Price & Equipment - Winner: Holden Astra
In ultimate RS-V spec the Astra has an equipment edge over the Volkswagen Golf. They’re both decently loaded, as you’d expect for a circa-$35K mainstream small car, but the Holden goes that bit further, offering the likes of an 8.0-inch multimedia interface (the Golf’s is 6.5-inch), voice activation, sat-nav with live traffic updates, and a colour digital display in the instrument cluster.
The Golf 110TSI Highline has one more airbag than its rival (a driver’s knee unit) but otherwise trails in terms of standard safety. An autonomous emergency braking system and a blind-spot monitor – both standard in the Holden – come as part of a driver assistance package. But compared with lesser Golfs you do get keyless entry/start and front fog lights with a static cornering function.
Interior & Versatility - Winner: Draw
The Holden appears more fashionable inside, with its piano black and faux brushed aluminium trim, and feels (and is) roomier. The Astra’s wheelbase is 42mm longer which adds to legroom in the back, where there’s relative sprawling space. It’s 37mm longer overall, yet the cargo space behind the 60/40 seatbacks is slightly smaller at 360 litres.
You get leather appointed seats in both; ‘comfort sports’ fronts replace the normal ‘comfort’ units in the Highline, and given the better lateral support without compromising comfort, the naming is apt. A bit more boot here, at 380 litres, and LED ambient cabin lighting does a good job lifting the conservative Germanic mood at night.
Performance & Economy - Winner: Holden Astra
Smooth, eager Astra is the, ahem, star performer in this company. RS and RS-V versions of the Holden step up to a healthy (almost GTI-rivalling) direct-injected turbo 1.6 with 147kW at 5500rpm and 280Nm, or 300Nm on overboost across a broad plateau. The Golf (like the base Astra) sticks with a more modest 1.4 turbo.
Flipside of performance disparity is that the Golf’s 1395cc mill uses less fuel. The economy split – 6.1L/100km Astra; 5.4L/100km Golf (both use 95 RON) – is likely to be reflected in real-world city and country driving. Volkswagen’s seven-speed dual-clutch is snappier on the move but can be jerkier than Holden’s regular six-speed auto at low speed.
Ride & Refinement - Winner: Volkswagen Golf
The Astra does a good job of delivering an absorbent ride considering its taut tune and the fact it rolls on 18-inch wheels wearing 225/40s. Sharp-edged urban bumps can intrude – though road noise rarely does – but the payoff comes at higher speed over undulations, which the Holden takes authoritatively in its travel.
There’s no question the more supple, multi-link rear suspended Golf on 225/45R17s is the cushier car to ride in. In a reversal of the scenario in the Astra, the Golf is unruffled by urban nasties which makes it a superior city tool, though it can take an extra half stroke of suspension travel to recover over country lumps.
Steering & Handling - Winner: Holden Astra
The Astra’s light, natural electro-mechanical power steering makes it wieldy and great fun on a flowing road, if not Ford Focus-finessed in the tighter stuff. The firm suspension tune and big, grippy tyres – with the zesty donk and hands-free gearbox – combine in a warm-to-hot hatchback that’s deceptively rapid.
The sweetly adjustable Golf brings a more substantial steering weight but not a lot more feel. Ever a satisfyingly well-balanced thing, the little bit the Golf Highline gives up in body control it regains by feeling pliant and planted when you’re having a go on a rewarding, but bumpy, piece of backroad.
Verdict - Winner: Holden Astra
The Astra delivers value from the outset by being a bit cheaper and noticeably better equipped, on both the safety and convenience/luxury fronts. It feels more spacious and does in fact have more room inside, front and back. Its cabin also benefits from being the newer design. The Astra is quicker, without being unduly thirstier, and handles with a sportier slant.
The Golf, meanwhile, is more flexible than fast, and favours ride comfort over carving, but certainly is not without sporting appeal. The Golf needs a service every 12 months, the Holden a more frequent (and less convenient) nine months. The Golf, as a model line, has been hard to topple in recent years. But in this spec, the Astra shoots to the top of the class.