• Sep 8, 2008
Click above for high-res gallery of the 2008 Saturn Astra XR

Car buyers here in the States are clamoring for fuel efficient transportation, but so far the Saturn Astra hasn't been on the top of buyers lists. The Astra is a smash hit in Europe and we liked it during its short stay in the Autoblog Garage, but it may just be too expensive compared to the competition with a starting price of $16,495. General Motors isn't keeping the price high to make a profit on the small volume import, either. GM vice chairman and quote master Bob Lutz told Automotive News that the Belgian-made Astra isn't profitable in the U.S. at all anymore due to the weak value of the Dollar vs. the Euro. The Astra has gone up in price by $500 since its introduction to reflect the broadening gap between the two currencies, and the price hike was implemented only to lessen the hit from the currency exchange. The Astra is not just a financial burden for the General – it isn't exactly a sales success, either. GM has sold only 7,914 so far this year, which is far below the projected pace of 25,000 annual units. Part of the problem is that few people actually know the Astra exists, and those who do may not want to pay the relatively high price of entry. If you've driven or own an Astra, let us know what you think of it in the comments.


[Source: Automotive News - sub. req'd]


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  • 91 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just thought I'd offer thoughts on my Astra as I enjoyed reading both the positive and negative things people have to say here - some perspective is always useful.

      First - I love the style as it's very modern and understated, but to me it also looks and feels elegant. Simple lines do not necessarily equal boring or bland - it's just a different aesthetic that appeals to some.

      It handles very well - I 'm not much of a speeder in terms of how fast I drive, but I do consistently drive 5-10 miles over the speed limit as that's where I'm comfortable (plus - most other drivers do the same). I love taking corners in the Astra as it hugs the ground.

      On a whim I got the sunroof which I didn't think I'd enjoy as much as I do, but it really is nice to have. My daughter loves it too - especially on rainy days because it's not too bright outside and she can watch the spattering raindrops...

      I had a bit of a problem with the stereo sound, but after playing around with the controls I got it set where it sounds good - I imagine sound is difficult with hatchbacks.

      It's great to haul stuff as well. I fit a recliner in the back with ease which surprised me. There is also quite a bit of room in the car - my wife has a 2007 Camry and I feel cramped when I drive her car.

      The single cup holder mystified me at first, but I actually like it now - the placement is much better than below the stereo/controls as is normal. My drink is there when I need it, but it's out of the way when I don't (and the straw doesn't get in the way when I operate the controls).

      As far as the cost goes - I got $2,500 off mine which was definitely an incentive. I test drove an before I committed to buying the Astra as it was more similar to my wife's Camry, but cars that size seem so stodgy to me. I like something with a little more zip and freshness.

      People ask about the Astra too - nobody knows what it is and it kind of sneaks up on them that it's really a nice little car. Maybe that's why I like it - it doesn't boast, but it's very appealing nonetheless.

      One more thing - I think people might equate the initial drag on acceleration with sluggishness, but the car actually shifts into neutral when stopped - it then shifts back into gear when you go which causes a moment of drag. When I'm on the road and I pass others it sure speeds right up though.

      Anyway - I love my Astra but like anything else it's not for everyone. There are flashier cars out there, and there are faster cars out there, but for my the Astra is beautiful, functional, and comfortable.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Bought a 2-dr about six months ago. Here's why. Wanted a Smart, couldn't wait in line for a year and a half. (Contrary to popular belief, not all Americans need back seats, 250 horse power, or a trunk). Looked at the mini and the yaris. Mini was expensive and the dealers were annoying. Yaris was cool, but didn't have some essential options like abs, traction control, stability control, and it made way too much noise at highway speeds. Civic was out on principle since they won't give us the five door. Corolla and Sentra also ruled out for conventional trunk approach and grandfather-pleasing sense of style. Really doesn't leave much to choose from, but...

      I went and drove the Astra even though I was hoping to get something that got somewhat better mileage. What I found was a dealership that was polite and professional and a car which may not be the fastest and may not have all the bells and whistles that the "go fast" crowd wants, but which had everything I wanted. It also gave me the impression of having been carved from a solid block of stone, an impression which six months later I still get every time I climb in the car.

      Subjective, but I would say it's better looking than a Golf - the only cool hatch that approaches the visual appeal is the Volvo, and once again I didn't have $24k to spend, and I didn't want a car that could only do 19 mpg around town and 28 on the highway. For the record, the Saturn has an 11,000 mile average of 31.8 mpg (combined driving) and that's with the automatic.
      • 6 Years Ago
      akboss: Being the owner of a 2003 Mazda Protege5 myself, I totally agree with your comments. I absolutely love the car and it's the handling, ride and fuel economy of this car that drew my wife and I (we are both from Europe) to the Saturn Astra XR 5-door. We went with the Sport Handling package (that includes stabilty control, firmer shocks and 17" alloy wheels) and advanced audio system and we could not be happier. The substantial feel of the car from when you first open and close the doors to the driving experience are notable. The looks of the car and the quality of the materials used inside definately have a Euro feel and, unlike on the continent, it's not a car that everyone has...
      BTW, still have the Protege5 and intend to keep it until it rusts away!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I love the look of the 2 door astra. I live in Saginaw MI and have only seen one astra on the road and it was the 4 door. The local mall has one on display from the dealership its also a 4 door. The dealership has no 2 doors in stock. Only one other 4 door. Whats the deal? I rather have mini for the price of the astra.
      vpoort
      • 6 Years Ago
      Kill Saturn.

      Their cars are no longer unique since they merged Saturn operationally and financially with the rest of the GM empire. At best they're re-badged Chevy's (not unlike Olds, Pontiac, and Buick).

      At one time Saturn was the best part of GM.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @vpoort
        Jim, you really got my hopes up. My 1991 Saturn SC was incredibly reliable, and the (manual) transmission was very good, shifted well, even had a hydraulic clutch.

        But it was a 120HP 1.9L (LL0) engine with fixed valve timing. This is a 140HP 1.8L engine with VVT on intake and exhaust. The internets say it is is a family 1 EcoTEC (DCVCP).

        I do agree that for the money charged, it probably should be a 6-speed. I have no opinion on the automatic because I would never get this car with an automatic.

        Your AUX port rant is a little unfocused, but the Astra does lack an AUX port, so you can't attach an mp3 player. And I agree, GM has to stop dumbing down their handsfree options in deference to OnStar. They've started to fix it on higher end cars (the CTS got Bluetooth only a few months ago!), it's time to do it everywhere.

        I loved my early Saturn, a co-workers 1997-ish is good too. The later SL/SC got crappy in the interior (I despise center instruments). The rest of your post I wholeheartedly agree with.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @vpoort
        I say kill Saab first.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @vpoort
        None of their cars are Chevys, and truth be told two of Chevys cars started their lives AS Saturns (Cobalt being one of them as its just a cleaned up Ion)

        No the issue with the Astra is very easy to see.

        Its expensive for its class, and while the ride shows it being much better than any car I have driven Japanese or American with one of the BEST American sub-compact interiors ever, the refinement sucked.

        Problems with the Astra as is

        1) Engine is the SAME engine from the 1990 SL/SC series, and is mated with the SAME transmission. The stick should be 5 for base 6 for XR and the Auto should be 4 for base 5 for XR with a manualmatic on it. There is no diesel option (unlike Europe) nor does the engine in there have any refinement to get more MPG or more speed out of it. Here there is NO excuse from GM for this cockup, I 100% FULLY Blame Lutz for that one as he is the one who for whatever reason thinks Americans cant take the european engines.

        2) GMs insistence on NOT including any proper digital age refinements to their vehicles. The Astra doesn't even have the european AUX port thanks to the companies insistence on selling On-star which everyone dumps after 1 year. And for 300 dollars I can get a aftermarket stereo that does bluetooth and syncs with any digital player I want, while GM insists on using On-star for phones (which screws you if you use anything but Verizon) and Aux ports for digital players forcing you to have to juggle the player to find a song while everyone else can use steering wheel controls even on their low end econo-boxes. I mean come on I WANT a Astra but making me have to buy a 100 dollar in-line radio adapter to even listen to my iPod in it? Your fault Lutz.

        GM has basically abandoned the Astra from the start. When have you seen a ad for it? Anywhere? Even the Ion had more ads and that was the car that made me abandon Saturn after owning two SL2s for Chevy who took the platform and made a decent looking car instead of cocking it up so bad it was heavy enough to ruin any improvement having the better 2.2l ecotech in the car made.

        So quite frankly its YOUR fault Lutz you screwed the pooch on the Astra. It was going to be the car I went back to Saturn on.... I lusted after it when it came out. Instead its the reason I am looking at Mazda, VW, and Honda for my next machine. You may have improved GM out of the hole it was in with your SUVs, but in the current age of the small car, your a dinosaur that needs to die for the good of the general.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @vpoort
        It is not the same engine.

        The Saturn Astra has the 1.8L Family 1 engine that's all over the place in Europe.

        The old SL/SC/SW models had a Saturn-exclusive 1.9L engine.

        With that said, GM needs to be smacked for not bringing over the 2.0T (or the newer 1.6T) engine used in the uplevel Euro-spec models. No, I'm not talking about the VXR (though it would be a nice GTI-fighting halo, and would help sales)--the regular 2.0T models will do for American tastes. The 1.8L with 138hp isn't enough for American tastes. Hell, the 2.0T almost entirely identical to the Ecotecs used through most of GM's US line (hell, I think it's completely identical to the Saab 9-3's base engine).
        • 6 Years Ago
        @vpoort
        hankfidel: I say kill you first.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Just goes to show that name recognition means a lot in this business. This car is much better than a Cobalt, yet Cobalt sells over 15,000 units in August...and it was a bad month for them...

      Ask 100 people what an Astra is and maybe 5 say a Saturn.
      • 6 Years Ago
      How can a car have rain sensing windshield wipers, but no AUX input or armrest, get with the times!
      • 6 Years Ago
      A previous commentor stated the Aura and the VUE are Saturn exclusive with the SKY sharing mechanicals with the Solstice. That is partially correct: the VUE is Saturn exclusive, but in US only. The VUE is a re-badged Opal, built in Mexico, developed in GM's Daewoo in Korea. It also still retains the basic underpinnings of the previous VUE, which is shared with the Torent and Equinox.

      The Aura is also a Pontiac. The SKY is a Solstice and will be an Opal/Vauxhal.

      My wife and I have owned 4 Saturns since 1998. We have enjoyed owning our Saturns and dealing with our Saturn dealer. Beginning with the Ion and carried on with the Relay, GM messed Saturn up. Had GM given Saturn the money and the independance as was the idea when envisioned, Saturn could have been bigger.

      As I previous/current Saturn owner I like the direction Saturn is going now. The line of cars (with exception of Outlook) are fresh and nice. The badge engineering is kept overseas so you can't buy the same car from all of GM's divisions.

      Saturn needs to advertise, and they need to add a few American preferences to their models.
      • 6 Years Ago
      No VXR, no sales! It's that simple, GM. If you're gonna' build a name/model/brand, give it some juice. And hatchbacks do sell in the US-look at the MINI!
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Astra is simply an example of American automotive know it alls espousing how much better European models are, only to find that the grass isn't always greener. European vehicles are 'underpowered' compared to American vehicles, so it is no suprise that the Astra 'is a dog' compared to a 150 HP Cobalt. Thatr's not to say that the Astra isn't structurally a better car than the Cobalt- it is. When when it comes to American driving styles versus European, there is a big difference. GM didn't dilute the Astra before bringing it over, it's just that expectations for its' straightline performance were unrealistic.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ford is copying Saturn's business model. Bring European cars here. That's Saturn's model, and that's what Ford says it's going to do. Maybe it's not with the Mercury nameplate. Some rumors have said so, perhaps they aren't correct.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree. See the big hullabaloo on here last week about how we should change the laws so we can bring European cars here? Well, here's a counter example. And there are many.

        And the weird part is Ford is tooling up Mercury to copy Saturn's business model. I guess that means someone things Saturn is a success recently.
        • 6 Years Ago
        why not the LS2LS7

        Get your facts straight, Ford is not copying Saturn's business model for Mercury division.

        Main reason, as I have mentioned above, for Astra's lackluster success is lack of promotion. It's not being promoted towards any marketing group. This is yet another pathetic GM attempt to find an excuse for its dispicable product execution.

        You conveniently failed to mention MINI, Mazda 3 hatchback, old Focus ZX3 hatch which sold very well, Pontiac Vibe, etc etc.

        It's got nothing to do with tastes, it's got everything to do with rigid status quo thinking at GM.

        Stop cheapening Opel products for US customers, and purposely skimming out on advertising to a specific market audience.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I want an apology from everyone in here who attacked me for saying that Astra was too expensive. Everyone in here kept saying ohh no, it is more expensive than Civic because in is From Europe, because it has more features. My argument was that it doesn’t matter, Civic is the measuring bar, you are either better or worse than Civic, Saturn is worse, and more expensive.


      I kept saying that no sane person in the world will pay $1,300 for a 4 speed Automatic and $500 for stability Control, everyone in here said no Mike you are wrong, if I needed a car I’d love to pay ONLY $1,300.


      BTW, just so you know, even Corvette doesn’t charge $1,300 for an Automatic.


      The RANT is over.

        • 6 Years Ago
        That would be wonderful and all... except the Astra competes head to head with the Golf/Rabbit, not the Civic.

        Your post = FAIL.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I ain't apologizing for crap.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I didn't comment on Astra before, but I am sorry The Internet hurt your feelings.
        • 6 Years Ago
        This isn't a kiddy arguing corner, people.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Astra costs more money because it's MORE CAR.

        Honestly, how many people so ignorantly post (such as yourself) on these blogs, without even touching the vehicles they're commenting/ripping on.

        The Astra utilizes soft-touch plastic interior... how many cars in the $16-20k price range (and more specifically, in the class) can say that? Only the Hyundai Elantra, that I can think of. And trust me, I've either owned, driven, or rented A LOT of vehicles.

        The Astra not only uses higher quality plastics and materials, but the design is still very European, which could be taken either good or bad (given personal preference), however I consider it to be a nice change from the competition.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Holy $&*! mike! You just won at the internetz!!

        congratz.. nobody cares :)

        • 6 Years Ago
        I started selling THE REAL SATURN'S in Dec of '90. I left after 7 1/2 yrs. 11 years later I came back to an all GM car line, not THE REAL SATURN'S. In the early 90's we were the #1 car in the JDPowers, Popular Mechanics. Motor Trend et al surveys a # of times. I sold one Astra in the four months I WAS here. Mainly. do to a Mazda dealer being 100 yards West of us and having "3's" that were two to three thousand dollars LESS than an Astra and getting better gas mileage. Not to mention that these cars today don't stand a chance of going over three hundred thousand miles as 5 of my personal customers have done. RW
      • 6 Years Ago
      I find it amazing when business do this... "how come our product isn't selling?" BECAUSE KNOW ONE KNOWS ABOUT IT!
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