2008 Saturn Astra Review
As they (and their GM division) march towards newfound respectability, the people at Saturn have been humming Deutschland Uber Alles as they get more and more Opel iron to call their own.
I’m all for it, and have been pleased to see that cars like the execrable Ion and the agriculturally-inclined L-Series are getting replaced by Opels from the land of great beer and great engineers.
The Opel model that replaces the detestable Ion in the Saturn range is the Opel Astra, which Saturn has named, interestingly enough, the “Saturn Astra”. The Astra is the same car that gives the VW Golf such fits in the European market, and has made it to the United States unmolested, with basically only a badge change. Great news, huh?
Well, yes and no.
Under “no”, I’d have to put the weird noise of the turn signal indicator, the single cup holder that you have to reach backwards for while you’re driving, the absolutely impenetrable logic of the controls for the center console, and most of all, the way the center console angles downward so it is difficult to read the obtuse and oddly-labeled controls. If you sit tall in the driver’s seat, as I do, the angle of the center console makes it not just difficult, but almost impossible to decipher the confusing labels on the control switches and buttons. I think I would also opt for an engine with more horsepower than the 138 ponies I got and an automatic transmission with more than four gears.
Under “yes”, there are its looks, both inside and out. There is the high quality of the materials and the fit and finish of the car. There is the high level of equipment available (and present) on the Astra that Saturn provided to me for a week, and here’s a special shout-out to the advanced audio package. There is the bountiful and reassuring amount of safety equipment on the car. Great steering, great handling and great brakes (sport handling package) for its price and segment are also a wonderful thing. The car I had returned better than the EPA-stated 32 mpg on the highway, which is always good. And, last but not least, despite Americans being repelled by the ubiquitous European bodystyle that dare not speak its name, the Astra managed to retain its hatchback configuration here in the States.
I wanted to like the Saturn Astra a great deal. After the first day of driving the Astra around, I didn’t like it very much. After a week of driving the car, its faults receded and it’s virtues were more pronounced. It grew on me considerably, but I don’t claim to have been completely won over just yet.
Here’s part of the problem: $21,410.00 was the MSRP on the car I drove, and that buys you a lot of cars without the faults of the Saturn Astra. In fairness, most of those cars don’t have the virtues that the Astra has, but are those virtues enough to cancel out those annoying faults? I’m pretty sure they are, at this point.
Frankly, the annoyances were minor and mostly temporary and I really started to like the Astra after a few days, particularly after I memorized the controls in the center stack so I no longer had to decode the layout. Another week, and who knows, maybe it gives me a big warm glow all over every time I sit in it.
Verdict: Hardly love at first sight, but overall, I give it the credit it deserves. It’s a good car and very competitive in its segment.
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