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Astra Not Catching On Yet Amidst Small Car Wave

Posted by: David Kiley on May 22, 2008


I have taken some flack from pals of mine in the business for not endorsing the Saturn Astra. One pal from Finland, no less, e-mailed me to complain about my review.

And then there was the ultimate repudiation. My friend Dan Neil of the LA Times, whose middle name is, “The Pulitzer Prize winner,” gave it a solid thumbs up review.

From Danno: “The Astra three-door is also, quite plainly, the coolest-looking car in its class. The dramatic bowed shape of what’s called the DLO (daylight opening), the rakish profile, the harmonious geometry of the lighting instruments and body contours and well-planted stance all make it kind of incredible that this sleek road weasel is the replacement for that awful gorgon, the Saturn Ion.”

Oh well. But an e-mail from tells me that consumers must have read my bit on the Net.

While the perennially popular Honda Civic has a meager 48-day supply on dealers’ lots, and even the aging Kia Spectra saw a 16.7% increase in sales over last year during the month of April, the Astra is not faring as well. Dealers are sitting on a 236-day supply, says autotrader and Automotive News. Ouch. investigated further, and found that when it comes to specific Astras sitting on dealers’ lots, consumers show six times more interest in competing Spectras, and a whopping 22 times more interest in Civics.

The one bright spot for Astra, besides Neil’s review, is that there are indications that General Motors’ plans to get shoppers to “Rethink” Saturn as a more upmarket brand are succeeding, as the Astra’s buyers eschew the lower-end XE in favor of better-equipped XR models. Visitors to have shown 50% more interest in the XR spec, even though it’s typically priced $2,000 higher than the average XE.

Indeed, the Astra that neil and I tested was in excess of $20,000. IN that segment, my top choice is the Nissan Versa. The manual tranny SC model I priced out on cost $16,584, minus the $1,000 reb ate that’s available. The Versa’s suspension and gearbox is everything I was looking for in the Astra. Both models get comparable fuel economy—26/31 for the Versa and 24/32 for the Astra.

I’m sure GM would likle to price the Astra more competively, but it’s made in Belgium. And the weak dollar being what it is….ouch.

Reader Comments


May 22, 2008 9:48 PM

Why all this emphasis on the styling? Are you really all that concerned with how you look in your car than with the fundamental of design of the vehicle itself and its so-called blood-lines, past history, features/reliability/ comfort/ interior materials/resale? I have thought for some time now that, with just one exception I can think of, so-called journalists are lousy judges of all vehicles. Very childish, inept, and certainly disloyal. And all too often the companies they choose to spend their bucks with meet that latter one to a 'T' in return. The BMV pig you have now, for just one.

GM just has another year's supply of dogs on its hands, one of a growing number of losing models. That their lack of understanding of the market is clear, that they still feel that styling is just about everything in a vehicle--while knowing they can flip that in 3-4 years and render the priors obsolete--screwing their customers yet again. Kind of like the Pope manages to do to his sheep to the benefit of the Ma Church.

Time to toss the rubber ducky from the tub Kiley, stand up like a big boy and shower using the soap on a rope if need be. And if you really need one or more penis enlargement scam products, I can refer you to the nether pages of M/T, R/T, C/D, and Automobile mags and a whole bunch more.


May 23, 2008 10:36 AM

In fairness to Astra, I haven't seen much, if any, Astra advertising. These things don't necessarily sell themselves either. - particularly for a new nameplate. Imagine if Astra had even a small percentage of the media budget allocated to Malibu.

44 mpg (in the US) by 2010

May 25, 2008 9:47 AM

Well, the US Astra does not stand out as a fuel conserving vehicle at 27/32 mpg combined/highway ... particularly when compared to its' EU cousin 37/47 mpg(US) combined/highway in the gasoline version! Then look at the turbo diesel variation at 46/55 mpg(US) combined/highway.

It makes one wonder what sales would be ... IF the 46 mpg diesel were available!

Keep in mind that the cost adder for turbo diesel and DPF are only about USD$ 1,500 according to AutoCar.


May 25, 2008 4:33 PM

The problem with the Astra is that most Americans would rather have a 2 door Coupe or a 4 door sedan.

Astra Owner

June 26, 2008 1:57 AM

I own an Astra, traded my ION redline for it, you would think i would be bummed out from going to a 210-215hp supercharger (some small aftermarket parts got me a little over stock power) to a N/A 138hp would suck, but it really doesn't. the car has MORE then enough power for its weight, the only real problem is aftermarket, and at only 138hp and 125lb-ft of torque, i can still spin the tires for a split second with the stability control ON and with it off they burn quite nicely. the car has plenty of space, and as MANY have said, its a very balanced car. i got a 3-door XR for less then $18,000 so unless you are cheap, it is not too pricy for all that is offered. maybe if GM performance got there act together and produced a turbo kit for the 1.8 that could add a decent 60-80hp (which isn't hard for a turbo) and purhaps a body kit of some kind to give the car more variety, then GM could sell a car that they have been working with since 2004 (europe).

Astra Pros: good power to weight, comfortable as a daily driver (trust me i deliver pizzas in it), nice styling inside and out, dependable in all weather (pending which tires you choose, i have the 17" all season). fuel efficiency does float over 28-29 city 34-34.5 highway (according to car computer)

Astra cons: does use cheap plastics in some areas, XR models could start with a subwoofer :) , the far left A/C vent is a little weak making cooling off on half my body somewhat irritating in my HOT texas home, 3-door rear window should not be so small, the car came to the States; however it's aftermarket did not follow suit, mainly the turbo options, unfortunately car does feel slower then it is; forcing you to be more attentive to the gauges in little-no traffic.

maybe Gravana should get involved with this car like they have with the ION and SKY.-wink wink, nudge nudge. oh and for you speed junkies out there, YOU CAN GET THE ASTRA OVER 125-127MPH and it doesn't take much effort either (Gas mileage is horrible at that point-about 7-8mp/g at 120mph-but its not like that has really stopped anyone from racing in the past)

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