2008 Saturn Astra Overview

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2008 Saturn Astra Overview

GM continues to hunt for a successful global car. For 2008, it will make another attempt by rebadging Opel's Astra as the Saturn Astra. Widely acclaimed on its 2004 European release, the Opel version has been the top-selling hatchback in Europe. It will reach our shores as GM's Christmas present for this year.

Two basic models will be offered, a three-door hatchback (XR Coupe) and a five-door hatchback (XE and XR). The basic 1.8-liter DOHC Ecotec four-cylinder iron-block engine, which includes variable valve timing and produces 140 hp at 6,300 rpm on regular gas, powers both models. Two transmissions are available, a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic. Yet, in this same class, the VW Rabbit packs a 2.5-liter, 170-hp four cylinder backed by a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. There are no performance figures for the Saturn Astra yet. Fuel economy is projected to be 21-23 mpg city and 30-32 mpg highway.

Reviewers who've driven the Astra report good handling, body control, high-speed stability, and steering precision, in spite of a basic torsion-beam rear suspension. The electro-hydraulic steering unit is nicely weighted and quick, although in a European test drive, reviewers felt the car could use a sixth gear because it was geared "too short." 80 mph equals 4,000 rpm, at which point the engine's noise saturates the passenger compartment.

The Astra interiors are nicely done up in sleek black and faux-aluminum finish, with "old fashioned" large stereo and temperature control knobs and easy-to-read large gauges. Leather is available on the XR trim, which includes lumbar support and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All models have 60/40 split-folding rear seats, but cargo volume is less than expected, with the five-door offering a rear-seats-folded maximum of 44.7 cubic feet (the smaller Nissan Versa offers 50 cubic feet) and the coupe offering 37.8 cubic feet.

The standard safety equipment list is an impressive result of Opel's emphasis on safety: stability and traction control, OnStar, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, dual-stage front airbags, seat-mounted front side-impact airbags, head curtain side airbags, a breakaway pedal-release system, front-seat active head restraints, a tire pressure monitoring system, and daytime running lamps.

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