By on July 23, 2018

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Remember the Saturn Astra? A Belgian-built Opel Astra, it was supposed to replace the Ion, but GM had a few distractions around that time and axed the Saturn Astra early in 2009… followed by the Saturn brand itself.

Just two model years, poor sales, weird Euro-Detroit badge-engineering hijinks, and a near-instant disappearance from cultural memory: just what I like best in a Junkyard Find!

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI had been keeping my eyes open for an Astra for a couple of years, and it took a bad crash to send this one to a Denver self-service yard. It appears that someone nabbed the transmission, leaving the 138 hp Ecotec 1.8-liter sitting atop the wreckage.

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, panoramic sunroof - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe huge panoramic sunroof was a signature Saturn feature during the marque’s final years.

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, radio manual - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one still has the manual for the futuristic audio system, which could play MP3 files on home-burned CDs; meanwhile, younger car buyers wanted to plug their Zunes into auxiliary audio input jacks, which I’m pretty sure this car doesn’t have. Bluetooth? That’ll never catch on!

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, dealership sticker - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one has stickers from two different Colorado car dealers, including one on the other side of the Rockies from this yard.

2008 Saturn Astra XE in Colorado wrecking yard, front seats - ©2018 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI have never been a driver or passenger in an Astra, but I hear that they were pretty good driving cars (by late-2000s GM standards), though on the underpowered side. The interior certainly has that “affordable European commuter” look.


Definitely a couple of Zune owners here.


Isn’t trying to be cool the furthest thing from being cool?


Over in Yurp, it was assumed that most Astra buyers would want the manual transmission.


In Australia, the Holden Astra became the driver, which made parking easier.


Egyptian Astras did some impressive stunts.


In Poland, the Astra had, uh, Zorro?


Meanwhile, in Russia.

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46 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2008 Saturn Astra XE...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    There’s an Astra a few blocks from here that lives on as a winter rat. The guy has a BMW that’s garaged from October through April. The Astra wasn’t a bad looking inexpensive car.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    That amber lettering in the stereo manual looks very BMW-ish.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      The stereo buttons are still a mystery to me, even after 10 years of ownership. Just to change the time is about a 6 step process, which has to be done quickly or the system will jump back to the starting point.

  • avatar
    deanst

    That’s my car! Well, mines not totalled yet.

    The biggest complaints against the Saturn was the lack of audio input jacks and only one awkward cup holder for the front seat occupants. Other than that, it was a cheap, reliable alternative to the Golf.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I always liked these cars but in my corner of the USA they did not ever advertise them. They were some sort of secret.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Apparently GM lost money on every one, so other than the brand halo of having something that drove REALLY well (especially with handling package, especially for the price and time), they weren’t interested in marketing the car.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    The two-door models had nice styling, the four door models were a bit dowdy looking. Saturn brought these over with essentially no changes from the Euro models. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did mean that most of the interior parts (that center stack and stereo) were unique to the mode over here. I wonder if this makes them disposable due to unobtainable (affordable) parts?

  • avatar

    I still have my Zune! It’s a circa 2010 one I guess. 128GB, and always been reliable aside from the horribly clunky program you have to use to put music on it.

    It’s been in my drawer at work for… ever, and I don’t think it has been turned on in at least two years.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I actually don’t remember this Saturn at all, not being much of a Saturn fan I really only remember that what started out as a great concept for GM ended up as a desperate exercise in badge engineering this being one of the results

  • avatar

    I recall this from the NY Car show….It was clearly an Opel, and I read the origin sticker, and “Belgium”…really ? The place that the good beers come from ? They make cars ?

    I think I saw one in the wild….

    • 0 avatar
      Mitchell Leitman

      Volvo C30 too, it was made in Ghent, Belgium

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        Based on the Volvo C30 we owned I would avoid Belgium made cars. Also I’d bet both the C30 and the Astra had about the same success rate in the states, IE: none.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      GM closed the Belgium factory shortly thereafter…

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I had several Opel Mantas in the 1970s and IIRC they were assembled in Belgium back then.

      • 0 avatar
        Johnster

        European Ford Capris were built in a factory in Genk Belgium, but I’m not certain if any of them were imported into the U.S. The Ford factory in Genk was in operation building various Fords from the early 1960s until it was closed in 2014.

        • 0 avatar
          snakebit

          Well, the 1970-74 Ford Capri and the 1976-77 Ford Capri II that were exported to the States were built in Cologne, Germany(look for the ‘G’first digit on the VIN(G for West Germany). We did not get the Ford Capri III, but the UK also built Capri’s. I don’t know the status of the Belgian Capri’s, if indeed they were built there, as well.

        • 0 avatar
          WallMeerkat

          Mondeo was the last Belgian Ford.
          The introduction of the latest Mondeo aka Fusion was delayed while they shuttered Belgium and moved production lines to Valencia.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    The biggest a$$hole in my office drives one of these, so it’s forever tainted in my mind. Also has the “mark of excellence” so sorry we suck badges. Just no.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “mark of excellence” – I call it the “GM Chiclet” ;-)

      I loved the snark when they started to affix that little badge. C&D commented: “You know, in case you were under the impression that your Buick was assembled by Peterbuilt instead of GM.”

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The first thing I did the evening I brought my new G8 GXP home from the dealer in 2009 was to remove the chiclets. Then I forgot to include them with the car when I sold it, so I threw them away in my 2016 move. I’m sure the new owner was shattered they were missing.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I really wanted to like Saturn in its final years. I thought the cars were good looking, decent spec sheets on paper, reasonably priced. I tested the Aura when it came out and was immediately put off by the operation of the auto transmission. Back when they were programmed to shift into 6th the instant you pulled your foot back from the throttle. I test drove a 4 door Astra as well with a manual. No offense to the guy above who owns one, but while I liked the styling, the euro idiosyncrasies…I did not like the lack of power on tap and felt the engine to be on the harsher side.

    I would say too bad we lost Saturn, but with Opel now in French hands, I suspect that the Saturn of tomorrow would be a lineup of rebadged GM crossovers, so I guess no great loss.

    • 0 avatar
      WallMeerkat

      Closest you got to Saturn was probably Buick, the Verano was an Astra sedan, the Regal was and is an Insignia. Cascada is an Opel Cascada (rumour has it that it is the car the ‘next’ 9-3 cabrio could’ve been), Encore is a GM Korea produced Opel Mokka.

      However the Regal is a slow seller, the Australians haven’t taken to the first FWD Commodore (same model rebadged), and PSA want to replace the GM platform with something sharing one of their platforms (508 based possibly), so it is possible that the Regal will be axed. Best case scenario is the Insignia is replaced in Europe while the current model production line is shipped to the US to continue producing Regals and Commodores.

  • avatar
    gtem

    These occupy an awkward place in the marketplace IMO, both when they were new and even more-so as used cars. You got some Euro styling inside and out and some of the solidity, but also a low-rent motor and frankly the interior was kind of drab and cheap looking. Presumably they have decent corrosion resistance, and are simple enough to be fairly reliable. But at the same time they neither offer the truly premium driving experience of more expensive German iron (or even an MKV Jetta/Rabbit), nor are they as reliable or cheap to service as something like a Toyota Matrix. Getting generic engine parts for the 1.8L is fine I’m sure, but Astra-specific suspension bits or interior/body stuff is probably getting to be a hassle already.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I was sold on the car after a test drive, where it reminded me of my old Jetta. The 1.8 makes it a slow car – but the bigger problem is the manual transmission which is not geared for fast highway driving. (3500+ rpm ) The interior is mostly black – which is a turnoff to some – but the quality is high. The glove box door is absurdly think -something like 1 inch – a stark comparison to my Mazda which seems like 1/8” cheap plastic.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I have a huge soft-spot for these, and seriously contemplated buying one as a DD (make it a white five-door, with a manual, please). Growing up in Germany, all my father ever drove was used, white Opels (always a Rekord, always white…go figure) and having an Astra would have been a quiet way of celebrating my father’s memory and appreciation for the make. I’d even looked online on ordering all of the badging to switch back to the Blitz.

  • avatar
    MBella

    These were decent cars when new. The problem was GM didn’t actually want to sell them. It seems they didn’t realize how expensive these would be to import until they started selling them. There was no advertising. If they built these here, it could have been a winner.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Given that (IIRC) this was based on the same platform as the Cobalt, G5, etc, the decision to import them makes even less sense.

      (If I’m wrong, feel free to correct me, though.)

  • avatar
    bkojote

    I really liked these.

    These didn’t sell well because GM basically didn’t want to sell them. In 2008 I was actually looking to buy one but there were exactly zero specials, and the dealers were way more happy to put you in a Pontiac G5. By the time you went through all of the motions you were better off with the vDub rabbit these were imitating.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    Sure beats the hell out of an ION. I’m with the poster above, make mine a two door with a manual. It’s unique enough (in this market) to be cool, in my opinion anyway.

    Then again, the Golf has always been my favorite VW, the 318Ti my favorite period BMW, and the Focus (and Fiesta) hatchback my favorite version of that (those) car(s), so maybe I just have a thing for Euro hatches?

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      These are better than a Ion just better put together with a more solid Euro feel. The 2 door XE is a hot hatch to own.
      My folks have an Ion. They bought it in 2004 after a really good experience with an SL that they bought in 1991 and still own. We’re a old family of keeping vehicles as long as you can. They like it but when I drove it once and rode in it a few times found it to be wanting. The center offset cluster is annoying and the interior furnishings are tupperware like. When you are on the road you can hear the plastic panels flex, a Fiero has tighter NVH. The only saving grace is the 2.2 Ecotech which is peppy with no harshness. A dream build for me is a Ecotech Fiero, Vega or Monza.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    I nearly bought one right after my divorce, 10 or so years ago, when the Saturn brand was shelved and great deals could be had on a leftover manual XR. The rear seat was extremely cramped, even for two small kids, so I went with a 1.5 year old Rabbit instead. The Astra drove well, but driving the two back to back made the 2.5 liter engine of the Rabbit really shine.

  • avatar
    scott25

    Almost leased one as my first car in 2008, but ended up with a much cheaper Yaris. Don’t think I ever test drove it since the price wasn’t great. Almost definitely one of those cars that sold much more strongly north of the border, 4 doors are still quite common on the roads in Ontario, but 2 doors have always been rares. They still look great. Opel badge and grille conversions are very common.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Zorro? rofl.

  • avatar
    theonlydt

    I almost bought one of these in 2010 – being an orphan it had lost about 65% of its value in 18 months, was low mileage (barely turned a wheel), in good shape, and they’re decent cars. The engine is fine, and I drive a manual which helps. Ride and handling was better than the average North American car. Build quality was okay. Room was okay.

    I think I missed out. It was thousands cheaper than it should have been, because Saturn’s name was junk, car sales hadn’t recovered, and it was manual. I think it was CAN$6500 for the 3dr XR, 2009, with like, 9000km on it. The engine light was on, and I’m guessing the owner got scared, when all it needed was a new fuel tank filler cap!

    I still see some on the road or cropping up for sale, but by now they’re all in poor shape and lacking love.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    I had the misfortune to buy one of these. 4 Dr. 5 speed manual. It started out so promising. And like all tales of woe that start when the warranty runs its course, so too did mine. Nearest Chevy “service” (and do I say that with seething rage) center told me that even after I paid a grand -they would still not be able to “completely” diagnose it. Some thousands later, ebay parts, local mechanic – it remained completely useless. God, was I happy to see it leave. Worst. Vehicle. Purchase. Ever.

  • avatar
    MRL325i

    Had a good experience with a 2009 Astra XR. Fun car for my daughter. Bought it in 2012 and sold it in 2017 with 100K on it (to small for a move to TX — she got a Soul as a replacement)./

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/new-or-used-not-all-orphans-are-created-equal/

  • avatar
    MRL325i

    We made it into TTAC twice with the same car…

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/piston-slap-the-young-lady-and-the-key/

  • avatar
    glwillia

    I had one of these (Opel version) as a long term rental circa 2009 when I lived in Geneva. It was a lot less fun than the fiat grande punto it replaced but a lot more reliable. All in all a nondescript, pleasant little European hatchback that was cheaper but not as good as a Golf or 1-series hatch.

  • avatar
    skloon

    I got three of these as rental cars in Germany as ‘Audi A3’ or equivalent- nope good solid car like a Golf without any excitement- would have bought one in Canada but needed a wagon so I went with Volvo

  • avatar
    emg77

    I bought my Astra new in late 2008. The great thing about the Astra was that you could get every option and still get a manual transmission. My dealership found me a manual transmission with ever option except leather.

    When you consider that in 2008, Chevy was still selling the Cobalt, the Astra was light years ahead. I had heated seats, automatic wipers, 7 speaker stereo with a 6 disc CD changer, 6 airbags, and the sunroof was pretty great. I drove the car until 2017, and it had 120,000 miles when I sold it. I had one minor issue with the radio volume knob under warranty, and the flex pipe had a hole rust into it at about 80,000 miles (at a repair cost of $100). That’s it, other than tires, 1 set of brakes, and other standard maintenance. Not even any rust to speak of after 9 years of running. It’s still out there running… I saw it about a month ago. It was a darn good car. It wasn’t the fastest, but it could really handle and it loved to be tossed around. My only complaint was the high RPM’s in 5th gear. It would still get 32mpg highway, but it was noisy above 65mph.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    a work friend had a Saturn Opel SUV Vue?, it was solidly built , quiet but had very little rear leg room and was thirsty compared to Equinoxes, Escapes it competed with, but had a nicer interior than all of them.

  • avatar
    dannew02

    In 2008, my wife and I were having our first kid. SHe basically forbid me from putting her in either my Miata, or my Dodge Shadow, because obviously a baby would immediately die in either of those cars (rolleyes) Anyway she said I HAD to get a brand-new car, and the Astra was the first one I looked at. I liked the manual-trans 4-door hatch because I had a couple of those already (Dodge Lancer, Plymouth Duster and the Shadow I currently had) Anyway I really liked the Astras I saw, but the dealer only had fully-loaded examples on hand, and basically refused to let me order one the way I wanted. I also looked at Nissan Versas as well. The Nissan dealer also only had loaded, auto vehicles, but was willing to get me one equipped the way I wanted. After driving both of them, they were grossly similar- neither was as quick as my V6 Shadow, the Astra felt “nicer” than the Versa (of course being the loaded-up version) it had too much “stuff”. I’m old and don’t want power stuff or phone integration. THe base Versa also literally cost 1/2 of what the fancy Astra cost! It didn’t have projector headlights, sunroof, aluminum wheels, etc but I didn’t want any of that, anyway… The Saturn dealer literally said, “These are what we have, take it or leave it” and they did the “no haggle” pricing too, so I could literally buy two Versas for what all the Astras were gonna cost. I really wanted to buy something “American” (stupid, because I knew they were made in Europe) but I went with the Nissan and less than a year later Saturn was gone. The former Saturn dealer is now a used car lot/oil change place… I put over 100K on my Versa in less than 4 years, and the only problem I had with it was hitting a deer, so I think I made the right decision.


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