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
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
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
18″ x 7.5″ alloy wheels (five-spoke).
Tyre valve cap tool located behind fuel filler flap
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
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
Variable instrument dimming
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
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
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
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
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)
Interior lighting auto off when ignition switched on. Auto off timer if engine remains off
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
Lamp in boot or cargo area
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
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
Width (inc mirrors): 2033
Width (exc mirrors): 1753
Cargo volume: rear seats up 302 litres, rear seats down 1030 litres
Kerb weight: 1401kg
Towing capacity: 630 unbraked, 1300 braked.
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