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In just a few days, Saturn will publicly unveil the 2008 Saturn Astra, the rebadged Opel that will be imported from Europe to replace the bizarre-looking Ion. In other markets, the Astra is available in a variety of body styles ranging from a four-door notchback sedan to a slick, sporty hardtop coupe/convertible. This is the part where we eat crow for predicting that GM would send over the notchback, because instead, they've chosen to send a pair of hatchbacks ( 3- and 5-door) to launch the model here in the States. The cars will target formidable competitors like the Mazda3 and VW Rabbit.

2008 Saturn Astra interiorSaturn's new trim-level nomenclature is employed, with base XE and topline XR versions for the 5-door. The 3-door will be an XR-only vehicle. All Astras receive a 140-horsepower 1.8L Ecotec four-cylinder underhood, which is mated to a 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy numbers aren't available yet, but should come out as the vehicle gets closer to production.

Follow the jump for more info and Saturn's official press release.

UPDATE:
Interior shot has been added to the gallery


Aside from the obvious Saturn grille and markings, there's no visual difference between the Saturn version and its Opel twin. This is a good thing, because Astra's looks were never an issue. The 3-door XR with its optional 18" rims is particularly appealing to our eyes, though the practical 5-door shod in 17s is no slouch either (and will surely be a tempting morsel for buyers who have kids, dogs, carpool, etc.).

Inside, the full Euro interior is carried over, which makes for some interesting differences in that the GM corporate radio we're accustomed to seeing is replaced with the Opel unit. From the looks of things, the same tabbed display setup is carried over, only with a larger screen that's mounted high on the dash separate from the radio itself. The instrument cluster is attractive and well-organized, dominated by a large speedo and tach. The 3-spoke steering wheel is unique to Astra. The enclosed presskit photo shows the interior done in all grey, which truthfully makes it look really bland. We'd probably choose a lighter color if we were doing the buying.

In terms of amenities, there are many to choose from, including a two-panel sunroof for the 5-door, heated cloth or leather seats, 6 or 7-speaker audio systems, and wheel-mounted radio controls on the XR cars. A full complement of six airbags comes standard, too. We're looking very forward to getting up close and personal with the Astra at Chicago, and we'll bring you firsthand touch 'n feel impressions from the show floor as soon as the cars make their big debut.

We'll say this right now, though: the Ion won't be missed one bit.


PRESS RELEASE:

ALL-NEW 2008 SATURN ASTRA BRINGS AWARD-WINNING EUROPEAN SMALL CAR TO NORTH AMERICA

CHICAGO – Saturn announced the addition of the all-new 2008 Astra to its lineup, bringing a decidedly European flavor to the North American compact car market. It is packed with a wide range of standard equipment and safety features, and delivers sporty performance with very good fuel economy.
The Saturn Astra will be offered in three-door and five-door models, each underpinned by a taught, European-bred suspension that delivers a sharp, responsive driving experience. Power comes from a 1.8L Ecotec four-cylinder engine that is both energetic and economical, delivering 140 horsepower (104 kW) and good fuel economy.

"In Europe, the Astra's combination of style, performance, safety technology and fuel efficiency have made it a hit with owners and auto critics alike," said Jill Lajdziak, Saturn general manager. "Now, Saturn is bringing the newly restyled Astra to North America and marrying it with our celebrated customer experience."

The Astra will go on sale in the fourth quarter of this year. It is the fifth product in a complete revamp of Saturn's product lineup. In fact, when the Astra hits showrooms, the "oldest" vehicle in Saturn's portfolio will be the Sky roadster, which debuted in March 2006. Other new models include the all-new Aura sedan, the redesigned Vue compact crossover – including the Vue Green Line hybrid – and the Outlook crossover.

"It's not a stretch to say Saturn is all-new," said Lajdziak. "The Astra rounds out our portfolio with a smart-driving, well-equipped small car that shares the European designs evident in all our new vehicles."

Product highlights

Saturn offers two trim levels (XE and XR) for five-door models, and a single trim (XR) in the three-door configuration, which was created with more enthusiastic drivers in mind.
The standard powertrain combination in all models is the 1.8L Ecotec DOHC four-cylinder engine, which is paired with a five-speed manual transmission. The Ecotec engine is enhanced with variable valve timing to optimize power output and fuel efficiency. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional on all models.
The Astra offers technologies to provide an agile, yet comfortable, driving experience. StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with traction control is standard on all three-door Astras, and available on five-door models. 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.

An electro-hydraulic, rack-and-pinion steering system is standard on all models. It provides the solid, linear feel of a hydraulic power steering system, but improves fuel efficiency by operating the power steering pump only when necessary. The system has two available configurations: the standard 15:1 ratio on five-door models and a 14:1 Sport ratio (standard on the three-door; optional on five-doors).
Five-door Astras come with standard 16-inch wheels, but can be upgraded to 17-inch aluminum wheels. Three-door models come standard with 17-inch aluminum wheels, which can be upgraded to 18-inch aluminum wheels and performance tires.

Design details

The Astra has a clean, contemporary design that is infused with Saturn's signature styling cues, including a bold, bright grille bar with prominent Saturn logo. Both the three-door and five-door models are distinguished from their European relatives with unique front and rear fascias that conform to North American bumper standards.
Rear-end styling also features a bright trim bar, with large, wraparound taillamps and clear lenses. The center high-mounted stop lamp uses LED technology for fast and crisp illumination.
Proportions on both body styles suggest an enthusiastic driving experience, with the wheels pushed to the corners and subtle fender flares wrapped tightly around the tires for a tailored stance.
Interior design and features
Bold design, refinement and precise execution are the hallmarks of the Saturn Astra's interior, which envelops passengers in a contemporary environment that maximizes space and comfort. Details include a continuation of the exterior's center hood crease on to the center of the instrument panel, as well as a V-shaped center stack motif that also complements the design language of the exterior.
All models convey the Astra's sporting character through firm, well-supported seats and a thick, three-spoke steering wheel with rake and telescopic adjustments. Ahead of the steering wheel is a rounded cockpit binnacle that houses a large, three-dimensional gauge cluster – including large speedometer and tachometer dials. The sporty Astra three-door receives specific seats with more aggressive bolsters and lumbar support.

Additional interior highlights include:
• Illuminated glove box with damped door actuation
• A large, two-panel sunroof: the largest in its class (available on five-door only)
• Available heated seats in cloth or leather surfaces
• Auxiliary 12-volt power outlet
• Easy-to-remove rear cargo cover
• Power door locks (with central locking feature) and power windows with express down feature
• Standard six-speaker AM/FM/CD radio and available seven-speaker sound system; multi-disc and MP3-capable radios available
• Steering-wheel mounted audio controls (on XR models)
Astra's bold proportions, including a long, 103-inch (2,614 mm) wheelbase and 80-inch (2,033 mm) width, provide exceptional roominess and generous storage capacity. The 60/40-split folding rear seat also folds flat with the touch of a single, high-mounted lever. When the rear seat is folded, the five-door Astra offers 44.8 cubic feet (1,270 L) of storage space.
Occupant protection features
The 2008 Saturn Astra features a comprehensive list of safety systems to help protect occupants in the event of a crash. Highlights include:
• Rigid body structure with safety cage
• Six standard air bags, including dual-stage frontal air bags; roof rail head curtain air bags and thorax/pelvic air bags (front-seat passengers)
• Active head restraints
• Collapsible pedals
• Front safety belt pretensioners and load limiters
OnStar with one year of Safe & Sound service

Body structure: The unitized body structure is designed with a safety cage around the passenger compartment, and features optimized front and rear crush zones that absorb energy and help maintain the structural integrity of the passenger compartment. High-strength steel is used strategically throughout the body structure.

Air bags: All Astra models feature dual-stage frontal air bags, seat-mounted thorax/pelvic air bags to help protect front occupants and head curtain air bags for front- and rear-seat occupants. Also standard is an automatic passenger sensing system for the front passenger seat; it suppresses the activation of the passenger-side frontal air bag if it detects a child or smaller-stature person in that seating position.
Active head restraints and collapsible pedals: Standard active head restraints instantly move forward if a rear-end crash is detected, reducing the risk of neck injuries. Similarly, the collapsible foot pedals move during a crash to reduce the risk of leg or ankle injuries.
Safety belt pretensioners and load limiters: When a crash is detected, the safety belt pretensioners immediately reduce the slack in the front safety belts, helping limit the movement of passengers. The load limiters permit a small amount of movement in the front safety belts, thereby reducing peak chest loads in a more severe crash.

OnStar: Astra comes with the latest-generation OnStar system, including available Turn-by-Turn Navigation. The system also includes advanced automatic crash notification (AACN). With AACN, an OnStar advisor is immediately contacted by the vehicle when a crash occurs; the advisor can determine the appropriate emergency help required and assist in sending it to the scene of the crash. Astra buyers will receive one year of Safe & Sound Service provided by Saturn.

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