The Holden Astra is one of the country’s most popular compact cars, manufactured by the Australian subsidiary of General Motors (GM). First marketed in 1984, the Astra has been a firm favourite amongst city runabouts for nearly three decades, undergoing several reincarnations in the process.
Holden ceased production of the Astra in 2009, replacing it with the Cruze. Another GM subsidiary, Opel, reintroduced an Astra model to the market in 2012, increasing the manufacturer’s inter-brand competition within the compact car market.
The original Holden Astra was brought to market with a locally manufactured, Nissan-designed, 1.5-litre, 70-hp engine with a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearbox. Upgrades and model changes have seen the Astra last a total of five generations under the Holden badge in a number of guises. Models range from two-door coupé convertible and three- and five-door hatchback versions to traditional sedan and five-door station wagon.
Early models were found to be below average for safety, however enhancements and developments saw this improve, with the fourth- and fifth-generation models ranking above average and competing favourably with the competition.
Current competitors to the Astra include the Citroen C3 and C4 models, the Dodge Caliber, and the Fiat Punto.
Upgrades took place in 1986 to meet unleaded fuel requirements, delivering a 1.6-litre, 80-hp engine – an improvement on the original 1.5-litre, 70-hp model. Further modifications and developments over nearly three decades saw the Astra adopt a number of guises across a wide performance range. It is this continued evolution and adaptation to the market that is largely responsible for the Astra holding its position at the front of a competitive compact-car field for so long.
The popular second-generation entry-level Astra, the SL, was available only as a five-door hatchback with five-speed manual transmission, 1.6-litre engine, and disc/drum brake system, while the SLX and SLE featured a pokier 1.8-litre engine, choice of manual or automatic transmission, and a variety of trim options.
A TR range followed in 1996, with many models imported from the UK’s Ellesmore Port manufacturing plant. In 1998 the fourth generation Holden Astra was born, manufactured in Belgium and known as the TS. This generation features a wider range of models, including a sedan, hatchback, and convertible, with the option of a 2.0-litre, 197-hp turbo engine in the top-of-the-range SRi model, or classic 1.8-litre 16-valve CD City model.
The fifth-generation AH series features models from 2004 – 2009, which are widely available on the resale market. These include two 1.9-litre CDTi turbodiesel hatchbacks – a 150-hp engine, six-speed manual gearbox model, and a 118-hp engine, six-speed automatic version. 2007 saw the introduction of a 2.2-litre petrol engine with a choice of six-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox in addition to the standard 1.8-litre models.
The Holden Astra stands out in the market for its better-than-average fuel economy, offering up to 7.8lt/100km, and remains a popular choice within the used-car market.
There are plenty of fourth- and fifth-generation Astras, dating from 1998 – 2009, available on the market today.
The SRi is the top-of-the-range model. Based on the CD variant, the earlier SRi comes in three-door hatchback format only, with 15-inch alloy wheels, a CD player, ABS brakes, traction control, air conditioning, electronic mirrors, power windows, front fog lamps, sports trim, and a 1.8-litre, 16-valve engine. Optional extras include 16-inch alloys, cruise control, and rear spoiler for a sleeker, sportier feel. Post-2005 SRIs feature 17-inch alloys, leather seats, and climate control.
Other fourth generation models include the City, the most basic TS model with six-speaker audio system, dual airbags, adjustable headlamps, disc brake system, triple information display, and 1.8-litre engine; a SXi model, based on the City with a coupe body style and range of optional extras; the CD, an enhanced City model with alloy wheels, ABS brakes, and a number of optional extras; and the CDX, with chrome trim to the dash, side airbags, leather upholstery, and a smart LCD display.
Fifth-generation enhancements include cruise control, trip computer, six-stack CD player, and 16-inch alloys to the CDX model; a CDXi version with curtain airbags, climate control, and eight-way power-adjustable seats at the front; and a CDTi diesel option. The SRi remains the highest-spec model, along with the SRi Turbo for added poke and sportiness. Various special editions include the Olympic, Equipe, and 60th Anniversary model.
The Holden Astra competes in a marketplace that is crowded with compact runabouts, but it has successfully held its own. Fuel consumption is better than average, safety features have increased consistently since the Astra was first introduced into the market, and purchase price is largely on a par with the competition.
With so many variants, the Astra has plenty of pretenders to its throne, including the Citroen C3 and C4 models, the Dodge Caliber and the Fiat Punto. The sportier soft-top version holds the VW Eos and the Renault Megane CC as its closest competition, while the key diesel competition comes from the Citroens, VW's Golf and Polo, and the Peugeot 307 XS HDi.