- Jaunty styling
- Crisp handling
- Smooth four-cylinder engine
- Four-speed automatic
- Artificial electric power steering
- Lacks auxiliary jack, satellite radio
The 2008 Saturn Astra has the body styles, the fuel economy and the feel of a winner.
The 2008 Saturn Astra is a brand-new vehicle for GM's youngest brand. This time, instead of turning away buyers with the regrettable Ion compacts, Saturn has imported a two-door coupe and a four-door hatchback that have handsome designs, smart interiors, good four-cylinder engines, and high fuel economy--perfect for taking on the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and others.
The 2008 Saturn Astra four-door is the more versatile of the duo. It shares the two-door's 1.8-liter four-cylinder that churns out 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. The nicely muted four-cylinder has only a little exhaust boom at higher speeds. It works well with a five-speed manual that offers a clutch with light action. The optional four-speed automatic, however, is a step behind the five- and six-speed automatics that Toyota and Honda offer. The Astra's fuel economy is 24/32 mpg with the manual, 24/30 mpg with the automatic.
With a well-damped ride and adept braking, the 2008 Saturn Astra is tuned with a European compact feel. The electronic power steering is a little heavy on center and feels artificial, but otherwise, the Astra impresses with its predictable feel.
The functional cockpit of the 2008 Saturn Astra will seem familiar to anyone who's driven an Opel Astra in Germany. It's almost identical--and it's a cooler, more Spartan treatment than most Japanese and American compacts, but still attractive and made of high-quality materials. In addition, the Astra gets standard features omitted from competitors, such as steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and express-up power windows at all four outboard seats. The front seats are comfortable for longer trips, and in back there's plenty of room for shorter trips, even for adults in the four-door version, though knee room may be tight.
There's almost none of the old domestic GM in any cup holder or storage bin in the 2008 Saturn Astra. It's a smart, savvy small car with a great price tag--and it's GM's best effort in this niche yet.