Astra’s actually not a bad effort (for Holden). What a pity the sanest advice I can give you on Holden’s much-hyped Cruze replacement is ‘don’t buy it’. At least, not if you know what’s good for you
I’ve been getting a lot of Astra enquiry from people like you lately. Understandably, I guess. Holden has amped up the marketing spend, and consumers - perhaps you - are responding to that.
You’ll notice that I don’t accept car company advertising. So I’m not in the business of keeping carmakers sweet, and nor am I in a popularity contest. Commercially it makes no difference to me what anyone buys - my procurement guys get the same fee for an Astra as they would for a Mazda3, an i30 or an Impreza. That’s as unbiased as you can get.
I’m just biased against people spending tens of thousands of dollars on the wrong car from the wrong brand, and living in consumer hell for the next three to five years as a result. You should see some of those e-mails. It really does drive people to the edge, and this informs my advice on what car to buy more than anything else.
My strong advice if you are considering an Astra is: Drive (at least) a Hyundai i30 (below left) and a Subaru Impreza (below right) - at the same price point. Check out my reviews of both by clicking on the images below, and contact me using one of the red links on this page for more information.
ASTRA: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
(AND MOST OTHER REVIEWS WON'T SAY)
Astra’s not such a bad car, simplistically. The detail design of the interior is not as good as a Mazda3 or Hyundai i30 - dollar for dollar. Nor is it as space efficient. Despite all three being the same size, you get 10 per cent more cargo volume in an i30, and 13 per cent more in a Mazda3. If you’re thinking about breeding over the term of ownership, that might be significant.
The 1.4 turbo petrol engine in the cheaper models is OK - it’s comparable with the 2.0-litre non-turbo engines in equivalent Mazda3, Impreza and i30. But Astra has a nine-month service interval, where Mazda, Subaru and Hyundai all have 12 - this is significant if you’re a low-mileage driver.
Unfortunately, Astra’s 1.6 turbo petrol engine (allegedly the premium engine) is really not very well thought out. Astra RS is the cheapest model with that. You’ll drive that away for well under $29,000. You’ll probably get the auto for under $30k if you negotiate like you mean it. So it’s pitched right at Hyundai i30 SR, which is also a 1.6 turbo petrol.
THE PROBLEM WITH THE 1.6
But the problem with the Astra 1.6 is: Premium unleaded. And even though it demands this more expensive fuel - which pumps up the ownership cost considerably - it does not deliver any more performance than the Hyundai, which runs happily on 91.
Frankly, this is kind of a cheap-arsed way for Holden to bring the Astra in from the Opel factory in Poland, where it’s manufactured. Opel was basically GM Europe until earlier this year when the French bought it, losing Holden a heap of leverage for future product right there.
Opel makes about 1.1 million cars a year - and just for reference, Mazda is about 40 per cent bigger and Hyundai-Kia about seven times bigger.
So: Back to the fuel. The basic fuel in Europe is 95, and it would cost money to re-tune Astra for our 91. So, any time you see a cheap Euro-made car running premium unleaded, it’s an advertisement for ‘cheapskate importer’.
The price of fuel is very important to many new car buyers, and while there’s a general obsession with fuel economy, a lot of buyers - maybe you - forget to check the minimum octane requirement. PS - here it is a very bad idea to operate a car on lower octane fuel than the manufacturer specifies. It can destroy the engine. Good safety tip.
So, if the car says, premium unleaded, do not use 91 or e10. You’re stuck paying for the high-priced fuel.
BASE-MODEL SAFETY DEFICIENCY
Holden has also stripped the advanced safety features out of the base model, effectively making corporate fleet drivers, rental car drivers and private punters for whom early $20s is a real stretch into second-class citizens on safety. And frankly in this popular segment, it’s immoral to make safety a socio-economic criterion.
Astra also has a space-saver spare wheel and tyre. That is completely unacceptable on (quote-unquote) “Australia’s own” carmaker - nice job dismissing the needs of everyone who might drive long distances in regional areas. Jesus. What happened to core values. Did we fall over on them in the shower, suddenly?
Holden has done a great job on the suspension tuning - they’re pretty good at that. So at least the Astra is set up for Australia’s crap roads. And it looks OK - except for the sedan, which is as ugly as a Honda City - and that’s profoundly ugly. Still - a subjective assessment there. The only one in this report.
OWNERSHIP: IT'S NOT AN EXTENDED ROAD TEST
If you’re in the market for a car such as this, and you’ve narrowed it down to an Astra, you’re probably reading/watching a billion reviews. I wonder how many of them - which are really there to appease carmaker advertisers rather than inform actual car buyers - I wonder how many of them mentioned this stuff.
They’re probably mostly road tests with some specs and quotes from the press kit. Unfortunately though, owning a car is not a three- to five-year road test by you. It’s a serious, medium-term financial commitment. You are locked into that car for your mobility. And this leads me to the main reasons not to buy the Astra.
HOLDEN: CUSTOMER SUPPORT DEFICIENCY
Firstly: Holden is terrible at customer support, and renowned for selling unreliable cars to uninformed Australians. Holden has been so bad at this, for such a long time, that the corporate watchdog, the ACCC, recently attempted to put Holden’s head in a vice via a court-enforceable undertaking to comply with the legislated consumer guarantees.
Don't take my word for this. Read what the ACCC said about Holden >>
Full report on ACCC investigation into Holden >>
Full report on ACCC probe into new car retail sector >>
You know a company is behaving badly when the ACCC issues a press release (August 3rd) entitled “Holden undertakes to comply with consumer guarantees” - I couldn’t make this up. Like, in what universe is it newsworthy when a company agrees to comply with legislation. It implies that compliance with the law up to this point was only optional.
What sort of limp-dick regulatory environment declares it OK to fail to comply with legislation? Consumer guarantees exist to protect you - with a right to refund or replacement by ensuring that there are minimum requirements like fit for purpose and reasonable durability.
For many years Holden has treated these guarantees as completely negotiable. It’s absolutely immoral. Like, you’re a king when you’re on the showroom floor, but a slave in the service department.
People always accuse me of bashing Holden, and to those critics I would say: A bash is where you deliver intentionally, a tsunami toxic fiction. However, these are facts. You cannot bash someone with the facts. The ACCC’s action is a fact. Easily verifiable, like the rest of the facts here, should you wish to investigate independently.
So, with its head currently in the ACCC’s vice, Holden admitted the breathtaking panorama of its consumer misrepresentation, and its widespread breaches of consumer law. This is a fact. The e-mails I have received for years from Holden owners at the end of their tether - left completely out in the cold - they’re facts. And I would not want you to walk a mile in their shoes.
Doing battle with a corporation such as Holden, in court - is a soul-destroying, financially debilitating exercise - even if you win. Then, Holden will attempt to slap you with a gag order - a non-disclosure agreement - just to shut you up. I’m told this remains standard operating procedure at Holden even today.
If you sign that NDA and then talk about your settlement - once, at the pub, to a girlfriend, in an e-mail to a friend, in an SMS, years later - whatever - and they find out, Holden’s arsehole lawyers will sue you for breach of contract. Because they are arseholes. It’s what they do.
As a reporter, I have made various critical statements about Holden that history subsequently validated, and they behaved like consummate arseholes to me. So, kindly excuse me for failing to give Holden the benefit of the doubt in this regard.
My advice to you is: You can probably live with Astra’s premium unleaded fuel, with the space-inefficiency, with the crap spare tyre, and with Astra’s general interior mediocrity. But because you are owning the car - as opposed to just road-testing it for three years - you’re financially committed - you need to manage the risk of being badly supported to completely fucked completely over if your Astra has a problem.
With Holden this risk is too significant to dismiss, in my view. Mazda3, Hyundai i30 and Subaru Impreza are objectively better products from objectively more morally focussed carmakers. So there’s that.
POTENTIAL DEPRECIATION DISASTER
Lastly, you need to consider Holden’s protracted slide to obscurity - 147,000 sales in 2007. Fast-forward 10 years: 94,000 sales last year - that’s Nagasaki on the morning of August 10, 1945, commercially. And there’s no evidence Holden has stopped the bleeding, having just fired one in 10 of its dealers. Things are looking very bleak for Holden’s future.
And then there’s the French, and the entirely unknown way Peugeot-Citroen ownership of Opel will play into Holden’s future product. Both these facts play into the risk of depreciation disaster, which Holden Cruze owners today feel only too acutely.
I’d suggest the depreciation risk here is too high, to ignore, and neither of these future-type crystal-ball-gazing risks pertain to the Mazda3, the Hyundai i30 or the Subaru Impreza - subject to unknown unknowns in the future. If I were you, looking at buying an Astra, I’d weigh all this up very carefully. Even if you love the Holden brand. I get that.
This is not a bash. These are facts. Inconvenient facts for Holden, certainly, but facts nonetheless. It might be time for you to change horses - before you need to enquire about a good solicitor with consumer law experience, who’s not too expensive.
And after all that, if you still want an Astra - OK - I’m happy to help. My team will do its best to get you a discount. Ultimately it’s your choice, and definitely I respect that. Either way, I want it to be an informed one. You can contact me any time using the red links on every page, like the one just below.