There has never been a more important car launched in Australia by Holden than the 2017 Holden Astra.
That’s not just me saying that, Holden agrees that the stakes are high for the brands new small car offering.
Sailing for the first time into uncharted waters for the GM-owned brand, how the company begins life as solely an importer, rather than importer/manufacturer, could determine their long-term fate.
The new Astra not only represents a new era for Holden, it is also the first step towards the company’s goal of being seen as an attractive proposition for perhaps more discerning customers.
Holden told us these people are sophisticated, aspirational and educated.
I’m pleased to say then that Holden has a product in the new Astra that has a good chance of getting these types to consider an offering from the brand, perhaps even for the first time.
Coming with the credibility of the European Car of the Year title behind it the new Holden Astra does most things right and represents reasonable enough value for money.
While engine choice in the base-model is limited to a 1.4 litre turbo-petrol engine that produces 110kW and 240Nm (245Nm manual).
The mid-spec RS and top-spec RS-V are powered exclusively by a 147kW/280Nm (up to 300Nm on overboost) 1.6 litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Six-speed manual and six-speed auto transmissions are available right across the range.
On the road the new Holden Astra does most things with style.
The ride is particularly well sorted with better than expected handling and road-holding.
Holden focused a lot of their attention to the steering feel in the new Astra and the end result is a sharp enough feel and well balanced weight.
The earlier models of the Astra, back when the model was one of Australia’s best-selling cars, often had some issues with their brakes, including short life-spans of pads and rotors.
Holden engineers on hand at the launch said the new model has Australian-specific brakes and the previous issues won’t occur with the new model.
True, and as expected, the larger engine provides more grunt, especially when you have let the revs get down a bit low.
But if your budget only runs to the entry-level model then you won’t feel too short changed, especially if you opt for the manual transmission.
Inside the cabin the new Astra is markedly better than the old one.
The dashboard has a fresh new feel and the infotainment screen integrates nicely into the design.
Holden also specified that the Astra couldn’t come with indicators on the left hand side (Euro standard), the new model thus has the indicator stalk on the right hand side.
One thing that does disappoint about the base-model is the steering wheel - the RS and RS-V have a much nicer leather wheel that looks and feels a whole lot better.
The cabin is not all that dissimilar to the Cruze, look and feel through the door trims and seats is very familiar.
One area of design that I think the Astra could have benefited from some more fine-tuning is the climate controls.
While 100% better than the ridiculously complicated panel in the old model, I felt the buttons here in the new model were still a bit crowded in and small.
Speaking of the seats, I like the sizable adjustment knobs, overall though I felt the model was let down a little due to the firmness of the seats, especially in the back.
Heated seats also only come into play in the top-spec Astra RS-V.
Speaking of the rear, there are no air-conditioning vents back there (even in the top-spec model) and that is a disappointment (especially for Australia’s climate).
While you could say that some of the plastics used in the Astra are only passable and perhaps not as nice to the touch as what you might find in those more fancied rivals.
On a more positive note, the cabin was free of any creaks or rattles and the Astra was also a surprisingly quiet ride on the inside.
The new 2017 Holden Astra enjoys a decent-sized boot.
There’s also the reassurance of a five-star ANCAP safety rating on the RS and RS-V model grades, entry-level buyers can get the same level of safety reassurance if they tick the box for an optional $1,000 driver assist pack.
Summing it up, the new Holden Astra is well placed to take over from the Holden Cruze and is certainly a much more refined offering.
I have no doubt that the new Astra will lift Holden’s market share in the competitive small car segment, whether it is better than the Mazda or the Volkswagen will ultimately be determined by the market.
I will say though that you should certainly have the new Holden Astra on your test-drive list if you’re shopping for a new small car in 2017.
NUTS and BOLTS - 2017 Holden Astra
Engine: 110kW/240Nm (245Nm manual) 1.4 litre turbo-petrol or 147kW/280Nm (up to 300Nm on overboost) 1.6 litre turbo-petrol.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto (all model grades)
Safety: Five star (RS and RS-V)
Pricing: Astra R from $21,990, RS from $26,490, RS-V from $33,190