Holden: Holden Astra SRi Turbo 2008 Review

Holden Astra SRi turbo fq

Like Marshall Bruce Mathers III, the Holden Astra suffered hardship as a child. The first generation was a rebadged Nissan Pulsar and therefore was beaten up by other cars on the block; primarily at the traffic light freestyle battles. While Mathers grew up to be Eminem, the Astra grew up to be the SRi Turbo.

Now with much less chance of being bullied (and much more respec’, as they say in the ‘hood), Holden’s most sporty Astra competes with the likes of the Ford Focus XR5, Peugeot 207 GTI and the Mini Cooper S in the front-wheel drive hot hatch market — some quite capable contenders, all with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Hot hatches should be designed for maximum driving pleasure, and the Astra SRi Turbo does not disappoint. Lose yourself in the music the engine creates — a harmonious distortion of force-fed cylinders and exhaust resonance that rises quickly until punctuated by a faint hint of blow-off valve as you snatch another one of the six gears. It doesn’t have the annoying turbo whistle that the Ford Focus XR5 has, but it does have the punch. The gearshift action could be slightly shorter, but is precise and slick enough to make quick changes to keep that turbo spinning.

Using the inbuilt stopwatch you could attempt a 0-100kph measurement. I would guess a low seven-second pass — good, but not enough to leave you uttering expletives like a Detroit rapper.

The tasty sports pedals are not quite set up right for efficient heel-toe action on the downshifts you’ll want to make on your favourite piece of winding blacktop, so be careful bringing that clutch back up under brakes that the engine braking doesn’t unsettle the car too much. Not that it should have too much effect because the Astra SRi comes with Electronic Stability Program (ESP) as standard, which controls the brake force to each wheel in the event of a skid, correcting ham-fisted over-enthusiastic cornering.

You really have to push the SRi Turbo into a corner to invoke this, though. The 225/40ZR18 tyres stretched around 18-inch five-spoke alloys bite hard into the tarmac. On the other side of the corner traction control stops the fronts from spinning up. Couple this with the IDS+ (Interactive Driving System Plus) sports chassis pack with Continuous Damping Control and there’s some joy to be had switching directions.

Now, I’m assuming that the ‘Sport’ button on the dashboard somehow changes the car’s attitude but, unlike the Mercedes-Benz C320 CDi I collected after the Astra, which has a similar sport button, I couldn’t detect it. The IDS+ system works towards reducing body roll, and if the Sport button accentuates this, it’s subtle, because it already seemed to be working fine.

Speaking of buttons, this is the major downfall of the Astra SRi. The heated seats are great (maybe not quite as good as a Focus XR5, but still very supportive laterally), pedals are nice, steering wheel is perfect (like wrestling a baby anaconda), and there’s plenty of safety in the form of front driver/passenger airbags and full-length curtain airbags, but there are some seriously unfunky things happening in the middle of the dashboard. Most Japanese and German cars have fairly standard ways of performing simple operations like changing the direction of the air from the vents. Not so for some of General Motors’ products. After four days of driving the Astra SRi Turbo I was still not quite sure how to consistently navigate the computer, and I definitely didn’t try it while driving.

If you decide to put some funky beats on the Blaupunkt six-disc, seven-speaker, 130W, MP3-compatible stereo you’ll find it’s acceptable but not stellar. Again, its operation is not as intuitive as most other marques.

Overall we have a car that’s optimised extremely well for the driving experience, but with some of the interior ergonomics left wanting some attention. I’m sure that with an instruction manual and a couple of hours an owner will master the controls. I never did find that stopwatch to do the 0-100kph time, though.

Price: from $40,990

What we like

  • All the driving bits are great — power, engine note, grip, gearshift action, steering wheel, seats

What we don’t like

  • The rest of the interior needs some work to make it user-friendly

Holden Astra SRi Turbo

Powertrain

1998cc, Turbo, DOHC 16 valve ECOTEC 4 cylinder engine

6-speed manual transmission

Four cylinders. Double overhead camshafts operate four valves per cylinder. Sequential multipoint fuel injection. Electronic Spark Timing (EST) with hall sensor. Cylinder selective knock control and direct ignition system (DIS). Electric cooling fan. Variable intake manifold.

Coil-at-plug ignition. Turbocharger with intercooler. Electronic Throttle Control. Aluminium cylinder head

147kW @ 5400rpm

262Nm @ 4200rpm

Mechanical

Electro-hydraulic rack and pinion power steering

4-wheel disc brakes, front ventilated

Anti-lock Braking System (ABS). Four sensor/four channel

Brake Assist (BA)

Double-isolated front suspension, using subframe

Compound torsion beam and trailing arm rear suspension

IDSPlus Sports Chassis Pack with Continuous Damping Control (CDC)

Traction Control (TC)

Electronic Stability Program

Wheels

18″ x 7.5″ alloy wheels (five-spoke).

225/40R18 tyres

Tyre valve cap tool located behind fuel filler flap

Exterior

Body coloured, heated mirrors

Body coloured door handles

Body coloured bumpers, front and rear

Body coloured side protection mouldings

Chromed tailgate handle with electronic touch pad

Rear fog lamp

Front fog lamps

Turbo lower body kit (front, rear and side skirts)

Rear roof spoiler

Anti-corrosion: Galvanised body panels. Bodyshell dip-primed electrostatically

Driver

Steering wheel, height and reach adjust

Leather wrap sports steering wheel (standard for CDTi manual only)

Alloy-look sports pedals

Electric remote control mirrors. Heated glass with auto off

Intermittent wipers front and rear (front only on TwinTop)

Rear window demister

Cruise control

Variable instrument dimming

Tachometer

Graphic information display: Time. Date. Outside temperature. Warning messages.

Audio settings. Trip computer functions. Trip computer includes: Instant economy. Average economy.

Fuel used on trip. Average speed. Trip distance. Distance to empty. Stop watch

Check control: Remote control key batteries. Brake light bulb and circuit. Brake pads.

Washer fluid level. Coolant level

Headlight level adjust

Headlamps left on warning buzzer

Door ajar warning lamp

Seatbelt warning lamp

Foldable keys

Service reminder

Sound system

AM/FM stereo electronic tune radio. Seek. Preset station scan

6-disc in-dash CD player

Multi function or graphic display includes: Radio band. Preset station number. Frequency. CD/radio functions

Seven premium speakers. Total 130 watts

Sound system remote controls on steering wheel

Speed dependent volume control

Seating

Seat trim in woven cloth

Heatable front seats

Padded front seat head restraints. Height adjust

8-way adjustment of front sports seats. Recline. Slide. Height. Cushion tilt

Adjustable lumbar support — driver and front passenger

Driver and front passenger front airbags

Driver and front passenger side impact airbags

Curtain airbags

Three padded rear head restraints with height adjust

Pyrotechnic front seatbelt pretensioners. Lower belt mounts on seat frame for consistent fit when seat moved forward or back

Front seatbelt force limiters, controls maximum force on chest

Front seatbelt sash height adjust

Brake pedal (and clutch pedal on manual vehicles) release in serious frontal collision

Anti-submarining ramps in all seats reduce the risk of sliding under seatbelt in collision

All seatbelts retracting lap/sash

Rear seat child restraint anchor points located on back of rear seats

Cabin comfort

Electronic climate control air conditioning

Heating/ventilation system includes pollen filter

Power windows, front. Express down/up

Power windows auto reverse safety function (when power windows fitted)

Sunglasses storage

Interior lighting auto off when ignition switched on. Auto off timer if engine remains off

Tinted windows

Cup holders, one in each front door and glove box lid

Rear seat back 60:40 split, foldable

Split level glovebox for smaller items. Removable middle shelf. Pen holder. Lamp

Centre console storage tray

Compartment in centre console

Storage bins in all doors

Coat hooks

Lamp in boot or cargo area

Security

Radio frequency remote control key operates: Interior lighting. Central locking for keyless entry.

Door deadlocks. Boot or tailgate. Fuel filler door

Key has rolling security code

Engine immobilised automatically when key removed from ignition.

Ignition lock cylinder ‘freewheels’ if anything other than correct key is inserted

Door lock in driver’s door only. Lock cylinder ‘freewheels’ if anything other than correct key is inserted

Hinged, removable cargo cover, with colour keyed fabric

Audio display in multi function display separate from sound system unit to deter theft. Security PIN coding

Specification

Fuel tank (litres) 52

4 wheel disc brakes, Front ventilated,

4-channel ABS with brake assist

Suspension: IDSplus Suspension. Independent. MacPherson strut. Decoupled strut mounts. Continuously Controlled Dampers. Coil springs. Stabiliser bar

Steering: Electro-hydraulic power rack and pinion

Front track (mm):  1484

Rear track (mm): 1481

Turning circle (m): 10.85

Dimensions and weights

Length: 4290

Width (inc mirrors): 2033

Width (exc mirrors): 1753

Height: 1460

Cargo volume: rear seats up 302 litres, rear seats down 1030 litres

Kerb weight: 1401kg

Towing capacity: 630 unbraked, 1300 braked.

Warranty/service

3,000km (at no cost) inspection, then every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. Holden Dealer ‘Tech 2’ latest computerized analysis system available for engine management system. Spark plug replacement every 60,000km. Cartridgeless paper oil filter. Audible disc pad replacement warning.

Engine timing belt replacement every 120,000km.

Words and photos Darren Cottingham


Blogs: Even the Indy 500 is now green

The 2008 Indy 500 is set to include a few firsts: the first woman driver with a legitimate chance of winning is a big one. But also the Indy is going a bit green – the cars are using ethanol (though we’re not sure how green that is if it comes from corn because of the environmental destruction wrought on farmland in the US). Even the pace car – an ethanol-powered Corvette Z06 – is a bit ‘greener’ than a standard ‘Vette.

I have an even better idea on how to make the Indy 500 greener: call it the Indy 50. Then there’ll only be one-tenth the emissions. I am a genius! Someone send me some money for that idea.

Blogs: What is too much ‘luxury’

The Mercedes-Benz C320 CDi that’s sitting in the carpark, trying to entice me to drive it, has an electric headrest. That means it has a motor and a switch and wires that go between the switch on the door right around underneath the seat and up into the top of the seat. All that means weight. Lots of it. You see, I can understand the reason for an electronic headrest – if you have two drivers, one short and one tall, the Merc has different seating settings, and that may also involve adjusting the headrest.

But, we’re just adding more and more weight to our cars unnecessarily. I predict that many of these items may start to be regretted by the manufacturers as they have to progressively meet emissions requirements. Extra weight equals extra fuel costs. So, if Mercedes has a goal to average, say 180g C02/km you may find that heavy items such as headrest adjustment motors are the unwanted baby that you just can’t throw out with the bathwater.

Blogs: What is too much ‘luxury’?

The Mercedes-Benz C320 CDi that’s sitting in the carpark, trying to entice me to drive it, has an electric headrest. That means it has a motor and a switch and wires that go between the switch on the door right around underneath the seat and up into the top of the seat. All that means weight. Lots of it. You see, I can understand the reason for an electronic headrest – if you have two drivers, one short and one tall, the Merc has different seating settings, and that may also involve adjusting the headrest.

But, we’re just adding more and more weight to our cars unnecessarily. I predict that many of these items may start to be regretted by the manufacturers as they have to progressively meet emissions requirements. Extra weight equals extra fuel costs. So, if Mercedes has a goal to average, say 180g C02/km you may find that heavy items such as headrest adjustment motors are the unwanted baby that you just can’t throw out with the bathwater.

Blogs: Mercedes C320 CDI – diesel power in the house

I really liked the C220 CDI so was anticipating what improvements the C320 could make, especially with some AMG kit on it and the optional sat nav.

The answer is that with all the extra grunt and 510Nm of torque it’s not nearly as relaxing as the C220 (far more fun), and that the sat nav seems very good (now I’ve figured it out). I like the way you can position your cursor somewhere and set that as the destination – some other sat nav systems don’t do that. And I like electronically adjustable headrests (only for the bragging rights).

I’m still not sure Merc has its interior right on the C-Class. There’s a bit of a cheapness to parts of the dash. Anyway, we’ll see how I feel in 4 days when I have to give it back!

Blogs: Holden Astra SRi – the drive is great, the interior isn’t

There should be generally accepted ways of doing things in a car – methods of adjusting the air vents, switches for adjusting the stereo, etc. In pretty much any Japanese or German car there are roughly similar ways of doing things. The switches are labelled in a similar way. But come to General Motors’ cars and it’s a different ball game. Here, there are lots of unconventional ways of adjusting things in the car which often aren’t even consistent from model to model. Which brings me to Holden’s hot hatch, the Astra SRi. The Astra functions nothing like an HSV, for example. I still haven’t figured out what all the buttons do, or how to consistently get to the average fuel consumption screen.

But its saving grace is the engine note, the power and the handling. I’m looking forward to driving HSV’s version – the VXR, it’s going to be even meaner!

Blogs: Holden Astra SRi – the drive is great, the interior isn’t

There should be generally accepted ways of doing things in a car – methods of adjusting the air vents, switches for adjusting the stereo, etc. In pretty much any Japanese or German car there are roughly similar ways of doing things. The switches are labelled in a similar way. But come to General Motors’ cars and it’s a different ball game. Here, there are lots of unconventional ways of adjusting things in the car which often aren’t even consistent from model to model. Which brings me to Holden’s hot hatch, the Astra SRi. The Astra functions nothing like an HSV, for example. I still haven’t figured out what all the buttons do, or how to consistently get to the average fuel consumption screen.

But its saving grace is the engine note, the power and the handling. I’m looking forward to driving HSV’s version – the VXR, it’s going to be even m

Audi: Audi A5 quattro S line 2008 Review

Audi A5 S Line fq

The Audi A5 quattro S line is like Tony Blair in his heyday: it’s got the looks, it’s powerful, and it’s smooth. I might be a die-hard Tory, but even I’m convinced that owning this Audi would be no labour of love. Tony took the helm and really drove the ‘New Left’, so I’m taking the helm of the new A5 and seeing if it’s really Right.

I drove its more amply endowed big brother the 4.2-litre V8 S5 back in February. I remember liking it, but not enough to buy one — there was something about the manual gearbox I wasn’t too sure about, and the hill start assist just didn’t work well, making a smooth uphill getaway with the hydraulic handbrake occasionally difficult.

The A5, however, has a six-speed automatic ‘box; a really good one, at that, with a sequential manual mode. And it’s enhanced by the Audi Drive Select, for which there are three settings: comfort which gives you the best economy, auto for everyday driving, and dynamic for sports driving with earlier downshifts and later upshifts.

With its low, lithe, aggressive stance the A5 is a car for the virile executive. A two-door coupe, it’s for the businessman (or woman) that could fill a stadium with children, but chooses not to. It’s for those that appreciate sleek design and understated power, and want the handling to go with it.

When it gets down to it, the discerning driver will probably only want to make one change in the A5 S line, and that’s the stereo which is straight from Mediocre-ville.

The Audi A5 actually had the hardest job in the world with me because the week before I had a Subaru WRX STI Spec R — one of my favourite cars. It still impressed me. And that’s not because the WRX STI is also cursed with a stereo that sounds like you’re listening to it with the bass turned off and the mid-range put through a guitar pedal. It was because of the sense of oneness that driving the A5 gives you.

I’m not going to give you a list of specifications here (you can click through to the second page to read that); I’m going to describe what it’s like to get in and drive the A5.

nlock the door, give a firm pull on the handle — coupe doors are longer and heavier. Climb in and drop into the leather seat. This is the point where the car closes around you. This isn’t in a venus fly-trap type of way. Imagine it a bit like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens when, as Ellen Ripley, she dons the power loader suit to fight the big mamma alien. You are now an integral part of the machine and it will do your beck and call.

Fire up the 3.2-litre V6. It’s quiet, but there’s enough of a vibration to let you know it’s ready for some fun. Leave the Audi Drive Select in comfort mode and drive sedately (yet in anticipation) to your favourite stretch of twisty tarmac. While you’re doing this you can explore a multitude of electronic gadgets befitting a car that costs almost $118,000 — cruise control, Bluetooth phone integration, how long the lights will stay on after you’ve locked the car, trip computer, etc. Don’t bother with the stereo unless you’ve upgraded it, but do notice how many people look at you in the car — it’s an eye-catcher.

Once you’ve reached the aforementioned length of sinuous tarmac, switch the A5’s Audi Drive Select into auto (or dynamic if you really want to go for it), and unleash the 195kW and 330Nm via the quattro four-wheel drive. The A5 deals blows left and right as the tarmac ducks and weaves, occasionally screaming in pain. Grip from the 255/35R19 tyres is immense as the outside wheels throw you back onto the straights. Braking is like coming out of hyperdrive, and on the other side of a corner, accelerating away is satisfyingly brisk (100kph is reached in 6.1 seconds).

I like the A5 S line more than the S5, even though it has less power. It’s a driver’s car — one you like to get in and just drive for the sake of driving. But New Zealand’s roads are like the Alien queen xenomorph — ugly, sneaky, writhing, and ready at any moment to inflict carnage and leave a gooey mess. The A5 therefore is the perfect combination of Sigourney Weaver’s power loader and Tony Blair — subtly persuasive, insidiously powerful and hugely competent.

Click through to the next page to view the full specifications and options for the Audi A5 quattro S line 3.2 FSI V6 quattro and the 3.0 TDI V6 quattro.
Price: from $117,900

What we like

  • Everything we like about the S5, but more
  • Audi Drive Select
  • Five-spoke alloy wheels are beautiful
  • Warranty — 3-year, cost-free

What we don’t like

  • Mediocre stereo — buy the Bang & Olufsen upgrade
A5 S line Specification and Option Sheet (prices correct at time of press (May 2008) 3.2 FSI V6 quattro 3.0 TDI V6 quattro
Technical
Retail Price $117,900 $118,900
Cubic Capacity 3197 2967
KiloWatts/HP 195 / 265 176 / 240
Torque (Nm/rpm) 330 / 3000 500 / 1500
Cylinders / Valves Per Cylinder 6 / 4 6 / 4
Fuel Injection System FSI Common Rail Diesel
Drive Train quattro quattro
Transmission – Tiptronic With DSP & Sport Program 6 speed 6 speed
Servotronic Steering Assistance o o
Adaptive Sports Suspension with Audi Drive Select o o
Acceleration 0-100 km/h (secs) 6.1 5.9
Top Speed (km/h) 250 (regulated) 250 (regulated)
Fuel consumption combined in l/100 km (CO2 emission) 9.7 (232) 7.2 (191)
Audi Cover Assistance – 3 Year Cost Free Motoring o o
Galvanised Body – 12 Year Anti-Corrosion Warranty o o
Safety and Security
ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Pressure Distribution) and Electronic Brake Assist o o
ASR Traction Control System, with EDL – Electronic Diff Lock and ESP o o
Front Passenger Airbag Key Deactivation o o
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchorages Front & Rear o o
Driver & Passenger Airbags, Front Side Airbags and Sideguard Head Airbag System o o
Anti Theft Alarm With Interior Surveillance and Vehicle Immobiliser o o
Exterior
Alloy Wheels 19″ 5-arm style Design 19″ 5-arm style Design
Tyres 255/35 R 19 255/35 R 19
Auto Headlight Activation with Rain Sensor, Coming-Home and Daytime Driving Mode o o
Automatic Dimming Exterior Mirrors – Electric & Heated with Memory function o o
Front bumpers, Side Radiator Grilles, and Diffuser Inserts in Sporty Design o o
Headlights Halogen Halogen
Lower Sections of Bumpers and Door Strips Painted in Body Colour o o
Rear Diffuser in Platinum Grey o o
S line Logo on the Front Wings o o
S line Logo on Door Sill Trims o o
Space Saver Spare Wheel o o
Interior
Air Conditioning (three -zone) with Sun Sensor & Humidity Sensor o o
Auto Dimming Interior Mirrors o o
CD Changer for MMI o o
Cruise Control o o
Dash Inserts Aluminium Aluminium
Driver Information System o o
Electromechanical Parking Brake o o
Heated Electric Front Seats with Lumber and Drivers Memory Sports Sports
Height And Reach Adjustable Steering Column o o
Interior Trim Milano Leather Milano Leather
Mobile Phone Preparation with Blue Tooth o o
Multi Function Trip Computer o o
Multi Media Interface (MMI) o o
I Pod Preparation o o
Parking Aid Front & Rear o o
Sports Steering Wheel – 3 Spoke with Shift Paddles, Multifunction o o
Split Folding Rear Seat o o
Storage Package o o
A5 S line Specification and Option Sheet 3.2 FSI V6 Quattro 3.0 TDI V6 quattro
Exterior Options
20″ 7-Double Spoke Design $1,500 $1,500
Bi- Xenon Plus with Headlight Washers $2,500 $2,500
Bi- Xenon Plus with Headlight Washers and Adaptive Lights $3,500 $3,500
Audi Side Assist $1,600 $1,600
Electrically Operated Roll Up Sun Screen for Rear Window $1,000 $1,000
Tyre Pressure Monitoring Display $200 $200
Panoramic Sunroof $3,200 $3,200
Leather Trim and Packages
Seat Heating for Front and Rear Seats $900 $900
Valona leather $1,200 $1,200
Interior
Advanced Key $1,800 $1,800
Audi Hill Hold Assist $150 $150
Driver Information System with Colour Display $400 $400
Garage Door Opener (Homelink) $700 $700
Inlays, Walnut Brown $500 $500
Inlays, Fine Grain Ash Beige $500 $500
Inlays, Laurel Nutmeg $500 $500
Lighting Package $800 $800
Ski Bag $500 $500
Vavona Inlays $1,000 $1,000
Sound
Audi Dynamic Sound System $1,000 $1,000
Bang & Olufsen Sound System $2,500 $2,500
Other
Navigation $5,500 $5,500
Sound and Go package (Advanced Key + Bang & Olufsen Sound System) $3,500 $3,500

Words and photos Darren Cottingham