Replacing the aged and undesirable Ion, the Saturn Astra is a giant leap forward in quality and aesthetics.
Before meeting its maker during the General Motors bankruptcy drama in 2009, Saturn had been trying to inject some European flavor into its model lineup. One step in this process was the arrival of the compact Saturn Astra hatchback for the 2008 model year. Though the Astra nameplate was new for most Americans, it had been (and continues to be) produced in Europe under GM's Opel and Vauxhall brands.
The Astra's crisp handling, interior sophistication and sharp styling helped it stand out from other economy cars. However, its powertrain was subpar, there was no sedan body style and its price was a bit dear for American tastes. As a result, it sold poorly and was only produced for a single year. If you're shopping for a sporty small car, though, a used Astra is a distinctive and likely affordable option. Just keep in mind that maintenance could be a hassle due to the Astra's scarcity and European sourcing.
Most Recent Saturn Astra
The Saturn Astra was limited to a single year of production -- 2008. It was available as either a two-door or four-door hatchback. The four-door came in base-level XE trim or sportier XR trim, while the two-door came in XR trim only. Both bodies featured a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, giving the four-door almost 45 cubic feet of cargo space. The two-door model sacrificed some of that space to its sloping rear quarters and more aggressive profile.
The Astra came fairly well-equipped in base XE guise, including six airbags, stability control, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a CD player. Jumping up to the XR trim level added quicker steering and a sport-tuned suspension (two-door only), air-conditioning, alloy wheels and an upgraded audio system. Most of the XR features were available as options on the XE, and a large sunroof was available on both four-door trim levels. Satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack were not offered, however.
All Astras were equipped with a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that produced 138 horsepower and 126 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices were a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
In reviews, we remarked on the Astra's well-designed, high-quality interior, which was full of soft plastics and tasteful accents. Chrome-ringed dials and piano-black finishes created a more upscale atmosphere than the typical economy car interior, despite the sometimes unfamiliar European controls. On the road, we noted that the Astra's European suspension tuning and quick, weighty steering made it fun to drive. The powertrain was a lowlight, however acceleration was tepid and cacophonous, and each transmission could have used another gear.