This review was originally published in MOTOR’s July 2006 issue
There was no arguing that the 147kW Astra Turbo offered plenty of bang for 37,000 bucks, but some readers were incredulous that the little Holden hatch could dust up such big names as Porsche’s Boxster S, BMW’s M3, Subaru’s Impreza STi and HSV’s 300kW GTS Coupe. But the SRi wrote its name into the pages of MOTOR history with a combo of easy-to-use performance, high equipment levels and a genuine fun factor at a great price – exactly what the BFYB award is about.
And now the new SRi Turbo is here boasting the same boosted 147kW 2.0-litre four-banger (although torque is up 12Nm to 262Nm at 4200rpm), but the bucks factor has dropped $2000 to just $34,990. This sticker price undercuts pretty much every other hot hatch on the market, including VW’s $40k Golf GTI and Ford’s new Focus XR5.
Aside from the price cut, the swoopy new Astra hatch gets a six-speed gearbox to replace the old five-cog jobbie. Combine the short-stacked ratios with a 3.94:1 final drive and the Astra makes the best of its power and torque. But the 1401kg weighbridge ticket does blunt acceleration lower in the rev range.
The six-speeder’s shift action isn’t class leading (that’d be the Golf) but it’s still positive and quickish, although the clutch is a bit dead in the first part of its travel, making smooth take-offs a bit of a challenge until you’ve done a few familarisation kays.
For fans of automotive acronyms the new SRi also gets IDS Plus and CDC. Huh? That’d be Interactive Driving System and Continuous Damping Control, which adapt the suspension tune to the road surface and driving style.
There’s also a Sports button on the dash facia to firm up the suspension manually, and sharpen both steering and throttle response. Keep the button down for about five seconds and you’ll be flying solo, with no traction control or ESP help.
With the help on or off there’s fun to be had. Grip from the Dunlop 225/40 R18 rubber is high and the chassis responds eagerly to the steering. Again the tiller’s not as lively as a Clio or Golf but in isolation the Astra will entertain on road or track.
Torque steer only makes itself felt during hard acceleration in first or second gear, and the brakes (308mm ventilated fronts, 264mm solid rears) held up well to some hard laps of Sydney’s Oran Park.
In the hands of Peter Bizley from Holden’s Performance Driving Centre, the SRi managed a very respectable 55.4 seconds. For reference, our own Dean Evans lapped the same circuit in a 190kW, all-wheel drive Mazda6 MPS in a high 52.
Available in metallic black, silver or solid white, the SRi comes standard with leather trim including heated front seats, 18-inch alloys and six airbags. Aside from the $360 for metallic paint, about the only other option is rear parking sensors.
Like the previous SRi the new model won’t assault your senses like a Renault Sport Clio or even a Golf GTI, but at a tenner less than $35k it’s hard to beat for Bang For Your Bucks. It’s a more grown-up hot hatch than the Frenchie and while it’s not as special and together as the Golf, it’s a damn sight cheaper.
Of course, all of this bodes well for the 176kW, 320Nm, HSV VXR version to be released in a few months.
No school like old school on classic MOTOR
2006 Holden Astra SRi Turbo
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder
Drive: front wheel