holden has managed to deliver price reductions of $2,000 on the base 1.6-litre turbo four cylinder Holden Astra GTC (at $26,990), and a full five grand off the GTC Sport; now weighing in at $29,990 (compared to the 2013 Opel price of $34,990).
Individual options and package offers have been simplified, and the GTC now delivers bigger bang for the bucks.
What’s new about it?
Most notable changes are a Holden badge on the grille, and another similar one on the rear hatch door. But aside from that the car is powered by the latest direct-injection version of the 1.6 turbo engine.
That’s all fine, what’s it like to drive fast?
A launch drive around the Gold Coast hinterland offered seat time in the GTC and GTC Sport, across six-speed manual and six speed auto variants. Sadly, the latter suffers a 22kW/20Nm drop to 125kW/260Nm.
The auto GTC benefits from a broad spread of torque, a flat maximum band running from 1650-4500rpm, with peak power taking over at 4750 and remaining on stream right up to 6000rpm. But while that neat dovetailing might look good on a dyno sheet, it doesn’t make up for a distinct lack of urgency overall.
The auto cries out for those missing watts and newtons, the car’s sluggish feel magnified by leisurely gear changes and a surprisingly coarse engine note.
Things get more interesting in the GTC Sport manual, the higher spec car waking up thanks to the extra power and torque, and copping a plus one step from 18 to 19 inch alloy rims (running the same 235 width rubber). For those who need to know, the brand and spec changes from Continental ContiSportContact to Bridgestone Potenza S001
Holden claims 0-100km/h in just under eight seconds, which feels about right. Not neck-snapping, but not a dawdle either.
Feel from the electrically-assisted steering is good, the substantially bolstered sports front seats are firm but grippy, and the manual transmission is agreeably positive. A pleasant, but distinctly non-hardcore drive.
And driving home from the city?
Ride comfort is good, and there’s a surprising amount of space in the back. While three adults is a recipe for discomfort, two full-size grown-ups can live back there, with plenty of headroom and marginal legroom. Cargo space is generous for a car of this size.
Anything bad about it?
Interior design conforms to Cool Euro 101, and the quality of fit and finish is well up to scratch (the car’s built in Poland), although the plastics are universally dark, and the centre console is a full-on button-fest.
The multi-function trip computer is a telling sign of this fourth-gen Astra’s age (it was launched globally in 2009), using old-school orange/red LED graphics that are hard to read, and look out of place next to the 7-inch centre-dash screen running the MyLink infotainment system (including digital radio).
The A-pillars are also monstrous; despite inclusion of a small window near their base, they compromise forward vision, to the right particularly. And on the small annoying niggles register, although it wears a thin veneer of padding, the door armrest is as hard as granite.
How much would I have to pay? And is it worth it?
Pricing starts at $26,990 for the GTC manual, with another $2,200 dollars required to get less power and torque as well as an ordinary auto transmission.
Standard spec includes: Hill Start Assist, 18 inch alloy wheels, cloth trimmed sports seats, nav, air-con, front and rear Park Assist, rain sensing wipers, leather steering wheel, multi-function trip info, MyLink Infotainment System with 7 inch colour screen, single CD player with MP3 capability (plus USB and auxiliary input jacks), and Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free phone.
The GTC Sport rises to $29,990 for the manual and $32,190 for the auto, adding 19 inch alloys, LED tail lamps, perforated ‘Mondial’ leather trim, eight-way adjustable driver seat with power lumbar control, heated front seats, alloy faced pedals, dual-zone climate control, leather sports steering wheel, an electric park brake, as well as a body kit comprising deeper front and rear bumpers and fatter sills. As mentioned earlier, solid value.
Would you take the Holden Astra GTC or VW Polo GTI?
A grand dearer than the base car, but VW’s recently upgraded mini-me GTI takes it on performance and dynamics alone.
Click here to find out more about the Holden Astra GTC.