While the Holden Nova was only produced between 1989 and 1996, there are still great numbers of them on the road today. The result of collaboration between Toyota Motor Company and Holden Australia, the Nova was essentially a rebadged Toyota Corolla or Sprinter. Though these other models came in sedan, hatchback, and wagon body styles, the Nova was never released with a wagon body. Before getting the Holden Nova badge though, some minor cosmetic changes were necessary. Under the bonnet, the Nova is all legendary Toyota quality, including long-lived engines and transmissions.
Even though the Nova was consistently outsold by Corolla, also being built in Australia at the time, there is still good reason to keep an eye out for a used Nova in respectable condition. Powered by the same Toyota engines and transmissions, we still find Nova on the roads today, some with well over 300,000 km, and the clock still ticking. We've seen Nova with 500,000 km and not a puff of smoke or a rattle to be heard anywhere. Of course, regular maintenance is required, but we'd be loathe to take a Chrysler with 100,000 km over a Nova with 300,000 km or more.
The Holden Nova, while cheaper than its sister Corolla, drives just as quiet and feels solid, more so than other small cars in its class. Probably the best trait, aside from extreme longevity, is its fuel economy. While the 5-speed automatic transmission shifts well enough for acceleration, overdrive gives this car an edge over other automatics in its class, and the 4-speed manual is much smoother than most. Even though the Nova is edging on vintage and blends well into the crowd, it makes for excellent transportation, especially for those on a budget.
In 1989, Novas were offered with 1.4L 60kW i4 and 1.6L i4 67kW engines. Both were carburettor engines until 1991, when the 1.6L changed over to fuel injection and increased in power to 75kW. The 1.6L carb version averaged 7.5L/100km, but once it was switched over to fuel injection, it jumped up a hair to 7.9L/100km. Still, both 1.6L engines are good for low-end torque and acceleration, and when combined with a good set of transmission gears, easily reach cruising speed for best fuel economy.
In 1992, a 1.8L i4 fuel-injected engine was introduced on the GS hatchback. This new engine generated 85kW and was a fitting power plant for the sporty GS, delivering a marked improvement in acceleration over the 1.6L, 0 to 100 km/h in 9.7 seconds versus 11.5 seconds. Still, with all this power, the 1.8L made some improvements in fuel consumption at 7.3L/100km.
The earlier base-model Holden Nova SL was only equipped with manual steering, which makes for particularly heavy parking manoeuvres. SLX and higher trim levels were equipped with power steering, eliminating this issue. The 60/40 split-folding back seat made for variable cargo and passenger configuration. Otherwise, all the standard accoutrements apply - steel wheels, power brakes, and four-wheel independent suspension. Interior is standard with cloth and vinyl seating, basic controls, air-conditioning, and AM/FM/cassette audio system.
Keep in mind that this vehicle was designed simply, saving for where it counts, in the engine and transmission, fuel economy, and reliability. Even the sport models are essentially the same, perhaps with a few cosmetic changes along with the larger engine. Top-of-the-line models included additional power locks and windows and tilt-steering wheel. Anti-lock brakes were also an option on some of the higher-end models.
Holden Nova's biggest competition came directly from its sister Toyota Corolla. Even though the only changes on the Nova were wheel covers, grille, and nameplate, most buyers assumed that the cheaper cost meant less quality. Quite the opposite is true though, as the rest of the vehicle - from the body and chassis to under the bonnet and the interior - was exactly the same as the Corolla. Smart money would have gone straight for the Nova, and today, it is still the same story. Used Holden Novas are still priced lower than the sister Corolla, so smart money still asks for the Nova.
Ford Laser and Nissan Pulsar, other small vehicles in the segment, gave the Corolla-based Nova a run for its money and, more often than not, outsold Nova, which is odd, considering Nova's true identity. The Mazda-based Laser and Nissan Pulsar are both good cars with long histories, which is more than can be said for the Nova; though their underlying technologies are top-notch, they are not quite as reliable as the Holden Nova. The mid-1990s Toyota Corolla features a winning combination of fuel economy and reliability, which has led to worldwide sales topping 39 million vehicles as of 2012, placing it among the top five best-selling models globally.