By on June 19, 2008

saturnastra.jpgLast year, when testing Saturn's Opel Astra, I really liked the car. But I also noted that it was obvious how hastily GM brought the import into the U.S. The leading indicator: the 24-hour clock and Day/Month/Year format on the display (time-traveling Michael J. Fox sold separately). For the 2009 model year, I'm happy to announce (to those of you that care) that GM has updated these critical functions to a more American-friendly format. The 24-hour clock gives way to a 12-hour clock for those that can't subtract 12 easily, and the date display will no longer make you think there are only 12 really long days in Febtober, the 25th month. Since it is a damn fine vehicle, the assumption might be that in the month when Honda Civic sales surpassed even the mighty F-150, the demand for any other small, practical vehicles would be at least somewhat higher. Alas, that was not the case. Saturn shifted 1091 Astras in May (contrast this with 1467 Hummer H3s). While these updates (and a new optional heated oil pan) are indeed exciting, one can't help but wonder how the Astra=– rated at a respectable-for-class 24/30 (with America-friendly 4 speed automatic)– would be selling with proper advertising support and an autobox that allowed them to advertise better MPGs. Rethink that.

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37 Comments on “New Astra Justin Time...”

  • avatar

    How many meetings and conferences did it take to get this done? Just imagine for a moment a team of engineers and managers debating this important change and you will see why GM is doomed.

  • avatar

    But will it prepare you for that lousy Smarch weather…

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Forethought, in short supply at GM, costs nothing.

  • avatar

    Now, how about an Aux input for the radio!!

  • avatar
    John R

    I think we have to keep in mind that the Astra is relatively expensive for what you get. I would test drive both but my suspicion is I would still get a Mazda 3 hatchback with the 2.3 litre motor over this.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz


    The Astra, depending on equipment, can be much cheaper than the Mazda3 if you’re comparing hatches to hatches. That’s because the Mazda3 only comes as a hatchback in the higher line 2.3 trim with more features, whereas the 5-door Astra is available as a base car for closer to $17,500.

    If it was my money, I’d lease the Astra instead of leasing the Mazda3. But buying I’d have to take the stronger residuals of the Mazda, not to mention that Astra parts might become a problem in 5 years if the model is no longer here.

  • avatar

    This is great news. It will mean that fewer Saturn owners will stuck in rush hour traffic at 1700 hrs.

  • avatar

    There is no point wasting the effort to fix these minor issues on this Astra. The new one is right around the corner..

  • avatar

    It is too bad the Astra isnt getting more ad time, it is a good car in many respects. However, I suspect pushing sales of the Astra are not a top priority for GM. Imported from Belgium they are probably losing money on every one of them even selling at sticker at this point due to the exchange rate. The dollar probably started its slide right around the time the decision was made to bring it over. Just a guess, but that is my theory.

  • avatar

    So will 2009 owners retrofit GDM clocks?

    Performance with the automatic is tepid, at best. The changes the car needs even more than a 12-hour clock: more power, less weight, and/or additional ratios.


    Saturns aren’t discounted off MSRP. Competitors are. You can’t just compare MSRPs.

    For price comparisons, until TTAC gets its software sorted:

    Links to the most common price comparisons halfway down. I’d expect an ASTRA to cost about $1,000 more than the more powerful Mazda3 hatch, looking at MSRP for the Saturn and a few hundred over invoice for the Mazda.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Michael Karesh:
    Saturns aren’t discounted off MSRP.

    This has been confusing me. I was on the Saturn website and the Aura and Outlook and Vue have rebates on them. The Astra, due to it already selling at a loss for GM, does not have any rebates.

    But does this mean Saturn’s no haggle policy is no longer 100% intact?

  • avatar

    I don’t see the problem with a 24 hour clock. If people are so dull that a 24 hour clock and European date format confuses them, maybe they should keep driving their big ‘merkin SUVs that they can’t afford to fill up.

    Also, it sure would be nice if someday the US caught up with the rest of the world and realized that metric is a good thing. Multiples of 10 are much easier than multiples of 12. But what do I know… I was raised on metric and doing calculations in imperial makes my head hurt. I sure am glad I have a metric tape measure to ease the pain when I do work around the house.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m going to sound like a broken record or a nagging mother-in-law. Saturn shouldn’t exist! GM needs a strong compact competitors, and it needs to be in Chevrolet showrooms. You know, the only GM showrooms which still have some foot traffic and brand awareness. Saturn was at best a noble experiment, which failed.

    The Astra could be the most brilliant car on the road and 90% of potential buyers wouldn’t test drive one because Saturn has less brand awareness in the US than Mitsubishi. The handful of Ion and L-series owners sure aren’t coming back looking for another helping. Even going double down on the advertising budget wouldn’t change this simple truth. There are windows of opportunity for gaining mindshare, and Saturn’s is long over.

    Oh yeah, and that fixed price selling gimmick is so 1984.

  • avatar

    Wow, you’d think that the Astra, being such a superior car compared to the lame duck Ion, would be marketed as such. I’ve test driven the Astra and I would say that it is a damn good car (if a little short on power) and the quality is right up there with the Mazda 3. I can’t fathom how GM would miss such an opportunity to market the strengths of this vehicle (European clock never bothered me that much, since I’ve worked at the airlines for a couple years).

    Just goes to show the level of thinking at GM’s exec level. Saturn has the ability to be a great arm because the vehicles are good for what they are (although I still can’t understand why the Vue weighs so much or what exactly the purpose of the Outlook is). Hopefully they don’t botch the next Astra’s coming (if they survive that long).

  • avatar

    I really like the Astra, and cannot wait to see its replacement. The leasing deals were non-existent when I was looking to get a car back in February. So, a Mazda3 hatch for me. Still, the Astra does beat the 2.3L Mazda in fuel economy, and wins tons of points for being euro, quirky, and different.

  • avatar

    Because of Satan, the Astra is selling at just a fraction of Ion numbers.

  • avatar

    Are they at least putting in a Armrest? Aux input or Ipod input in the stereo?

    It’s a nice car but these changes would be nice. I’m looking for a car next year to replace my Jetta and would love a hatch with good fuel economy. Hope something fulfills that need next year!

  • avatar

    If people can’t read a 24 hour clock…they shouldn’t be driving.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    Funny, the info display in my 2001(!) GM-Saab can be programmed for either kind of time mode, not to mention metric/US/Imperial units and several different languages for messages.

    Right now I have mine set to metric/Euro time modes. Personally, it’s kinda cool when riders mention the “military” clock, the outside temps in degrees Celsius and can see the fuel consumption in liters/100 km. But it can be changed back easily.

    I just haven’t learned the translations of “Front Lamp Failure” or “Parking Brake On” in either French or Swedish, so I’m sticking to my monolingual ways with English message displays.

    And GM didn’t do this with the US Astra?

  • avatar


    Rebates and discounts are two different things. I have heard some reports that some Saturn dealers will discount, so the no-haggle policy is not entirely intact. But it remains sufficiently intact that many, probably most buyers pay MSRP.

    There is one more wrinkle: if you have a trade-in, Saturn dealers should be able to offer a higher allowance. At which point the ASTRA and Mazda3 would become VERY close in price. After loading them up similarly then adjusting for feature differences, my site estimates the MSRP difference at about $20.

  • avatar

    The Astra isn’t selling for one very good reason: the Chevy Cobalt.

    I rented a Cobalt this week. Sturdily built, excellent interior switches, all the goodies, and astoundingly quick. With discounts, you can get a Cobalt stick for $13k….so why pay $17k for an Astra??? And if you want a hatchback Cobalt, you buy the HHR.

    Nor is it logical that GM saddled the Astra with a tinier engine than the Cobalt. Why??? Same Ecotec design but .4L less displacement. This is progress??

  • avatar

    Imagine a world where GM planned for success:

    The Astra, which as everyone knows costs GM more to buy than to make, is fuel efficient hatchback selling less than 1,000 units with gas at $4 a gallon.

    Had GM thought this through, is it not possible to imagine a scenario where there were so many Astra’s sold in the US the Belgium plant was forced to run 3 shifts to keep up. This would drive down the variable cost to make and ship each vehicle. Is it not possible that there is an inflection point at which GM COULD have made money on every single one?

    Instead, they provided the Astra but aren’t interested in getting anyone to buy it because in the short term they lose cash desperately needed to keep their operations afloat.

    It’s decisions and attitude like this that convinces me that GM before and after Ch.11 would be no different. In order to win, you have to play to win instead of playing not to lose.

  • avatar

    “and the date display will no longer make you think there are only 12 really long days in Febtober, the 25th month.”

    Good One, RF, give that young man a raise. (You do pay him, right?)

  • avatar

    Just what GM needs to do: sell MORE of a model that sells for a loss on each and every unit!

    We wanted to give the Astra a chance, but a combination of
    1. No accessible cup holders
    2. Crappy fuel economy
    3. Worries over GM bankruptcy

    put us in a Civic. We may be sheep, but I think the sheep are pretty smart this time around.

    I love hatches, but we already have a Malibu Maxx for those times when we need one, and it only gets, like 2 MPG worse than an Astra anyway.

  • avatar

    Hey, I liked the 24-hour clock. If it was a VW or a Saab, people would accept it as being a quirky European feature and move on. But as a Saturn…

  • avatar

    It’s amazing that Honda was reluctant to bring the Fit to the US, finally does 5 years into its product cycle, and…Boom! Instant hit! They sell way more than projected and can’t even keep up supply to meet demand.

    Then there’s the Astra, which should compete with the Fit, but just gets forgotten about by most car buyers, much like every other Saturn.

    Fit is Go. Astra is ground to a halt. Part of the problem is price, part is fuel economy, part is performance, and part is simply being a Saturn. Sad, because the Astra is close to being likable.

    GM is like Maxwell Smart: “Missed it by THAT much!!”

  • avatar

    It is not just a European format, our military uses it, too. So does most of the rest of the world. So do many companies in the US that do business globally.

    And why did it even require a “change”? Don’t just about ALL electronic clocks in the world give you a choice between the two formats with just a push of a button (or two)? Do you mean to tell me that the clock in Astra is the only one in the world that doesn’t give you that option? Justin, did you even try to find out?

  • avatar

    Then there’s the Astra, which should compete with the Fit, but just gets forgotten about by most car buyers, much like every other Saturn.

    The Astra’s not a B-car. It competes most directly with the VW Rabbit and the Mazda3 hatch, and doesn’t compete all that badly. The Mazda3 hatch is much faster, but also thirstier and $2k-3k more expensive.

    The Fit is the best execution of the B-car, like, ever. We almost bought one, but then realized we could get into a Civic for $1500 more and get better fuel economy.

  • avatar

    Don’t just about ALL electronic clocks in the world give you a choice between the two formats with just a push of a button (or two)?

    Apparently not. Click on the photo that accompanies this article, and you can see for yourself that GM is changing out the clock to allow Americans to enjoy their 3PM coffee break at 3PM, and not at 1500 hours. They wouldn’t be changing it if it already did it.

  • avatar

    Checked out the Astra Memorial Day Weekend. Ugly interior, and the price wasn’t that great. Got an ’09 Camry for cheaper dough. Astra’s great if you live near twisty roads (aka Europe) but not so much if you just have highway commutes all the time.

  • avatar

    Good car, and I’m seeing a few on the road, but not as many as you’d think in a country normally as hatchback-friendly as Canada. Heck, I haven’t seen these in quantity in Quebec, which is about as European as it gets without crossing an ocean.

    That’s telling.

    The Astra is a good car, and it’s the right idea for Saturn (well, now that GM burned it’s bridges) instead of rebadges like the Aura or Outlook. The problem is the Rabbit and Mazda3 are also good cars. Very good cars. GM needed to give Europretenders a reason to choose the Astra over the Rabbit or 3, and they haven’t.

    No diesel or turbocharged small-displacement gasser, no innovative packaging, inexpensive step into hybrid power, no bluetooth. Not even an iPod jack, which is a killer omission in this segment.

    I maintain that the Opel Meriva would have better a smarter transplant. At least the Meriva is interesting enough to grab buyers. That Astra? It’s just ok.

  • avatar

    Pch101 wrote:
    Apparently not. Click on the photo that accompanies this article, and you can see for yourself that GM is changing out the clock to allow Americans to enjoy their 3PM coffee break at 3PM, and not at 1500 hours.

    I saw it, but I was somewhat incredulous. I still think it might be that they’re just changing the default and making it sound like a big whoopty doo. Marketing weasels say hello.

    They wouldn’t be changing it if it already did it.

    First, that’s a big IF. Second, define “change”.

    I guess I am more cynical.

  • avatar

    You have got to get the pricing correct. There are cash allowance’s on Asta today, go get them out, they are a great value. Also, the supply has been limited, my local Saturn dealer delivered over 20 in May and only had 15 on the ground starting June, they now have inventory. The vehicle is not planned for more than 15,000 for the calendar year.

  • avatar

    pman wrote:

    GM is like Maxwell Smart: “Missed it by THAT much!!”

    Maybe if they had Anne Hathaway selling this car…everyone remembers Jill Wagner.

  • avatar

    I just had a thought. No jokes, please :)

    Anyway, it seems to me that the shape that GM is in is the result of a LOT of problems. We all like to yell about the ones that we think are the most important (my favorites are the unions and government), but in reality, it is all of them combined that makes it such a tough situation.

    Here is the new twist: The shear number of things causing problems makes it nearly impossible to get anything postive done because every group you try to get change from is likely protesting about how the OTHER guys are the real problem. If it were only management vs. union it might get fixed, but there are really dozens of major problems and most have groups involved who don’t want to change them.

    I could take this theory along further, but it’s about to go down my usual road, so I will spare you. Still, I thought that new part was kinda important.

  • avatar

    My wife and I just purchased an Astra this evening. Love the car so far, as much fun to drive as any of the BMWs I’ve owned.

    We were seriously considering the Fit at one point in our search. Despite the no-haggle pricing, price and a great deal are what pushed us into the Astra. First, the dealer was quite generous on her trade. We were able to get supplier price, since she is a grad student, which was around $1500 off. Then the dealer offered $500 dealer incentive. Finally, we got a $2000 GM incentive of some kind in the mail yesterday.

    We were allowed to stack everything, basically taking the keys for several thousand less than the Fit, for a car I find to be much more substantial and enjoyable.

  • avatar

    I saw it, but I was somewhat incredulous. I still think it might be that they’re just changing the default and making it sound like a big whoopty doo. Marketing weasels say hello.

    Mr. Berkowitz’s clip above is from GM’s press release about the 2009 car. It outlines the changes that have been made.

    He pointed out this clock issue in his review of the car. I found this interesting, as he was, as far as I can tell, the only reviewer who identified this.

    It’s amazing that GM spent 9 figures federalizing this thing, but failed to give Americans a 12-hour clock. Either somebody at GM just forgot, or else an accountant must have decided that the $10 or whatever was needed to change it wasn’t worth the expense.

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