THE timing could not have been better for the expansion of Holden`s small car family.
With all eyes on the bowser and bigger and thirstier chariots well and truly on the outer, downsizing is all the rage. The four-cylinder segment is the fastest growing in Australian motoring.
Enter some wonderfully stylish, practical and quite frugal additions to the already popular Holden Astra range.
The latest newcomers are a super-sporty three-door coupe and a versatile compact wagon.
The pair, which join the AH Astra five-door hatch launched late last year, also carry a European heritage and ooze class.
Economy is a strength, with five-speed manual versions averaging only 7.8 litres of unleaded petrol for every 100km covered and the four-speed automatic variants sipping a fraction more, at just over 8.
Those looking to save at the pump and who don`t require the back seat space afforded by a medium or family sedan will be seriously considering the new Astras.
The coupe has generous head room and plenty of leg space up front, but the back seat is better suited to young children. The boot also could be roomier and anyone with heaps of luggage, or in need of more flexibility, will be better off with the wagon.
Styling is another of Astra`s assets. The coupe is an absolute stunner, attracting the attention of all who cross its path.
The sleek Holden delivers all the driving dynamics, performance and safety attributes that have made Astra such a perennially popular small car choice.
Holden says that the Astra coupe`s powerfully expressive new body shape, taut profile, arched roofline and exclusive styling cues set it distinctively apart. The only panels shared with the five-door hatch are the front bumper, front fenders and bonnet.
The contoured seats offer high lateral supports, long cushions, optimal adjustment and 60/40 rear fold flexibility. High quality charcoal-toned seat and door trims are complemented by textured finishes, polished surfaces and a comfortable cockpit layout.
The Astra coupe comes in two specification levels _ CD and CDX.
CD equipment includes 15-inch alloy wheels (steel spare), driver, front passenger and side impact air bags, ABS and brake assist, cruise control, power windows, heated power exterior mirrors, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and air conditioning.
Further up the tree, CDX comes with 16-inch alloy wheels (steel spare), leather-faced seats, heated front sports seats, leather-wrap steering wheel, trip computer, six stack in-dash CD player, premium speaker system, illuminated vanity mirrors and extra small item storage.
The newcomers have the same heart, an economical 1.8 litre, 16-valve DOHC ECOTEC four-cylinder unit.
This has a power output of 90 kW at 5600rpm, with maximum torque of 165 Nm at 3800 rpm. The engine meets stringent Euro 4 emission standards and a variable length manifold enables a balanced spread of torque over a wide engine speed range.
Performance is not exhilarating, but most drivers will be happy enough, particularly if they are saving a fortune in fuel costs.
Handling is excellent and the Astra has a solid feel on the road.
The first Astra wagon to make the migration to Holden represents style, space, specification and flexibility for an active lifestyle or small business interest.
With its V-shaped front end, eye-catching three-dimensional head and tail lights, large rear window and smart side window graphics, the wagon continues the dynamic design line introduced by the AH Astra hatch.
A 2.7 metre wheelbase (89 mm longer than the hatch and coupe) gives it ample interior space and a cargo-carrying capacity of up to 454 litres to the top of the rear seat back. With rear seatbacks folded, cargo capacity increases to 1549 litres fully loaded.
The new models are expected to extend Astra`s performance as one of Australia `s most popular cars.
Astra is Holden`s second-biggest selling nameplate behind Commodore, building on its success as the second-biggest seller in the European market.
Pricing for the coupe and wagon starts from $23,490 for the CD and $25,990 for the plusher CDX, with automatic transmission an extra $2000.