This is a car we had very high hopes for.
Retailing for AUD$31,490, the newly released Holden Astra CDTi automatic
undercuts all comparable diesel vehicles as well as the petrol-electric hybrid
models from Toyota and Honda. It looks like the perfect machine to bring
ultra-low fuel consumption motoring to the masses.
But there are a couple of problems.
Crucially, the CDTi automatic is not particularly
fuel efficient. During our test, we averaged 7.5 litres per 100km, which is only
around 1.5 litres better than we achieved in a petrol version of the Astra with
a manual ‘box. And you don’t have to look hard to find other similarly sized
vehicles that deliver superior fuel consumption to the CDTi auto – the new Honda
Civic VTi automatic springs to mind with an ADR 81/01 figure of 7.2 litres per
100km. Certainly, the low 5 litre per 100km consumption of the Toyota Prius is a
So why is the Astra turbo diesel automatic a bit
of a guzzler? Well, we reckon a lot can be blamed on the tall gearing and shift
patterns of the Active Select six-speed automatic trans. In urban 50 – 60 km/h
conditions with the selector in Drive, the trans never shifts beyond fourth gear
and the tacho needle hovers at nearly 1800 rpm – pretty high considering peak
torque and power are achieved at 2000 and 3500 rpm respectively. You need to up
the ante to around 80 km/h to find fifth gear, and top gear requires over 100
km/h. We were frustrated that on typical rural roads (with bends, rises and some
slower moving traffic) we were unable to keep the transmission in top gear – and
therefore the engine operating at minimum revs – for any more than a few seconds
at a time. As a result, fuel economy must suffer.
The Astra CDTi’s next biggest problem is the
amount of engine noise. That traditional diesel clatter is intrusive in urban
driving and is m-i-l-e-s away from the quiet sophistication of, say, a Peugeot
307HDi. It’s a little embarrassing when you arrive home and a neighbour gently
tries to tell you there’s something wrong with your car...
Finally, we reckon Holden has made a blunder in
relation to the fuel filler. We pulled into three consecutive petrol stations
only to find diesel pumps with a ‘big bore’ nozzle that won’t fit into the
Astra’s filler. It’s very frustrating driving around the countryside trying to
find a petrol station with a small bore diesel pump.
But, for all its shortcomings, the Astra CDTi
automatic can’t be written off.
Unexpectedly, much of the AUD$4500 premium over
the similarly spec’d CDX petrol version can be justified by the effortless
performance on tap. Unlike the base 1.8-litre petrol engine, the 1.9-litre turbo
diesel whisks you down the road with remarkable ease – you barely ever need to
apply more than a few millimetres of throttle. The accessibility of performance
is also excellent. Prod the accelerator to plug a hole in traffic and there’s an
immediate rush of torque to get the job done.
Torque is the key word with 280Nm spread from 2000
to 2750 rpm. With such huge grunt accessible at the bottom of the rev range,
peak power is rarely needed - but it is officially listed at 88kW at just 3500
rpm. These outputs are achieved with the aid of a variable geometry Garrett
turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler and a common rail direct injection system.
At this point, it’s important to point out that the auto version of the CDTi
uses a detuned SOHC, two-valves-per-cylinder engine while the manual version
employs a DOHC, four-valves-per-cylinder donk that belts out substantially more
power and torque while also achieving superior fuel consumption.
Another unexpected feature of the CDTi is the
standard fitment of stability and traction control. Unleash all those
Newton-metres from a standing start and the car leaps away with the tyres on the
verge of slipping. The Astra is a predictable handler with a bias towards
understeer and the addition of stability control is a welcome safety feature –
but its calibration isn’t aimed at improving handling. The CDTi’s brakes are
also upgraded with 308mm ventilated front discs. Emergency braking is very
strong and the ABS/EBD system performs well. Ride quality is comfortable overall
but there are circumstances that cause significant impact harshness. This
disappears at high speed where the relatively soft spring and damper rates
become more noticeable.
The Astra is a very comfortable car with the
quality feel of a car costing considerably more. Front and rear space is
generous and you get a decent cargo area volume with a 60/40 split folding
backrest. Equipment levels are boosted above the base Astra with a total of six
airbags, cruise control, a graphic information display (showing audio menus,
temperature, time, date and trip computer information) and a leather wheel
connected to a well-weighted electro-hydraulic steering system.
The CDTi is available only as a five-door hatch
and there’s minimal differentiation from other Astra models. There are exclusive
16 inch alloy wheels, front and rear fog lights, full colour-coding and CDTi
badging on the tailgate. The only other way to identify it is the bus-like
diesel rattle emanating from under the bonnet...
So what to make of this potentially
Well, it’s far from a bad car – we imagine
everyone who buys one will love it - but it’s nothing to get excited about. If
you want maximum kilometres for your dollar in a small/medium size package,
there are quite a few other cars that steal the limelight.
The Astra CDTi automatic was provided for this
test by Holden Australia.www.holden.com.au
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