IT’S been a long time in the Car of the Year wilderness for imported Holdens. Not since 2001 has a Holden other than Commodore been remotely close to challenging for a finals berth.
Enter the BK Astra, the fifth generation of the Opel-sourced small car to be sold here and a vehicle tasked with replacing the Australian-made Cruze that has enjoyed big sales but not necessarily big accolades. While Astra coupes have been available more recently, this is the first five-door Astra to wear a Holden lion since 2009.
To say the new Holden Astra arrives with big expectations is underselling it. Holden is desperate to move on from the last decade of underwhelming Korean imports and instead look to a new breed of cars closer to the values the brand once stood for.
Key to Astra’s artillery is its new D2XX platform that is lighter (by up to 140kg) and stiffer than the one it replaces. In a Volkswagen-esque move, the engine line-up is all-turbo, starting with a 1.4-litre in the R and rounding out with a rousing 1.6 in RS and RS-V.
It was those 1.6s that immediately gained COTY attention. Offering 147kW from as little as $26,490 represents near-hot-hatch performance for $10K less than punters are used to paying. Throw in a slick six-speed manual ’box and few cars will deliver as much driver satisfaction for the money.
The RS-V ups that with 18-inch tyres and a raft of available features that reinforce its upmarket aspirations. As with the RS, it gets forward collision alert, auto emergency braking, lane-keep assist and blind-spot warning.
That all Astras manage that fun factor while still delivering on drivetrain refinement – including an excellent stop-start system and a beautifully calibrated ESC system – and fuel efficiency (as little as 5.8L/100km) is testament to the core engineering beneath.