The UK made Astra Sportwagon joins the Astra sedan, and the Polish-made hatch, in Holden’s new car launch assault.
The new NG Commodore, Acadia SUV, and HSV’s Camaro will round out this year’s cavalcade. Until the NG Commodore is launched, heavy is the head of Astra, as it wears Holden’s passenger car crown alone.
First, a few titbits about Astra: the sedan and wagon are sold as Cruze in other markets, and are different cars to the hatch.
Second: the wagon has only two trim levels, the LS+, and LT whereas the sedan has 4.
Third: the Astra sportwagon LT has almost the same spec as the top spec LTZ sedan cousin.
Confused? Me too.
Obviously, the product department had a particularly big night out before that morning meeting.
In fact, Astra is the collective name given to Holden’s small passenger car range. The Sedan/wagon shares little with the hatch apart from the name and some of the tech. They look quite clearly to be different cars from the outside.
Don’t be fooled by the conservative looks. Sportwagon is full of nifty kit. The front has complex headlights with inbuilt DTRLs (LED lights for daytime use).
There are 17” alloys, and LED rear lights. The rear hatch is electric, and has a kick-to-open/close function. Now I have the hang on if, it is invaluable.
However, the entire wagon section is where the designers went on holiday and left the rest of the committee to finish it off. The back is a bit of a mess, especially when viewed from the side.
The roof swoops down forming the rear pillar. The waist curves up to meet it, intersecting in a rather graceless car-crash of lines, trim, angles, and curves. It is 50 shades of wrong. Ignoring that for a moment, the tail taillights look too big for the car.
The whole thing looks like it is from the parts bin.
Now to happier matters: The smart entry/start system allows the driver to leave the keys secreted about their person. You can remotely open the windows, and start the car if you want to cool it down. Otherwise, leaving the fob in your pocket is best.
Each door handle has a rather classy looking chrome button which will both lock and unlock the doors if the system senses the key nearby. Opening the rear hatch won’t unlock the doors. That means no miscreants will jump in while you’re loading your boxing-day-specials into the boot.
Best of all, the car has walk-away locking, so after kicking the rear hatch down, just turn on your heel, and listen for the chirp as you walk away.
Holden says the hatch is the sports oriented car, and the sedan and wagon are the “luxury oriented” cars. Although the finishes and fabrics are OK, I wouldn’t call them luxurious.
The top dashboard has lovely soft plastic, with hard, less lovely plastic on the lower section. Holden says this is the section that will get the most wear and tear.
The layout is pleasing, with gentle modern curves, chrome highlights, and classy piano black surrounds. The metalised grey plastic isn’t so nice, and looks tatty with relatively little use. Scratches show up and can’t be removed.
Between the leather covered, heated front seats, there is a console with the gear selector and parking brake sitting behind a row of buttons. The parking sensor is the closest to the driver, and you will reach for it often. But more about that later.
The excellent automated parking system, stop/start, and lane departure switches sit next to the sensor button. Some brands put these functions in infotainment menus, and it drives me potty. Here, they’re easy to use, and more importantly, easy to find.
The centre stack houses auto climate control, and infotainment, in an uncluttered layout which has had some thought put in to it. Like most Holdens, you set Auto Fan Speed to high, medium, or low, in the settings. So, it isn’t actually automatic.
Like the Hatch, the wagon has a slot midway up the console, that holds your phone in landscape mode, which I like a lot. But, apart from the cup holders, there are no other trays. The materials and surfacing have a nice feel and look to it.
There are 12V points front and back, as well as USB points.
The 8” touch screen has decent resolution and is a pleasure to use. MyLink allows you to configure locks, and lights, and to tune your DAB/FM/AM radio. Like all Holdens, Sportwagon has Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
There is inbuilt SatNav just in case you venture out of cell range and can’t use Google Maps.
The drivetrain uses a 110kw/240Nm 1.4 turbo 4 cylinder petrol engine. It uses 91ron fuel, and drives the front wheels via a 6-speed auto. Holden claims 6.1L/100k, but the auto feels a bit dimwitted as it tries to change up as fast as possible for fuel savings.
There is no sports mode.
It often thinks too long about changing down, or lingers too long in a lower gear after you’ve done a quick sprint in traffic. Frankly, a 6-speed auto is a bit last week given the Equinox has a 9 speed in some models. The NG Commodore probably will too.
The steering is responsive, but feels slightly aloof and detached.
Holden says the ride is luxurious. There’s that word again. You’re no doubt expecting to take a paddle to Holden’s bottom, but not a bit of it. The ride is every bit as smooth as claimed.
Not only is the experience pleasant, but I found myself enjoying it. The car went where I pointed it, and the cabin was quiet on most surfaces too. I wafted along quietly, and smoothly, with Vivaldi playing softly in the background.
Most of the time, the auto changes were smooth, even when it got caught out using the wrong cog, and the engine just wanted to sing.
There is a full suite of driver aids too: Stability controls, ABS, forward collision alert with auto emergency braking, active lane departure, hill start assist, following distance indicator, blind spot monitoring, auto wipers, and get this, auto headlights with tunnel detection.
I asked my Holden man about this, but he glazed over, and got all distant when trying to explain the difference between a tunnel darkness, and dusk. Perhaps the response time is different, who knows, or cares?
I feel slightly guilty for having judged Astra Sportwagon so harshly. I thought she looked a little frumpy around the back, so I thought that’s the way it was going to drive.
The car is positively crammed full of tech. In fact, it had far more than I expected. The parking sensors beep constantly, and you find yourself reaching for the off button because it invariably mutes the radio just as the news comes on.
It silences the beeps, but only until the next time it senses an object.
There is currently a drive-away offer for $30,440 for the LT wagon. You get 12 months rego, CTP, and stamp duty, 3 years scheduled servicing, and, $1,000 cashback for the 2017 plated models.
That means you can knock another grand off the price.
Holden has fallen off the radars of buyers, and that’s a shame.
Astra hatch is a cracker, and certainly my choice of the range. However, if pressed for space, I’d happily dash in and twist a dealer’s arm for a wagon.
I’d just park it so I never had to look at the rear end for too long.
I found Astra Sportwagon good to drive, and is easy to use. It has excellent automated parking, active safety, and cabin tech, and is great value. It will give the Europeans a run for their money, and make the Koreans shake in their mastheads.
Holden has no plans to introduce a permanent 7 year warranty.
Price: $30,440 (current drive away offer)
Engine: Euro 5, 1.4L 4cyl turbo petrol
Transmission: 6sp auto
Safety: 5 star