2008 Saturn Astra Review

Consumer Reviews
1 Review
2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 14, 2008

The 2008 Saturn Astra has the body styles, the fuel economy and the feel of a winner.

TheCarConnection.com's editors studied road tests of the 2008 Saturn Astra to write this definitive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident car experts also drove the Saturn Astra to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

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.

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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.

8

2008 Saturn Astra

Styling

Strong exterior styling and European inspired throughout, the 2008 Saturn Astra is one chic vehicle.

Anyone who has spent time in Europe knows that European roads are filled with small, sporty, fuel-efficient cars. For the 2008 Saturn Astra, Saturn has basically hijacked the Opel Astra from Europe and rebadged it for sale in America. Accordingly with the Astra, Saturn has left intact the smart European small-car styling.

The 2008 Saturn Astra is available as either a two- or four-door hatchback. Both versions are very small cars, with Motor Trend saying that the "Astra is a true subcompact" at "167.3 inches long for the five-door." For those who love European styling, Car and Driver brings good news, saying that "the only differences between the Astra built by GM's German subsidiary for sale in Europe and this new Saturn edition are its badges [and] minor exterior trim" changes.

That distinctly European exterior styling on the 2008 Saturn Astra is generally well received in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Kelley Blue Book feels that it will be hard to get lost in the crowd in the Saturn Astra because "the car looks substantial from all sides, bolstered by big wheels and tires." Taking that sentiment one step further is Mother Proof, whose reviewer feels that the 2008 Saturn Astra is "sportier, sleeker and just plain cooler than you ever thought." However, not all reviews were positive, as Cars.com notes that "the four-door looks a bit awkward." Overall, though, reviewers generally agree that the aggressive body styling on the four-door Saturn Astra will allow it to "match up well to top models like the Mazda 3, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Rabbit," according to Edmunds.

Revamped styling for the brand doesn't stop on the outside of the Astra; Saturn’s interior sports a fine design that Road & Track claims "exudes an aura that is definitely not of this continent." Edmunds raves about the interior, claiming that "the cabin is the Astra's strongest point" and noting that "Opel clearly had Volkswagen in its sights when it designed the Astra's interior." ConsumerGuide takes a more middle-of-the-road approach, adding, "While Astra's interior does nothing to impress in terms of style and design, it's pleasant overall, if a bit bland." Coming down harder on the Saturn Astra is Kelley Blue Book, which feels that "noticeable shortcomings, such as the sole front seat cup holder awkwardly positioned behind the parking brake...don't mesh with the segment leaders." Other gripes about the interior include Automobile's feeling that "the Astra is a bit too foreign" in terms of the "marking and operation of its switchgear."

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2008 Saturn Astra

Performance

The 2008 Saturn Astra is no speed demon, but the taut suspension makes whipping the car through turns a true joy.

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.

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2008 Saturn Astra

Comfort & Quality

Comfortable and capable on long rides, the 2008 Saturn Astra also feels like a much more expensive car, thanks to its impressive build quality.

With the 2008 Astra, Saturn has come up with a vehicle with ample front seat room and, in four-door versions, a usefully flexible cargo area.

Long drives in the 2008 Saturn Astra should prove to be no problem in terms of occupant ease. The Saturn Astra features welcoming seats for all five passengers. Car and Driver feels that the 2008 Saturn Astra is both "roomy" and "comfortable," and ConsumerGuide adds that the front of the Saturn Astra features "good headroom in both body styles for average-sized adults, even in versions equipped with the dual sunroof." ConsumerGuide continues by saying that the front seats "are comfortable, supportive, and well bolstered." Moving to the rear seats, Kelley Blue Book writes that "four-door models offer good rear seat legroom."

Storage space is adequate on the 2008 Saturn Astra, though finding somewhere to tuck items up front can be a challenge. The rear cargo area of the 2008 Saturn Astra "has nearly 45 cubic feet of space" with the "60/40-split fold-down" rear seats stowed, according to Edmunds. This respectable carrying capacity in the back is at odds with the fact that "there's no center storage console at all -- just the parking-brake lever and a cupholder," according to reviewers at Cars.com. This helps to partially explain reviewer sentiment at Mother Proof, where they write that "there just isn't a lot of space in this car, cargo or otherwise." On the positive side, those same reviewers add that the front does feature an "illuminated glove compartment" of "decent size," as well as "front door pockets," but the omission of a center storage console is a big one.

What the Saturn Astra loses in terms of cargo space, it makes up for with its build quality. Edmunds heaps praise in this area, finding that "the slam of the driver door alone [feels] more substantial than that of some midrange Mercedes models." Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com also praised the interior quality and materials on the Astra Saturn, including Automobile's assertion that "interior materials [are] fully competitive with any car in the class." ConsumerGuide appreciates the "blend of soft touch surfaces and hard plastic," along with some "metallic-looking trim" that is strategically placed throughout the interior. Cars.com agrees and feels that the interior "materials and controls seem pretty high-quality."

Kelley Blue Book reports that "very little road noise intrud[es] into the passenger cabin." ConsumerGuide disagrees, saying the engine "roars during brisk acceleration and hill climbs" and that the Astra Saturn's "cabin is not very well isolated from road and tire noise, which are intrusive at higher speeds." They also complain about "Wind noise from around the mirrors" and say that the "two-panel sunroof produces a conversation-hampering wind rush."

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8

2008 Saturn Astra

Safety

The 2008 Saturn Astra boasts a strong safety pedigree and an impressive safety features list.

The 2008 Saturn Astra hasn't been officially crash tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ratings or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, it still earns high marks when it comes to safety.

The 2008 Saturn Astra comes loaded off the lot with a significant list of standard safety features. Kelley Blue Book finds that for standard safety features on the Astra, Saturn has included "side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disk brakes (ABS) and OnStar." Car and Driver also finds several of the Saturn Astra's safety features worth mentioning, including "breakaway foot pedals, active front head restraints, and tire-pressure monitoring."

While the Saturn Astra is new for America, it is virtually unchanged from its European sibling, the Opel Astra. The Opel version earned the European title of safest compact sedan, and there is no reason to think the Astra Saturn will score any lower in American crash tests. This safety heritage, combined with an abundance of additional safety features, led Car and Driver to award the Saturn Astra one of its Top 10 Safest Vehicles for Less Than $25,000 awards.

Consumer Guide reports that rear visibility in the Astra Saturn is "good...helped by large rear and side windows."

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2008 Saturn Astra

Features

The 2008 Saturn Astra is very competitively equipped, even in base models, but a few key omissions keep it from scoring higher in this category.

The 2008 Saturn Astra costs around $20,000, but that price tag includes quite a few noteworthy features.

The 2008 Saturn Astra four-door hatchback is available in "a base XE or sportier XR trim level," according to Edmunds. They write that the "Astra XE comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control," and "a trip computer," along with "full power accessories." Edmunds adds that moving up to the more expensive and better-equipped Saturn Astra XR brings "alloy wheels, air-conditioning, steering-wheel mounted audio controls," and "an upgraded audio system." The two-door is available only in XR trim.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com generally praised the 2008 Saturn Astra's equipment loadout. Kelley Blue Book appreciates that "the well-equipped Astra XE four-door includes express-down power windows" as standard and a "dual-panel sunroof with power sunshade" is an option on all four-door versions of the Astra Saturn. Consumer Guide Automotive also likes the "Astra's array of standard features and safety equipment" and feels that the Saturn Astra is "a must see for compact car shoppers."

The Saturn Astra is not perfect, however, and it definitely loses points for its weak automatic transmission. Kelley Blue Book writes that "the lack of an auxiliary audio input jack" for hooking up MP3 players is a big loss. On the 2008 Astra, Saturn has overcome some drawbacks by including a few more upscale features, which Road & Track notes include "heated front seats and even ambient door lighting."

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April 16, 2015
For 2008 Saturn Astra

Snazzy unknown fun European car

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My 2008 Saturn Astra is really an Opel Astra w/ a Saturn badge, built in Belgium. I've got the 5-door XR w/ heated leather seats & the biggest sunroof. Drives great, decent but not excellent gas mileage, and... + More »
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