2008 Saturn ASTRA XR Review – The popular ASTRA finally reaches America's shores

Expert Reviews Saturn

Performance and Handling
Only one powerplant is available on the ’08 ASTRAa 1.8 litre, Ecotec, DOHC with VVT; it is the only engine offered. The test car had the automatic but I’d prefer the 5-speed manual for this engine. Pushing the engine even to its limits provided little excitement with the automatic and although you get the same engine, the stick would allow you to shift at the peak of its power band to squeeze out a little more adrenaline from the Ecotec. Although The European made Opel ASTRA‘s optional 240 hp turbocharged gasoline engine, which is capable of reaching 100 km/h (62 miles/hour) in 6.4 seconds may be overkill for some on this Saturn, something in-between the Ecotec and the turbo is needed under the hood, at least as an option. Again, shame on you Saturn product managers.

2008 Saturn ASTRA - 138 hp 1.8L 4-cylinder VVT DOHC

The optional Sports Handling Package with 17″ five-spoke wheels, 45 series Hankook rubber, and lowered sport tuned suspension created wonders in the handling department and created a sporty/aggressive look. The Stabili-Trak with traction control, an option which keeps you on course by limiting under steer during certain vehicle instability situations was a feature on the ASTRA I was not able to test, I took the GM engineers’ word for it. Vehicle stability systems are designed into more and more cars these days, a welcome and rare safety feature for cars in this price range and hopefully they will follow the same path as anti-lock brakes and appear on virtually all cars. The optional quick ratio electro-hydraulic power steering actually really worked in providing a tight feel at higher speeds yet near effortless steering when parallel parking; an option that makes the ASTRA even more versatile and drivable.

Styling queues on the exterior are of obvious European origin. The ASTRA resembles the shape made popular by the VW Golf/Rabbit which is emulated by every other car company including Honda and Mazda. The hatchback area on the 5-door ASTRA resembles an older Honda civic hatchback with its divers mask type shape rear-window. The chrome bordered rear lamps have clear lenses and an appealing wrap around sharp semi-diamond shape. Lifting the hatchback reveals all 19.8 cubic feet of cargo space which can carry most things you would ever want to in a compact car and you would only be limited by cargo weight. Accentuating the beltline of the rear hatch is a chrome strip right under the large Saturn emblem. Fairly large lips on the fender wells resemble those on the Ford Focus and adds more aggressiveness to the profile view. At the front , there is more chrome but the entire front end looks a bit thin and less aggressive than the rest of the car. I would’ve liked to see a front end more like the Pontiac Vibe with a lower front air dam. Similar to the rear tail lenses, the projector lamps up front had a diamond shape. The headlight houses three different bulbs for high beam, low beam and turn signal. Below them at front, are diamond shape cutouts where small fog lamps sit.

2008 Saturn ASTRA

I envision the ASTRA being a solid contender for anyone into enhancing the look with after market parts since it already has a great body to work with. I would bet the ASTRA will show up in more booths at the SEMA show this year with aftermarket parts already designed in similar to what developed with the Ford Focus where a million after market parts exist. If only Saturn would bring its version of the Opel ASTRA VXR Nürburgring Edition to create more excitement and street credibility in the aftermarket.

You can’t deny the numbers. 10 Million Opel ASTRAs strong in Europe has to say something about the viability of the Saturn ASTRA as a good seller in America; However with the Saturn ASTRA XR 5-door starting at $18,045 and as tested (with all aforementioned options) at $21,335 it’s a hard sell in a market flooded with competitors with more powerful power plants available to potential customers of the Pontiac Vibe, Ford Focus, VW Rabbit, and the Mazda 3 to name a few. The lack of a more powerful engine choice is the single largest factor hindering the future success of the Saturn ASTRA. The Saturn product managers should realize that in today’s market, availing a performance oriented engine (at least as an option) is a safe bet in the US and American car buyers will not settle for less, especially in the market segment for which this car is targeted

One thing that needs to be mended is the rent-a-car stigma that most American automobiles suffer from these days. Bottom line, the European inspired styling and handling prowess of the Saturn ASTRA XR with optional sport handling package is the step in the right direction, but the weak power plant and chintzy interior plastic seems like a work in progress and sophisticated American buyers will continue to flock to the showrooms of the Saturn’s most dangerous competitors; the popular Japanese and European dealerships. I feel that the Saturn ASTRA is dying to prove its European heritage here in America if only it was allowed to. Let’s see what happens in 2009.

2008 Saturn ASTRA

















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  • Tom D. says:

    I’m one of the few people who bought one of these back in 08. Since day one there have been interior rattles, the AC compressor already was replaced, the AC condenser is leaking into the passenger compartment right now and sometime you have to “jiggle” the steering column to get it to start. This car is only 3 years old and has under 50,000 miles on it. I have to get it to the “Authorized” Saturn repair center, the worst Chevy dealer in town. 5 Chevy dealers in the area and this one is chosen. I can’t say I won’t by GM again, but GM won’t be on the top of my list, oh and cars built in Europe won’t be at the top of the list either.

  • MistyEyedKitten says:

    I have one of those as well!

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