There’s been a bit of a problem in the Holden New Zealand range over the past few years. While the Korean sourced mid sized cars were adequate for their segments they never really stood above the competition, but now Holden has returned to sourcing some cars from Europe, and the Astra GTC is one of the first signs of resurgence in the Holden line up.
The only real problem is that the car you see here was originally launched in 2009, and effectively serves as a placeholder in the Holden line-up until the new Astra (which has just gone on sale in the UK) arrives. That puts it at a serious disadvantage, especially since the new Ford Focus has just gone on sale here, and the Astra we get is effectively one model phase older.
The Astra GTC’s shape reminds me of the old Alfa Romeo Brera, which is no really bad thing, apart from the fact I didn’t like the look of the old Brera. The entire Astra’s profile looks strangely elongated and pressed down, as if you were watching video of the car on the wrong aspect ratio. It does allow for a large boot however, even if leg room in the rear seats can be limited when the front seats are run all the way back. The power output of the Astra GTC depends on what gearbox you choose. Go for the six-speed manual and you get 147kW. Go for the six-speed auto, as tested here however, and you get a lite version of the 1.6 litre turbo with 125kW. This makes the auto much more of a warm hatch than anything of the hot variety.
The NZ$39,990 Astra GTC auto also handles much like a warmish hatch, with gradually increasing understeer the faster you push and a rather numb feeling through the steering wheel, and if you opt to change gear manually the changes slur through, rather than bite with enthusiasm. You also find yourself reaching for steering wheel mounted manual paddles, which strangely given the market standard, are not present.
The dashboard itself is rather busy, with lots of buttons and functions for the satellite navigation, entertainment, and ventilation. It looks as if that there was more real estate on the centre console than originally intended, because a few of the buttons seem a touch redundant. The most obvious of these is the button marked with a clock symbol. Hit it, and instead of the time showing up, as you would expect, the button merely allows you access to the screen on which you can adjust time and date, nothing more. The presence of these buttons is somewhat explained by the essentially similar dashboard in the convertible Holden Cascada, which includes such functions as seat heaters, steering wheel heater and generally everything else you need to keep yourself warm in a convertible.
The satellite navigation system is likewise a touch, well, touched. Someone who had the car before me turned on all the points of interest, and they include some very curious icons. Now, I’m not one who tends to read the manual, preferring to treat cars as most people will, so anything that isn’t instantly intuitive smacks of loose thinking. What then to make of an icon that seemingly depicts a hamster on wheels farting clouds under a cross? There’s also a bar graph with a star over one of the bars, at least three different icons for education, and an honest to goodness big blue shark.
All that aside, the Astra GTC is a good car, and certainly better than anything that has come out of Korea. The new car is designed in Germany and built in Poland, and while build quality isn’t premium some thought has obviously gone into design and materials. The only real problem is that another car feels better, goes better, and is better built than the Astra. That car, as you may have guessed, is the Ford Focus, which has recently been launched in New Zealand.
The Astra is a massive leap forward for Holden, but perhaps a leap that falls just a little short of the competition. We will have to wait until the new generation Astra arrives to make a definitive decision.