Second Gear: Saturn Astra - Metro US

Second Gear: Saturn Astra

With the intention of answering thousands of shoppers screaming for European product in Canadian showrooms, GM started re-badging the Opel Astra with a Saturn badge and shipping units over from across the pond for the 2008 model year.

The resulting Saturn Astra was a three- or five-door hatchback with four-cylinder power and front-wheel drive that largely hit the mark where ride quality, handling, interior execution and styling were concerned.

Thing is, right as Astra was gearing up to be a hit, a recession, bankruptcy protection and a storm of economic nastiness befell the automaker, and the subsequent decision to give the Saturn brand its pink slip killed the Astra off after just two model years.

Looking for a 2008 or 2009 Astra? All models got a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder ECOTEC engine paired with a four-speed automatic or the recommended five-speed manual. The manual gearbox offers the most opportunity for drivers to maximize Astra’s 138 horsepower. The model was sold in a basic “XE” trim level, and a more loaded “XR” model.

What Owners Like
Tight handling, fuel efficiency, styling, flexibility and ride comfort are typically highly rated by Astra owners. Those with a manual-equipped model tend to rate the shifter and clutch highly, too. In all, Astra is largely described as cheerful, upscale and fun to drive.

What Owners Hate
Complaints tend to centre around the lack of a standard centre armrest, as well as poor rearward visibility, small steering-wheel audio controls and an initially-confusing stereo system.

Common Issues
Online, owner-stated reliability is somewhat limited thanks to the Astra’s short lifespan — though a used model has a few things going for it right off the bat.

In addition to what looks to be a very pleasing driving experience, GM’s 160,000 kilometre powertrain warranty should provide shoppers with plenty of confidence. With five years of coverage, many used Astra models will have a great deal of warranty coverage remaining.

Be sure to double and triple check the air conditioner for proper operation, as several owners have reported problems with the system “pulsing” or working intermittently.

Note that a check engine light and reduced engine power could be the result of a bad engine sensor, and that a “scan” of the engine computer for stored codes could reveal potential problems on this front too.

The Verdict
A used Astra, especially with a large remaining portion of GM’s warranty, should prove a confident, enjoyable used hatch.

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