For a multitude of reasons, most having to do with public demand, hatchbacks haven’t historically done well in America. After last year’s debut, the 2009 Saturn Astra, an almost identical recycle of a car made by Opel, tries to finally break that pattern with a strong combination of sportiness, economy and practical utility.
The Astra is another example of GM consolidating production lines with another one of their brands, in this case, Opel, and comes available in three trims. (As one of two five-door versions called the XE and the XR, or as a three-door version of the XR) Regardless of trim, all cars come with the same adequate, but not exhilarating, 1.8L four-cylinder Ecotec powerplant that produces 138hp and needs rather long 8.6 seconds slightly heavy Astra to make it up to 60 mph. The Ecotec engine does employ variable valve timing to optimize power output and fuel efficiency, the results of which are 24 mpg in the city and 30 or 32mpg on the highway depending on whether the car has a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. The three-door XR offers sportier features and more standard equipment, including 17-inch wheels, projector beam fog lights, a lowered sport-tuned suspension and a StabiliTrak electronic stability control system. This system works in concert with the standard four-wheel, antilock disc brakes to help the driver maintain control during adverse road conditions or during sudden emergency driving situations. All cars come standard with four-wheel ABS and cornering brake control, a tire pressure monitoring system, six airbags including dual-stage frontal units and head curtain side airbags, one year of OnStar service, a six-speaker CD stereo system and a Driver Information Center.
While the interior isn’t as bargain-basement as other entry level cars, it isn’t exactly luxurious, even by economy standards. Still, it is an improvement over traditional drab and plastic hardened American cars of the past.
With a price between 16 and 19 grand, the Astra pulls off a nice balancing act of efficiency and style that deserves at least a chance with those considering a sporty hatchback. Not only will you get to enjoy the satisfaction of buying American, but you’ll get a nice and inexpensive car in the process.