2008 Saturn Astra Review

By Brendan Moore

03.12.2008

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.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant.net – All Rights Reserved

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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7 Comments

  1. The L series saturn was also a converted opel, the one before the one the aura is based on.

  2. Yeah, the L Series was based on an Opel, but got dumbed down considerably for the American market. Just as the Cadillac Catera was “based” on the top Opel but got dumbed down considerably. It is not comparing apples to apples to say the L Series Saturn is identical to the current Saturn Astra in execution. The L Series had a lot of changes made to almost everything in order to make it “more acceptable” to Americans from GM’s point of view and the Saturn Astra is being sold here in the almost exactly the same form as it is is being sold in Europe. The Saturn Astra is a not a “coverted Opel”, because it’s an Opel, period. I think a lot of Americans, like the writer of this review will find the car a bit off-putting at first because it is a European car all the way through. Just as they would find a Skoda or a Peugeot or an Alfa a bit odd when they first got in those cars, as they are designed for European tastes and preferences. Not saying those preferences are better or worse, but I am saying they’re definitely different than American tastes.

    The Ford Taurus is a “converted” Volvo platform, but obviously a very different vehicle than the original Volvo. So it was with the Saturn L Series and the original Opel platform it came from.

  3. I test drove an Astra and found the angle of the console just fine, but I am short, so maybe that’s the solution. Although I think Germans are not small people generally, so I can’t say why the reviewer had such a problem seeing the controls.

    Eva Froon

  4. I like the fact that it’s a little different. I’ve had my Astra for three weeks and I love it. I got a real German car at my GM dealership and didn’t pay much money for it. so I’m happy.

  5. It’s not fair to be bad the Ion like that cause a lot ot peoples like me love their Ions and it’s a good car if you need some economy car.

  6. Sounds like Saturn is going to have a hard time impressing people on the test drives, because test drives don’t last a week.

  7. The Astra is a great handling car with tremendous personality. The Astra is a joy to drive and the pleasure increases by the day. The engine is matched perfectly to the manual transmission and provides great economy in a luxurious package. This car will be a classic soon enough and enthusiasts will seek out used examples from those shrewd enough to acquire the current Belgium built examples.

    When the public judges cars on things like cup holders and how hard it was for them to figure out the radio, you know that the public is too stupid to deserve a great car like the Astra.

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