For those of you looking for a quick, easy-to-read summary of my
Astra review, here are some of the highlights and shortcomings of
the Saturn Astra.
Initial impressions: Perfect proportions and
well-drawn lines make it impossible to find a design flaw on the
sheet metal. And while the design is conservative enough that it
won't offend anyone, it's definitely not dull. The headlamps that
were revamped to meet American safety standards add a bit of
aggression. The three-door looks even better than the five-door, yet
it's begging for a performance package to match the style.
Biggest European quirk: touchy brakes. Your passengers will think
you've got a bowling ball for a foot as your attempts to apply light
braking cause necks to whip forward.
Options to check out: dual-panel sunroof and 18-inch wheels. The
largest-in-class sunroof that stretches from the front to the rear
also comes with a power mesh shade. The 18-inch wheels will
certainly raise your Astra's bling factor, but the best part might
be the sticky summer tires that come with them.
Biggest learning curve: turn signal switch. The stalk has a total
of four locations, allowing you to tap lightly for three blinks to
signal a lane change, or tap fully for continuous blinker. The
frustration arises from the lack of detents to let your hand know
how far you've pushed it. Additionally, the too-quiet clicking makes
it hard to tell if the signal has automatically canceled after
you've made a turn.
Breaking out of the mold: Golden light illuminates the Astra
gauges at night, a nice change from the red that everybody seems to
be doing these days. Nissan offers a similar color on some models,
but it's still rare in the industry.
Missing feature: an auxiliary audio input. Opel engineers say
that an audio input required a line to mute the rest of the audio
system. Unfortunately, the one and only mute line was given to
OnStar instead of an audio input.
Feature that should be in every car: steering wheel and seat
adjustments. The Astra offers a tilt and telescoping steering wheel
along with a manual seat-height adjuster. While these features are
increasingly common in entry-level cars, they're not everywhere yet
and it's an appreciated touch.
Lost in translation: Sport button. Europe gets a neat dash button
labeled Sport. Activate it and you'll get sharpened responses from
the engine, transmission and suspension. We hope it finds its way to
Sign of the times: While everyone else goes big, Saturn shows up
with a smaller engine, making 138 horsepower from 1.8 liters. Sure,
0-60 times won't impress anyone on paper, but the response of the
engine and driving dynamics make for an entertaining drive and it
should prove to be an ally when it comes to filling up. -- Eric
Tingwall, Inside Line Contest Winner and Citizen Journalist