When bringing the Astra over from Europe, the people at Saturn decided to make life easier for the indecisive among us; accordingly, "a 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder is the only engine" available on the 2008 Saturn Astra, according to Cars.com. While occasionally underpowered, the Saturn Astra's four-cylinder powerplant holds up well around town.
While Cars.com writes that the 2008 Saturn Astra "is no power wagon," it does deliver commendable fuel economy and is fun to drive. In driving tests of the Astra, Kelley Blue Book finds Saturn's powerplant "needs to be revved high to make the most of its power, but overall it's a good fit for this car." Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com agree, with Edmunds saying that although the Saturn Astra's "growling four-cylinder may not produce the quickest car" on the road, it still allows for "twisty-road fun." ConsumerGuide adds that the Astra, Saturn’s first Euro-designed compact, is "no ball of fire, but Astra never feels sluggish" and "both manual and automatic versions have more than adequate power around town."
One of the most acknowledged drawbacks in terms of performance on the 2008 Saturn Astra is the transmission. With only four gears to choose from, Car and Driver finds that the automatic can "add a little unwanted drama to passing on two-lane highways" and notes that "the Astra's major competitors offer five- and six-speeds" on their automatic transmissions. Cars.com agrees, writing that the Saturn Astra with a five-speed manual, "like most cars, could do with another gear. Ditto for the automatic, though four-speeds still haunt most cars in this class." Kelley Blue Book feels that the manual is "easy to operate, with very little play between the gears," but when it comes to the automatic, it simply is "not as much fun to drive" and leaves reviewers wishing for "some type of manual-shift mode."
One benefit of the unremarkable engine performance is that the Saturn Astra has what Mother Proof describes as "fab fuel economy." The EPA estimates that the 2008 Saturn Astra gets 24 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway, numbers that Car and Driver notes are "a couple mpg better than those posted by the Mazda and Rabbit."
And while the 1.8-liter engine doesn't provide a lot of oomph, the 2008 Saturn Astra is a wonderfully composed car on the road. Edmunds finds that the Astra is "pretty fun to drive...thanks to its European-influenced suspension tuning." ConsumerGuide also points out that even "base-suspension models offer better than average overall control." One drawback of the Saturn Astra's sport suspension is that ConsumerGuide feels that it can "make for a rough ride on nearly all types of pavement." Kelley Blue Book reviewers write that "the Astra's steering is firm with good on-center feel and the handling is sporty with excellent stability." Harnessing the Astra's momentum is "a good-sized set of discs at all four corners with standard ABS" that Car and Driver says give the 2008 Saturn Astra "better than average" braking performance.