top-nav-left top-nav-right

Article Search


Holden Astra


I'm sitting at the side of the road on the rim of the Riverhead Forest northwest of Auckland, looking down over the sawmill towards the distant city.

I'm on the phone to Holden's obliging media liaison man, Aalbert van Ham.
It's cap-in-hand time - too many minutes past four in the afternoon and not enough time left to get back to the metropolis and across town to drop the Astra Turbo Convertible back before the end of the business day.
He's an understanding sort of bloke, Aalbert, though I sometimes can't understand why, especially when here's some hack of a motoring writer ringing to say he can't get the car back in time. The more appropriate response would have been: why not?
But Aalbert checks his diary and then checks the car out to me for three more days.
Suits me because I'm more than a little besotted with the Astra droptop.
"How are you finding it?" Aalbert asks.
"Great. No, better than great."

Truth is I was loving the car, and had done so virtually from the moment I picked it up. Everything on it worked nicely, it had plenty of performance and it had enough handling finesse to make the performance exploitable.
I'll admit to being somewhat biased towards convertibles: there's nothing nicer than to drive an open-top car on a warm, sunny day. I've always been a great fan of the stylish Saab 9-3 Convertible even though the Swede isn't the sweetest of handlers and is more of a boulevard cruiser than a car for a sport of seriously quick top-down driving.
The Astra looks to be a car in the same mould as the Saab - a sunny day cruiser that brings a liberal dash of style to a somewhat staid-looking saloon model.

 Opel, the General Motors division which developed the Astra sold here as a Holden, called on renowned Italian styling studio Bertone to transform the somewhat plain Astra sedan into a glamorous convertible.
And Bertone has done a superb job, producing a design that looks very chic and very appealing with the top down yet maintains good looks with the ragtop raised.

The detailing is beautifully done and the test car had a solid, strong feel. Virtually the only rattles - rattles are often de rigueur in convertibles - were produced by the Compact Disc cases shaking around in the door pockets.

Scuttle shake - another bane of convertibles - was also reasonably well under control. Scuttle shake is where the dashboard and front end of the car give the impression of having a mind of their own, moving at odds to the car's more rigid centre section and rear end. It's a consequence of the car having no fixed roof tying the structure together.

But the only evidence of scuttle shake was when the Astra thumped a bump in the road quite hard. In hard cornering - where the loads on the chassis can often induce scuttle shake is less rigid convertibles - the Astra felt reassuringly of one piece, the whole body moving in concert.

The 2.0-litre four cylinder intercooled turbomotor develops a healthy 147kW of power at a highish 5600rpm.
More importantly it offers a meaty 250Nm of peak torque. It comes on-stream at a useful 1950rpm and remains there all the way up to 5600.
There's little turbo lag and the torquey motor ensures brisk acceleration, even though the car weighs 1429kg.
We'd anticipate 0-100km/h in the eight-second bracket and a top speed of a shade over 220km/h.
The engine revs freely and is a willing performer. There's nothing evocative about the way it sounds, though. At most of its rev range the exhaust note is more Farmall tractor than Ferrari-esque. Only at high revs does it take on a more interesting snarl.
Handling is good, the car turning-in crisply and holding its line well. Convertible handling is seldom as sharp as an equivalent sedan's but an enthusiastic driver will find plenty to like in the Astra droptop.
On favourite stretches of road the car provided plenty of enjoyment, and didn't have an overly loose-limbed feel when the going got bumpy.

The Lotus-tuned suspension provides agile and secure handling aligned to good ride comfort. The car was especially impressive over bumpy surfaces, soaking up irregularities with ease.

The five-speed manual gearbox shifted smoothly, quickly and precisely and the leather-wrapped gear lever was pleasant to use. The steering is quick and well-geared and the leather-wrapped steering wheel has a nice diameter and a pleasingly-chunky sculpted rim. Even though the steering has electro-hydraulic assistance, it provides good feel.
The softtop fitted snugly and the window sealing was perfect. Raising and lowering the hood is a one-touch operation. You put the handbrake on, press a dash-mounted button and hold it as the hood raises or lowers itself. There are no manually-operated catches between the leading edge of the hood and the top of the windscreen.

The hood detaches from and attaches itself to the top of the screen automatically.
The hood does impair visibility to the rear quarters when it's raised, but the large exterior mirrors give you plenty of help in knowing where objects and other vehicles are. You can also hear other cars running close by through the sound-porous softtop.
With the hood down the view to the rear quarters is much better.
Wind-buffeting is well-controlled with the hood down: winding up the electrically-operated side windows helps keep the cabin breeze-free at speed.

 Accommodation is very good for the driver and front-seat passenger with excellent leg and shoulder room.
The leather-upholstered sports-style seats - red and black in the silver-painted test car - provide good support and are very comfortable. Things are much tighter in the rear cabin, though I was surprised to discover there was more legroom than there looked to be.

The luggage boot offers a reasonable amount of space despite also holding the folded-down hood. We got a week's grocery shopping in easily.
Climate-control air-conditioning allows you to keep the in-cabin environment pleasant even when the sun is beating down mercilessly (it also clears fogged windows quickly and on that count alone would be a boon in winter).
The powered exterior mirrors are also heated, and the car has cruise control, a trip computer and a good quality single-disc, six-speaker, 80-watt Compact Disc sound system.
The front seats include heaters.
The wheels are 17-inch alloys wearing 215/40 ZR17 tyres.

Safety equipment includes ABS braking; an electronic stability program; dual front and side airbags The Astra Turbo Convertible provides a blend of high-style, high-performance, plenty of luxury, entertaining handling and a high degree of practicality at $59,700.

That price seems value for money and is appealingly well below the price of some other European droptops whose only advantage is greater size and more rear seat passenger room.

The measure of a car is often whether you could live with it.

In the Astra Turbo Convertible's case my answer is a resounding yes. I could find good use for this car 365 days a year, in fair weather or foul.

- story and photographs by Mike Stock.

Auto Trader New Zealand