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Holden Astra diesel wagon


We all know now that European diesels tend to be refined and efficient. But we tend not to think of Holdens as European. But this Astra diesel wagon is indeed European - built in Germany.

So I was relieved to see that my weekend drive to WOMAD, based in the attractive coastal town of New Plymouth nearly six hours drive from home, would be in that Astra wagon and not one of its thirstier siblings.

First impressions were good. It's a smart-looking car, especially in the red of our test example, set off by chrome accents.

She sounded rattly while cold, but quiet enough once warm with a pleasant, growly engine note. Pleasant pull from the 1.9-litre dohc turbo engine, too. There's 110kW on tap at 4000rpm and 320Nm of torque at 2000rpm - more than enough for gratifying urge from rest, and appreciably more than the sohc auto gets.

This engine is well-matched to the six-speed transmission, and the flexible power delivery makes for a relaxing drive even in busy rush-hour traffic, as you don't need to change gear as often as you expect.

Once on the open road I soon appreciated the car's ride, particularly over the at times gnarly surfaces of the Awakino Gorge. This Astra's impressively supple, and only an over-flamboyant approach to cornering will unsettle things.

Cruising along meant plenty of time to inspect the cabin. Its ergonomics aren't perfect - the slightly down-tilting dash means the temperature dials are a minor stretch - but Holden's kept it simple.

Which might explain the lack of handy cubbies within easy reach of the driver. There's a well-designed cupholder (it accommodates different sizes of cup, with or without handles) but it's behind the driver's left elbow, between the seat backs. There's a tiny cubby that'll take a lipstick or a very small cell phone, and the door pocket, and that's it.

Given the usual detritus of a long drive - sweets and hankies, notes on directions and maps - I noticed the lack, particularly since the rest of the car was so impressive.

Certainly there was no end of luggage space, this wagon's extended wheelbase over the hatch variant imparting a 454-litre boot that extends to 1549 with the rear seats folded, and includes a tonneau cover.

Holden's ticked all the basics for this wagon, with ESP, ABS, EBD and six airbags all standard, as are alloy wheels and a trip computer.

That not only revealed instant fuel consumption but kept my overall average up to date.

Goodness knows what prior drivers had been doing as it initially read over 7l/100km. After a couple of days of my hilly commute and the Auckland rush hour, then the long return drive to New Plymouth, on demanding highways often caught behind eye-wateringly slow traffic (25kph for one extended period isn't good for fuel economy), thirst had dropped to 6.2l/100km, and still falling despite no attempt being made to achieve frugal economy. That's higher than the 5.7 overall ADR claim, but a figure most drivers would be happy to see. It's just a shame that NZ's road user charges structure rather offsets diesel's frugality benefits in smaller cars like this.

Overall, Astra's wagon offers good value for money, its smart looks fooling less informed passengers it was far pricier than its current retail. The slightly limited rear leg room and shortage of cubbies should not put off those seeking an affordable compact Euro wagon.

Auto Trader New Zealand