2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-Door: "American" is Not Its First Language


For years, many automotive enthusiasts have bemoaned the fact that both GM and Ford make beautifully executed vehicles for Europe, while we Yanks get cheap and plasticky land yachts with marshmallow suspensions. It killed me that – for example – we would get crusty old Ford Tauruses while Europe got the slick Mondeo – the latest generation of which Europeans genuinely consider to give the BMW 3-Series a run for the money, despite its everyman market positioning. It also annoyed that American GM owners on a budget were stuck with Cavaliers and Ions while Europeans got the stylish Opel Astra – a sporty and stylish small car with build quality that most American GM cars of the time could only dream of.
Sometimes, GM and Ford’s American operations would bring over Americanized versions of their European cars. For the most part, however, they were simply sad shadows of what they were in Europe, with all the appealing features and finish removed for cost. Why? The rationale was that Europeans pay a lot more for their vehicles than we do, and in order to bring those costs down to levels amenable to price sensitive American customers, all the cool stuff had to come out.


The best looking US-brand GM small car…ever?

Things have changed though. Gasoline’s $4.00 per gallon now, and GM is undergoing something of a product renaissance. Saturn, as a GM brand, is undergoing a transformation as well with customers being asked to “rethink American”. The new Aura, Outlook, Sky, and Vue are clear winners (the latter two are AutoPacific’s 2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Award winners in their respective segments), and the new Astra aims to continue that success.

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2007 Chicago Auto Show: Saturn Astra

General Motors’ German Division Helps Out Their Domestic Import-Fighter
Saturn has been working with Opel to develop its latest products. This collaboration is helping to revive the Saturn brand with fresh styling and provide products with a strong, sophisticated personality. The Vue Crossover SUV, which was introduced at the 2007 Detroit show, is an Opel Antara wearing a Saturn badge. And Saturn’s replacement for the much-maligned Ion is an Opel Astra with a Saturn badge. Saturn’s Astra takes different front and rear bumpers, to meet North American bumper standards, but there is little else different between the two cars.
Partly because of this collaboration and the launch of the large Saturn Crossover SUV the Outlook, Saturn has one of the strongest growth prospects among “American” brands for the latter half of the decade.


The Saturn Astra launches late in 2007, by which time the oldest vehicle in Saturn’s lineup will be the Sky. In a mere twenty months, Saturn will have revamped its entire range, all for the better. The division that had long been starved for product finally has a competitive, modern stable.

Saturn is taking a bit of a risk with Astra, however, in that it is offered in only three- and five-door hatchback versions. There will be no sedan or quad coupe this time around, but as U.S. consumers have become more accepting of hatchbacks over the past couple of years the danger is less than it would have been earlier this century. The five-door will be offered in two trim levels, XE and XR, with the three-door only in XR trim and geared toward a more “enthusiastic” driver. Astra’s launch powertrain is a 140HP 1.8L four-cylinder, which gets a standard five-speed manual transmission and optional four-speed automatic. This powertrain is nothing special, but should hold its own among other compact cars.

The Astra gets a terrific interior to go along with its stylish exterior. We got the chance to quickly get in and check out the car immediately after the reveal, and the feel and finish of the switchgear is very satisfying and a clear cut above Astra’s segment. As we’ve noted in other reviews, GM’s interior work and development is finally reaching customers. Saturn’s Astra looks, from our view, poised to be a star.

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