By on March 21, 2007

exterior_1.jpgWhen GM suddenly decided it needed a convincing small car for the US market, Car Czar Bob Lutz scanned his European operations and fixed his once-steely gaze on the next gen Opel Astra. Unfortunately, GM’s bean counters confirmed what common sense suggested: labor costs, transportation costs, unfavorable exchange rates and competitive pricing preclude the possibility of profit. Maximum Bob was undeterred, claiming GM will build the “Saturn Astra” in the US if it succeeds (i.e. loses them lots of money). All of which raises an important question: does the Astra have what it takes to sell stateside?

The Astra’s muscular mix of creases and curves will appeal to US buyers who want a small car that looks taut, not tiny. From the front, the car’s oversized headlights and upwards sloping hood fool the viewer into thinking they’re contemplating a full-size sedan. From the side, the Astra’s flared wheel arches and cleverly constructed two-piece rear window give the car sporting symmetry. The model’s odd, bland rear– complete with gun slit rear window– denies viewers a happy ending. But at least it doesn’t look cheap.

interior_1.jpgIf Americans fancy a bit of style, the Astra’s cabin got, er, a bit of style. The central hood crease is the main design element. It continues through the Astra’s windshield, dash and center stack. Ignore this needless affectation and you’re free to enjoy the Astra’s well-judged economy car minimalism. The right-sized steering wheel is reassuringly thick, perfectly shaped for ten and two hand positioning. The gauges are a model of clarity and legibility. And the high touch plastic switchgear snick-snaggles with convincing clicks.

In terms of roominess, the Astra is no penalty box. Although supersized Americans might find the car’s supportive seats overly snug, there’s plenty of head and legroom on offer. I’m 6'3"; I could sit comfortably both fore and aft. Unfortunately, the Astra’s ergonomics are not ideal. The climate controls need color-coding and the mouse's piano of sound-system controls is a annoying distraction. Niggles really, given the interior’s overall quality. 

exterior_5.jpgOnce underway, I was impressed with the engine’s smoothness, but left wondering how a diesel could be so low on torque. Then I remembered that my tester was powered by an anemic 1.4-liter, 90hp (DIN) gasoline engine. While Opel builds some class-leading motors; my tester’s mill was the weakest and cheapest. And man, was it a stinker. Never mind. All US Astras will holster a 1.8-liter, 140hp Ecotec four-cylinder powerplant connected to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.

I have a theory about automotive zen: every car has a certain speed at which it feels comfortable. So much for that theory. I didn't know they still built cars that generate 3000rpm at 60mph. At 110mph, with 5700rpm on the clock, the Astra's little engine that could sounded decidedly sweeter. But at that speed, the trip computer told a hysterical tale of 14mpg. Hopefully, the US-spec motor will offer better performance, efficiency and low end sonic civility.

exterior_2.jpgI have a favorite freeway off-ramp where I take my testers for comparison purposes. The Astra’s chassis handled the curve magnificently; it remained stable and balanced from start to finish, with neutrality that belied its front wheel-drive underpinnings. I was able to punt the car through the turn as quickly as any non-sports car I’ve driven– a full five miles per hour faster than I could push the Honda Fit.

On the downside, the Astra’s steering is seriously non-linear. Turn the tiller a bit and you get a predictable response. Add a few more degrees and it’s like you wrenched the wheel sideways. The turn-in is far too abrupt for high speed precision driving— a criticism that's been leveled at the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. The Astra’s ride quality is also less than impressive, serving up an unappetizing combination of bounce and bang.

interior_4.jpgThe Astra's edgy, non-communicative steering and its ride quality (or lack thereof) killed any autobahn joy. Worse, it delivered unto me another classic Opel "moment" (sooner or later, every Opel I've ever driven has made me curse under my breath). My Astra moment came while doing 100mph, trailed by a pushy BMW, in a series of downhill curves. My mount  did a nasty hop-skip over an expander joint. The Astra’s snatchy brakes did nothing to correct the feeling of impending disaster.

With a better engine, the Astra would be a good car. But not great. There’s no doubt that the Astra's dynamics aren't up to par with its VW and [European] Ford competition. Still, the Astra has more character and style than most Asian cars, and it’s better than anything else GM has ever offered in this class. As an Everyman car for Europe, it’s a highly competent entry. As a high-spec, up-priced "European import", it’s destined to be a failure.

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86 Comments on “Opel Astra Review...”


  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    At least it looks a heck of a lot better than the MKV Rabbit/GTI.

    I drove an Ion several times and found the electrohyrdaulic steering assist to be dangerous. There was no “on center” position. It almost felt like there were ball detents on either side of center to specifically keep you from going straight. I wonder if this system in the Astra is in any way related.

  • avatar

    The only thing going for this car in the American market is the exterior styling of the two-door hatch.

    The 140-horse 1.8-liter, though on par with the non-Si Civic, is too weak for a new entrant. The car needs at least the equivalent of the Mazda3’s 160-horse 2.3 to get car buyers’ attention.

    And the interior styling is uninspired. “Minimalism” is being nice.

    My full impressions from the intro in Chicago:

    http://www.truedelta.com/blog/?p=31

  • avatar

    I’m hopeful for this car. Saturn needs it.

    But I must say, Saturn’s emblem is the ugliest emblem ever. I liken it to testicles on a supermodel. Just bad news.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Great review, and a nice preview for us yanks.

    The Astra isn’t perfect, but its twice the car the Ion is. It appears superior to the Focus, Cobalt, Caliber, Corolla and Versa.

    The car’s success will come down to price. If Saturn stays in the US$15-$18K range and carves a nich between the Fit and Rabbit, the Astra will do fine.

    Get delusions of grandeur and try to compete with the A3 or lower BMWs, and it’s a dog’s brunch.

  • avatar
    blautens

    On the surface, it appears a huge step up from the Ion. If they price it correctly, keep the no haggle/friendly Saturn experience alive, I predict it should be moderately successful in terms of sales numbers. But are they really losing money on each one?

    Wow that got my head spinning…the possibilities of sales success hurting GM’s already precarious savings account.

  • avatar
    Axel

    The only thing going for this car in the American market is the exterior styling of the two-door hatch.

    On the contrary, I think the 5-door is the cute one and the 3-door is a little too “extreme” (and most people I have shown the pub shots to agree with me).

    The 140-horse 1.8-liter, though on par with the non-Si Civic, is too weak for a new entrant.

    Not if it gets 35 MPG (new EPA test). A Mazda3 is only 32 MPG (new). And that’s the base 2L engine. The mileage is about the only thing keeping me from considering what is otherwise a gorgeous car. I am willing to wait a tic and a half to get to 70 if it means saving at the pump and shrinking my carbon footprint.

    A compact should get at least 35 MPG (new). Unless it’s a “sport” version. Hopefully there will be an Astra RL to compete with the Mazda3/GTI/CivicSi class.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    “The right-sized steering wheel is reassuringly thick, perfectly shaped for ten and two hand positioning. ”

    10 and 2? I thought these days we were supposed to drive and 9 and 3 so that airbag deployment does not injure the forearms.

  • avatar
    carguy

    I had a 1.4 Astra rental in Germany last week and it’s definitely a 3.5 star vehicle. While the US will get the beefer engine (autobahn on-ramps are a nightmare in the 1.4) the rest of the car isn’t much to get excited about. The shift action is rubbery, the dash material feel very cheap, the electronic indicator stalk is infuriating and the handling is nothing like the VW GOlf 1.9 TDI that I had the last time I was there.

    While it is a very big leap forward from the Ion it replaces, it will not be tempting too many buyers that are looking at the Mazda3 or VW Golf. However, if its cheap enough (GM rebates anyone?) then it will definitely be a good alternative to the Cobalt and Focus.

  • avatar
    Axel

    To clarify, the mileage on the Mazda3 is the only thing keeping me from considering it. Fantastic car that’s about 3 MPG too thirsty and 1G too expensive. If the Astra can beat the 5-door 3 on both those counts, they will have won me over. My Saturn SL is racking up the miles like crazy and will have to go soon.

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    I don’t get it. The biggest beef you seemed to have with the Astra is that it got a bit jumpy on an aggressive set of Autobahn curves at 100 mph? That’s not a concern for American drivers. The car seems to have what it takes to take on the competition in America – solid interior, good handling at American road speeds, attractive exterior, etc. It might not be “the best” at everything and it might not be able to outsell the Civic (largely due to brand snobbery) but it definately seems superior to any American entrant (barring the Mazda 3 or maybe the Civic).

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    I always get a kick out of people that whine and moan for send over its European models to North America.

    Being “Euro-spec” doesn’t always mean “better”. It certainly doesn’t mean “sales” either.

    Anybody else remember the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystake?

    Or better yet… The Merkur Skorpio and XR4ti?

    To paraphrase Mr. Farago’s post on the Jag Sportwagon…

    Saturn is the new Merkur.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    bfg9k: We Krauts used to do 11 and 1; 10 and 2 is a big improvement.

    Carguy: I agree with just about everything you say — hated the indicator stalk! — but let’s agree to disagree about the interior. I found it distinctly non-cheap.

    SherbornSean: Thanks! And I second what you say about pricing.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    kowsnofskia: I really wanted to like this car. The guy responsible for it (Carl-Peter Forster) is a personable, ex-BMW car guy, a possible successor to Max Bob. But I found it unlikeable at any speed. Stiff suspension, non-linear steering, lo-mo engine: who needs it? Not enough substance under a veneer of quality, I say.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    I don’t understand the fuss between 32 and 35 mpg. If you drive 15000 miles a year, the difference is 40 gallons of gas. Even if gas went to $5/gal, $200/year won’t keep me out of the car I really wanted. And the cargoship carrying your new TV from China will burn more than that just idling–so the carbon footprint thing shouldn’t matter either.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away! Run away!

    The domestic automakers have a lamentable track record for peremptorily abandoning captive imports; prematurely cutting off repair knowledge, parts supply and crushing resale value.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I like the style, and it’s a car that I’ll likely test drive in the fall, but the steering issue bugs me — is the rack an electric unit?

  • avatar
    jet_silver

    I had the previous-generation Astra 1.9 TDI for two weeks in Spain and loved it, except for its infuriating habit of turning the radio on by itself whenever it was started – and the idiotic indicator stalk that would make a bunch of flashes you couldn’t turn off. Neither the rising-rate steering nor the bouncy ride was ever in evidence for me. The 1.9 TDI was plenty powerful and the car returned 47 miles per US gallon. All they need to do to make me sell my Legacy GT is to make this a four-wheel-drive car.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Keep in mind that the Cobalt and Ion share a lot of bones with the Astra. Look at a Cobalt 4-door in profile, cover the trunklet with your finger, and you’re looking at a very mildly disguised Astra.

    I’m convinced the US Focus is still more of a ballerina on its feet, but it has other issues.

    The Golf has a much more sophisticated (expensive) rear suspension, and a better interior. I don’t see the Astra making very big waves over here.

  • avatar

    Keep in mind that the Cobalt and Ion share a lot of bones with the Astra.

    They’re all built on the Delta platform, which corporately is under Opel’s control. The ION Red Line shows the performance potential of the platform. Let’s hope they’ll work the same magic on the Astra – maybe send us the GTC eventually?

  • avatar
    Axel

    I don’t understand the fuss between 32 and 35 mpg. If you drive 15000 miles a year, the difference is 40 gallons of gas. Even if gas went to $5/gal, $200/year won’t keep me out of the car I really wanted.

    For one, I commute 70 mi/day and have run my 1999 SL up to 160k. (No choice when your job and your wife’s school are 50 miles apart.) The 40 mpg I squeeze out of it has been a BIG deal for me.

    For another, why spend $19k for a 32 MPG compact when I can spend $21k for a decently-equipped midsize at 31 MPG? Virtually the same economy, but tons more room for my 6’3″ lanky self to stretch out in, not to mention for other passengers, cargo, etc.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    The whole package looks a lot more muscular and attractive than the Mazda 3 five door to me. Too bad the driving dynamics aren’t…Also, it’s too bad Saturn can’t just use the Opel logo, which is comic-book-superhero cool.

  • avatar
    Axel

    I don’t understand the fuss between 32 and 35 mpg.

    I should say, 35 MPG is marginal for a compact. It’s the bare minimum I’m willing to accept. What I would really like to see is around 37 or 38, which is not unreasonable given my SL’s real world 43 on long trips. That’s with a 1.8L SOHC putting out 120+ hp.

    If I were buying on style, driving dynamics, and refinement alone, no car under $20k can top the Mazda3, IMHO. We’ll see how the Astra competes.

  • avatar

    I didn’t know they still built cars that generate 3000rpm at 60mph.

    Is that a german car thing? All my VW/Audi’s have had stupid-short gearing.

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    I’m personally excited about the Astra (I have an odd fondness for the econobox segment, and get excited about such things). But GM’s product planners are still entrenched in their insular Detroit thinking.

    That is, since the Astra is a massive leap over the ION, should wipe the floor with the half-baked Dodge Caliber, and is more visually appealing than the ’08 Focus, GM seems eager to price the Astra like the class of its class.

    But the Mazda 3 offers pretty much the same package with superior dynamics, and GM’s 1.8 engine is weaker than the Civic’s and upcoming Corolla’s. The Astra’s fuel economy might be similar (or better) than the Japanese cars’, but that’s not necessarily where “premium compact” shoppers’ priorities lie.

    The Astra is a promising product… if the price is right.

  • avatar
    Axel

    The Astra is a promising product… if the price is right.

    If you can get one that isn’t stripped bare for under $17k, I think it will do very well.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Why is GM selling a car with the intentions of losing money on it right from the start? Are they only hiring stupid people there now?

    Lets see we are in financial trouble, lets sell a car that costs us more to make(import) than we can sell it for, and if sales are slow rebate it, that is how we will save the company.

    It could be the greatest car on earth (fat chance with GM’s track record) but if financially it doesn’t pan out then it’s not a good idea, especially something they want to sell in large numbers. Nailing there own coffin I guess.

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    Axel–
    I *almost* feel your pain.
    I commute 154 miles (round trip) five days a week.
    In the summer I get 32mpg. In the winter I switch to my Toyota (163K) and get 19mpg.

    That’s what happens when you live and work in two different rural areas. Lousy local economies really.

    My fuel costs are higher than my car payments–go figure.

  • avatar
    Axel

    Why is GM selling a car with the intentions of losing money on it right from the start? Are they only hiring stupid people there now?

    Lets see we are in financial trouble, lets sell a car that costs us more to make(import) than we can sell it for, and if sales are slow rebate it, that is how we will save the company.

    Since they are only expecting to sell about 50,000 in the first year, even if they lose $1000/vehicle, that’s only 50 mil. Drop in the bucket.

    Best case scenario is that limited supply builds a pent-up demand, and when production switches to North America everyone wants one. And they can notchback ‘em and badge ‘em as “New Colbalts” and “New G5s” and squeeze out some extra profit there.

    Note that that is the best case scenario. Worst case is no one buys them, GM goes 11, and the 15,000 Astra owners are stuck with no warranty and no available parts.

  • avatar
    Axel

    NICKNICK:
    I *almost* feel your pain.
    I commute 154 miles (round trip) five days a week.
    In the summer I get 32mpg. In the winter I switch to my Toyota (163K) and get 19mpg.

    That’s very painful. Occasionally I have to do a 150 mile round trip, like for a week or two at a time. Leaving at 7 am and getting home at 6:30 pm is not good for the social life.

    I knew someone who did 90 miles in a 15 MPG pickup.

    It’s not that I have to have high gas mileage, it’s that, if I cram myself into a compact, I’m doing it primarily for the sake of gas mileage. If the mileage is going to drop, I’m going to want to be compensated either in roominess, utility, or both.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    I’ve been looking at 2 cars for my next one (currently driving my fiance’s car), the GTI and the Volvo C30. The Astra falls right into that same segment…sorta. It would definitely be on my radar if/when they bring on the Red Line version. Problem is, I don’t think I could put my purchase on hold long enough for them to do that. I may end up with one of the other two instead. Too bad it won’t be around to tet drive and compare by then.

  • avatar

    Speaking of silly commuter vehicles – I do 60+kms a day in an elderly carbureted Mazda Rx-7 …

    I might be interested in an Astra but GM lack of commitment to past captive imports tempers that desire some.

  • avatar

    From what I hear the low end models (cobalt, Ion) are already sold at a loss (even before exceptional rebates), so importing a low end line at a loss isn’t quite as insane as it looks (well in GM-land at least).

    GM has some cash, they can either burn it on advertising which will cause people to check out their crappy cars and run screaming in horror, just sit around and bleed out, or blow some money underpricing cars for market rep. So of course they spend on a bit more quality. I mean realistically if they do go bankrupt and restructure it is better to have a nice reputation, then just about anything else.

    Still it looks interesting, supposedly the Astra has a Sport button option, and while that can mean anything, hopefully it will tighten up the dynamics some. Of course the US may not get such luxuries (though GM would be rather dumb not to, in the >15k market sportiness sells)

    The real problem is that it opens up a sub ~16k hole in Saturn. The Opel Corsa is supposed to go there, but it will be a while before that gets here.

  • avatar
    Geotpf

    Here’s another problem with this thing (beyond the fact that it is going to cause GM to lose tons of money):

    It’s not a sedan; it’s a hatchback.

    When this replaces the Ion, Saturn will no longer have a compact sedan or coupe-which is it’s whole reason for existing. It looks like GM woke up one day, realized that the Ion sucked ass and they just plain forgot to design a replacement, and then jammed this into the segment in a panic, even though it’s not really an Ion replacement (hatch instead of sedan).

    Also, how much you want to bet the Saturn Astra will be massively decontented versus the Opel Astra, in a vain effort to keep losses at a minimum?

  • avatar

    I wonder what the $US MSRP price will be? Might be an opportunity for grey-market parallel (re)importing to Europe.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Ok so their logic it to do business as usual. If they are losing there ass on the other models then it’s ok to add another loser to the pile.

    I also thought the hatchback market in the US was dead from a market prospective. I don’t agree but that is what I read for some time.

    I am convinced they don’t do much thinking at that company just react and wait for the piles of money to come in.

  • avatar
    Axel

    The real problem is that it opens up a sub ~16k hole in Saturn. The Opel Corsa is supposed to go there, but it will be a while before that gets here.

    What I really want to know is, when my SL finally dies after 15 years and 300k miles, where the #$%^ is my sub-$11k (ok, sub-$14k adjusted for inflation), 40mpg, plastic-panel, dependable, drive forever, basic transportation?

    Sure, I’m in a new tax bracket since 1999, but what are the college grads going to buy in a few years? A Kia Rio, I guess.

    Sad that the old Saturn didn’t fit into GM’s master plan. Of course, the old Saturn also lost money…

  • avatar

    Geotpf: Also, how much you want to bet the Saturn Astra will be massively decontented versus the Opel Astra, in a vain effort to keep losses at a minimum?

    malcolmmacaulay: I wonder what the $US MSRP price will be?

    From what I’ve been able to put together from various reports, the Saturn version will start in the $16-17K range and standard features will include:

    Five-speed manual
    Traction control (XR trim level)
    Stability control (XR trim level)
    All-wheel disc brakes
    Six airbags
    Power windows
    Power door locks
    CD player
    60/40 split folding rear seat.
    OnStar

    The three-door will be available only in XR trim while the 5-door will be available in XE or XR trim.

  • avatar

    Importing it to europe isn’t probably economical as you’re facing 10% tariff, 16-22% VAT, possible country-specific taxes (100% here), shipping (think $1000) and registration costs.

  • avatar
    Axel

    I also thought the hatchback market in the US was dead from a market prospective. I don’t agree but that is what I read for some time.

    I think it’s dead because no one is marketing them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s not that Americans don’t want hatchbacks; it’s that marketers think that Americans don’t want hatchbacks.

    I am an extremely satisfied Malibu Maxx owner. This car is wonderful. Rear legroom better than a Crown Vic, very nice handling (for an American FWD car), very nice interior (for a GM car), good fuel economy for a 3.5L pushrod V6, enough cargo room to haul a 2-seat couch, and enough combined room to comfortably transport four large adults and their luggage. The styling is much more attractive than the Malibu sedan, and the price tag is $21k.

    What comments do I get about it? “Wow, what a good-looking car!” “It’s so big inside.” And, most notably, “What is that? I’ve never heard of it before.”

    Because “the market for hatchbacks is dead,” GM hasn’t even displayed the Maxx on a TV ad since the original “American Revolution” spot. It’s GM’s best kept secret – a car that should be selling like crazy.

    If gas prices stay sky-high, people are going to look for “SUV alternatives.” I would think this would increase demand for hatchback and wagon variants.

  • avatar
    akitadog

    Axel: What I really want to know is, when my SL finally dies after 15 years and 300k miles, where the #$%^ is my sub-$11k (ok, sub-$14k adjusted for inflation), 40mpg, plastic-panel, dependable, drive forever, basic transportation?

    It won’t come from Saturn, that’s for sure. GM’s reason behind all the new models (Outlook, Sky, Aura, Astra, new Vue) is to move the whole line upmarket, to fill in the space left empty by Oldsmobile. Personally, I think it’s setting itself up more to compete with VW, which is more realistic than, say, Lexus.

    Your replacement may come from Chevrolet. Excluding the Corvette, I hope GM decides to focus on making Chevy its “Ford.” It should run from cheap econoboxes to almost-Pontiac performance (the “upcoming” Pontiac, that is). Ex: new Camaro should be more 5series/CL-class while the new GTO should be even sportier, i.e. M/AMG.

  • avatar
    brapoza

    Nicknick:

    I do 100 miles a day in either a Subaru Impreza (26 mpg) or Infiniti(23 mpg. I’m constantly amazed at the number of large pickups and SUV’s blowing by me at 80 to 90 mph.

    brapoza

  • avatar
    P.J. McCombs

    The market for midsize hatchbacks may be dead, but the crop of compact hatches is growing like weeds. The PT Cruiser, MINI, Scion xB, and WRX wagon seem to have helped make them “cool” again, enough so to spawn a bumper crop of intenders (HHR, Caliber, Spectra5, Aerio, Reno, Versa, Vibe/Matrix, et cetera), the Astra among them.

    Ford, ever on the consumer’s pulse, has cleverly taken this opportunity to cancel the Focus ZX5!

  • avatar
    Axel

    akitadog: Personally, I think [Saturn]’s setting itself up more to compete with VW, which is more realistic than, say, Lexus.

    Actually, it makes a bizarre kind of sense. The original crop of Saturn owners are now in their 30s or early 40s, professional, with kids. They are the market VW craves the most. GM is evolving the Saturn brand to maintain the same group of customers, who are loyally attached to it.

    Funny thought: will Saturn be making giant, floaty luxobarges in 40 years?

    You can understand my lament over the passing of the SL, though. It was a car that fit its purpose and market exactly. Hopefully you are right, and Chevy is able to fill this niche. And do so with something less bloody awful than the Cavalier.

  • avatar

    Hatchbacks sell plenty well in Canada. Bring on another one!

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    brapoza:

    same here. i can’t imagine some of these guys are getting better than 10mpg. there’s a dodge ram on my commute that i particularly despise because he’s a tailgater and a speeder. (being in a rural area, i know most of the cars on my daily drive)

  • avatar
    shaker

    Since the Astra weighs in @ 2700 lbs, I have some hope for the performance of the Astra with a manual tranny and the 1.8 — assuming that the Saturn badges don’t add a hundred pounds or so… ;-)
    The Malibu Maxx is definitely a cool car (SS even more so), if only GM made a front-drive manual shifter that didn’t feel like a ‘hammer in a bucket of rocks’.

  • avatar
    Martin Woodman

    Please don’t use sky-high when refering to US gas prices, please

  • avatar

    Axel:
    The real question is how many of that 30-40 y.o. demo has already jumped to someone else? I am betting that the frequent buyer has already moved along.

    As for the direction of Saturn as a brand, well they are a gadget and gimmick brand so maybe not so much mushy luxobarges, but all sorts of making life easier for the old and infirm (thus lots of adaptive cruise control, lane departure systems, easy entry/egress). Hmmm, actually I am surprised someone doesn’t try to waste a brand on a car line that is comfortable for the elderly, and the obese.

    I also wonder how they plan on getting people to go to their dealership. A lot of people look at the cheapest cars on the market to start with, and then decide to spend more based on what they see. Ideally the lowest model would be something that looked fun, but most mothers wouldn’t let their children drive (a Toyota salesman said he sold a lot of Corollas to Yaris shoppers whose parents chipped in the delta). Even something like an Aveo with plastic panels and A/C in a single model trim would help bring the people in if marked at say 12k (which is about what the non stripper sells for with an auto). Or mark it for 13 and take that extra grand and fix the interior, a grand goes pretty far, and could probably fix the worst sins.

    The Opel Corsa will be in the US in ~2011 which is just an insane amount of time to wait.

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    32 mpg is not even close to what Civics and Corollas are rated, which is 40. However, those cars don’t come in hatchback form, either. I see more of a Caliber/Compass comparison here. If people cross shop the Astra with them, it’s good news for Saturn. Oh wait, they lose money when they sell them. Good work, GM. Brilliant.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    yasth: “The real question is how many of that 30-40 y.o. demo has already jumped to someone else? I am betting that the frequent buyer has already moved along.”

    I think you’re right, they’ve probably moved along due to the Ion debacle. But they might be back. I myself am an example. I had an SL for years, and despite its “ruggedness,” I loved it for its efficiency and indestructibility. I’ve moved on to an RSX now (an entirely different beast!) but if I need 4 doors again in the near future I would definitely consider returning to Saturn to take a look at the Astra. And that’s something I never would have said during the Ion era.

  • avatar
    omnivore

    Oh, and I am exactly their demographic, too. The only thing that keeps me out of a VW is their shady quality and reliability.

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    2011 for the Corsa!?! Did they start designing the car yesterday or does it still take them 8 years to design a car.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Axel: “will Saturn be making floaty luxobarges in 40 years?’

    They already are: the Outlook.

    What’s that vehicle doing in the “all Euro” Saturn line-up?

  • avatar

    Axel:
    To my humble opinion, it’s a matter of priorities, you can get a Corolla that will do 38mpg, but you’ll hate everything else about it.
    My car is an 06 Mazda 3 hatch, when I bought it, I knew that fuel consumption is much better on the 2.0L engine, but after a short test drive with the 2.3L, it was a done deal, feels so much better and you also get 5 speed AT, only 4 for 2.0L.
    The only other car I would consider is the Civic.
    About the Astra, I was so happy for GM to wake up a little with some fresh design for a small car, but I have to ask, what’s up with this boring Cobalt?

  • avatar
    Areitu

    If it’s anything like the Cobalt–slow gauges, buzzy motor, steering worse than a broken Initial D arcade, I’ll pass.

  • avatar
    Flipper

    Nice car. UGLY dash

  • avatar

    Isn’t it a bizarre irony that GM’s “import killer” division now selling an import at a loss?

    Hello, hello?

  • avatar
    nichjs

    Almost exactly a year ago I came back to the UK on business from detroit. Drove to DTW in my leased Dodge Stratus drove awat from LHR in a 1.9 DTI Astra. After the stratus, the astra felt *fantastic*, it actually went where you pointed it, and if that happened to be round a corner, then that’s where you would predictably go! The low end torque actually propelled you, as opposed to the massively underacheiving 2.4 4cyl chrysler effort through a shockingly ratio’d 4 gear slushbox(peel-out in 1st, back off, it drops a gear, and NOTHING in 2nd…honk from behind). The interior of the astra felt good, all the haptics were nice, and it held road well. And it got high 40s mpg (US gallon). I’d consider buying one down the line, when my Clio (55mpg) starts getting tired (hopefully a long way off). However, verily is the Saturn logo awful! I’ll take the Vauxhall version, please, perfect second hand car market material!

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Is it my imagination, or did we already see this idea once before? Lutz went to Australia and loved the RWD Holdens, had the brainstorm to make one into a faux-GTO and brought them into the US. The GTO was a business failure. Then there was the forgetable Cadillac/Opel Catera. Now GM is trying again with the Astra. Hopefully this time it will work out, but don’t bet on it!

  • avatar
    nweaver

    Commuting Wusses:

    I do 80 miles a day on a motorcycle. >45 MPG baybee and goes like a bat outta hell.

    In other words: Outmileage a Prius and Outspeed a Porsche.

  • avatar
    brapoza

    nweaver:

    Of course the key to that statement is living to tell about it. How does it go in ice and snow?

    brapoza

  • avatar
    tincanman99

    Its not that the hatchback market is dead or that marketers think its dead, its more a case Detroit DECIDED that its dead because they build crappy hatchbacks. Detroit in general does not build good small cars. I am not saying that the new ones arent better because I know somebody will be flag waving them around to prove Detroit can do it.

    Detroit has NEVER had an interest in small cars because they feel they dont make enough money on them. The end result is that they dont put enough time, energy and money into development.

    What GM shouldnt do is Saturn-ze the Opel. Its an Opel let it continue to be an Opel not a Saturn. I remember the bru-ha-ha about how Saturn was a new thing and how it was going to compete with the imports. Saturn is just another brand label of GM’s foregetable product line. SUV’s anyone?

    Nobody is going to walk away from a Honda for a Saturn-ized Opel. And as someone else mentioned they have a nasty habit of abandoning their imported cars.

  • avatar
    Axel

    Please don’t use sky-high when refering to US gas prices, please

    European gas prices are the same as US gas prices. It’s just that European countries add another 200% to the price in tax. I’m not sure what that tax goes towards, but I’m sure you get something back for it. Whatever your tax pays for, we have to pay for by other means, such as having a useless national rail system, paying outrageous private rates for health care, or running up an absurd public debt.

    I’d suggest we add $3/gal tax and use the money to fund cheap public transport, national health, and incentives for businesses to reduce greenhouse emissions, but I’d be shot by an angry mob of about 80% of Americans.

  • avatar
    LamborghiniZ

    I think the interior is garbage, personally, the plastics look hard cheap to me

  • avatar

    tincanman99:
    Detroit is selling what the Americans want the most, cars with trunks, even Toyota and Honda stopped selling station wagon models of the Camry and Accord because nobody bought them, at the same time, Europeans buy more hatch and SW cars than 4 door sedans.
    Americans do buy many wagons, but most of them have truck body, high fuel consumption and most make no sense.
    It’s completely insane when you have vehicles as Hummer Escalade and Navigator presented as a “a selling hit ” ?
    One day we all gonna wake up, go to the gas station and it will have such long waiting line, you’ll just give up, it did happened last summer in Texas.

  • avatar
    vento97

    I’d suggest we add $3/gal tax and use the money to fund cheap public transport, national health, and incentives for businesses to reduce greenhouse emissions, but I’d be shot by an angry mob of about 80% of Americans.

    You don’t have to worry about me shooting you. $3.00/gal gas is a pain in the butt, to be sure – but it won’t kill me, as every car that I’ve owned (mostly VWs) over the past 20+ years had 4 cylinders (with the exception of my former 1977 Datsun 280z).

    Every time I see a someone driving a big pickup truck or SUV to the office, I just look at them and laugh…:-)

  • avatar
    ejacobs

    Vento, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    This car will sell like crazy. GM is wise to bring it stateside as a holdover until they can get production started here. Saturn needs to get some customers in the funnel pronto by offering great cars. Even if they lose money in the short run, it’s a good brand building effort that should pay off in the long run.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    “The GTO was a business failure. Then there was the forgetable Cadillac/Opel Catera.”

    The difference in this case is that people are begging for the Astra to fill a conspicuous hole in Saturn’s lineup. The Aussie GTO was a five-year-old car by the time it got here, and a sloppy answer to a question no one asked. The Catera was so un-Cadillac, so un-luxury and so unreliable that it never should have seen this shore. But the Astra is a perfect answer to what GM needs right now. Good small vehicles. I’d hate for any automaker to stop forging ahead just because of past failures.

  • avatar
    nweaver

    Brapoza: Napa, CA. No snow, no ice, not much rain. Although I do take the 35+ MPG hamstermoblie (Saturn SC1) when it rains.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    My point is that GM has a long history of failures in it’s captive imports. I remember the Opels, the Opel by Isuzu, the Chevy Luv, the Geos, the half-breed Allante (who cares that their car’s production included a round trip air journey to and from Italy?), the Catera and the GTO. Only the Luv sort of held up it’s end of the bargain, but smart shopped simply bought an Isuzu small truck. Five years on these vehicles all sported horrid resale values. Ten years on they were unsupported orphans, except for the Japanese sourced vehicles where the real makers carried on with the game after GM gave up.

    What is to make us think that this time, for the first time, GM is going to do it right?

  • avatar
    Seth

    “Detroit is selling what the Americans want the most, cars with trunks, even Toyota and Honda stopped selling station wagon models of the Camry and Accord because nobody bought them, at the same time, Europeans buy more hatch and SW cars than 4 door sedans.
    Americans do buy many wagons, but most of them have truck body, high fuel consumption and most make no sense.”

    I dont get the above comment. Where is the choice? Thats right… no camry/accord wagon because that’d hurt rav4/crv sales and their fat profits. Americans are forced to buy suvs since there is no viable station wagons out there. No Volvo/VW dont count since they are expensive. There is no likeable/affordable SW out there.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Subaru makes some very likeable and affordable station wagons, as does Mazda in the Mazda6 wagon.

    Granted I wish that more family sedan based wagons were still being made, but there are a few good choices by Subara, Mazda, VW, Audi, Dodge & Volvo. Then there are some not so good choices by Suzuki and very expensive ones from Jaguar, BMW and Mercedes.

  • avatar
    Adamatari

    Wagons are very popular in certain areas of the US. In my town I see TONS of volvo, saab, and subaru wagons. Of course it’s not typical, but wagons have a niche and it is expanding again with fuel prices.

  • avatar
    Seth

    Problem with subaru wagon is that the rear seat is way too narrow. Its good for only two and even then the legroom is tight. Saab and Volvo wagons are generally overpriced. Volvo v70 has an available rear facing third row kids jump seat. If someone can offer something like that in subaru’s price range, then they’d have an instant hit. No taurus wagon doesnt count. It has to be a decent looking one with good reliability. Rav4 and CR-V will have a fight on their hands from a station wagon then.

  • avatar
    fahrvergnugen11

    omnivore:
    Oh, and I am exactly their demographic, too. The only thing that keeps me out of a VW is their shady quality and reliability.

    …and this is based on your experience with owning them? Or are you performing the Great American Pasttime of going by heresay?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Adamatari et al: There is a pretty clean wagon version of this car, which I also have driven. Very practical layout; quite unfrumpy.

    Speaking of which, the tintop convertible which is being introduced looks pretty good. I haven’t driven it but I wish I could.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    This author may not quite understand the market niche that an 1.4 European Astra is meant for. Lower incomes and gas price levels three times those of the US makes that there is a market for a relatively roomy underpowered (= low MPG) car like an 1.4 Astra in Europe. Europeans would understand that this is not the car to do 100mph with, and that this car is a poorly handling but bigger Corsa alternative.

  • avatar

    This author may not quite understand the market niche that an 1.4 European Astra is meant for… Europeans would understand that this is not the car to do 100mph with, and that this car is a poorly handling but bigger Corsa alternative. Mr. Schwoerer is German. Is that European enough?

  • avatar
    ghughes

    “Whatever your tax pays for, we have to pay for by other means, such as having a useless national rail system, paying outrageous private rates for health care, or running up an absurd public debt.
    ” — Umm – european nations debt as a % of gdp is still 8% higher than the US. euro area (72 %), approximately at the level of the UE-15 (65 %) or the United States (65 %), sharply below Japan (169 %).

  • avatar
    Unbalanced

    I just finished reading RF’s critique of Tesla for failing to provide independent verification of its claims.
    So, can you provide independent verification of your claims in the first paragraph of this article (i.e. GM’s purported internal conclusion that importation of the Astra “preclude(s) the possibility of profit”)?

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    jthorner,
    “My point is that GM has a long history of failures in it’s captive imports.”

    I agree with you there. All of those examples have been very half-assed attempts. However, GM has had an even longer history of failures in marketing domestic born-n-bred vehicles here as well. That’s why they’re in the sitch they’re in today. I think what GM needs is to determine how they are going to offer the best vehicles that comprise value, design, superior engineering and quality that customers will buy without huge discounts. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that everything that can accomplish that will all originate from the contiguous U.S..

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Unbalanced: GM CFO Fritz Henderson made the admission at the conference call where GM revealed their latest results to financial analysts.

  • avatar
    kps

    Martin Schwoerer:”Speaking of which, the tintop convertible which is being introduced looks pretty good.”

    Via This is Broken, an anecdote: “Now, I live in Ireland, where it rains between 150 and 225 days per year and, sure enough, it had rained the night before. So when the salesman hit the button on the remote to drop the roof, it pitched up and then gracefully folded itself back into the boot/trunk of the car – but not before dumping about 3 pints of water on the front seats … I have never before seen a car salesman with NOTHING to say.”

  • avatar
    dkvello

    As I see complaints of “Dull interior”, “Dull Handling”, “Dull Engine” etc. I think “Well, You get what You pay for”.
    The 1.4 engine is meant for the Very Low income part of Europe and pensioners (60+). It’s got good economy, handles well (You don’t pass 60/70 mph in the 1.4) and won’t cost much too buy.
    Remember that The price of Gas in Europe is mostly much higher than the US ($ 6.80 pr. 1 US Gallon here in Norway). And the Astra 1.9 CDTI (200bhp tuned, NavSat, IDS+ Active Suspension, 18″ Summer/17″ Winter, Leather interior and more) cost me 370′ NOK (which is about $61000, yes sixty one thousand US dollars).
    Generally the VW Rabbit/ Ford Focus costs a $2000-$3000 more for an equally equipped car. The Audi A3 and BMW 1 would cost You $10000 more for an equally equipped car.
    You pay a lot for Brand snobbery in Norway, but it doesn’t give You a higher quality car.

    If You consider this, MPG is important. I don’t need 6 Cyls+ and a large engine. I need a small engine (1.9) with lots of power (200+bhp) and torque (440 NM) that delivers 60+MPG when I drive long trips and that has very low emissions (CO2/NoX/Soth).

    Now, considering that “Diesel” isn’t a sales-pitch in the US (therefore the “BlueTec” name from MB/BMW) I say: Your loss!! I’m never going back to Gasoline again. The new Diesel-generations is about to eliminate Gaz. in Europe. I’m sure we’ll see a Porche 911-xxx with Diesel in the short future….

  • avatar
    Arragonis

    I have one of these booked for my annual break near the med next week. No model specified but I expect it will be the base “Bill & Doris” 1.4 poverty spec special with A/C tacked on.

    I had its MPV brother, the Zafira, last year. It was very good apart from the combination of hefty Americans and the 1-in-3 entrance to the villa – it snapped an engine mount on week 2. Went well for a 1.7 Diesel though. The Estate (wagon) is the looker though.


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