We get to drive new vehicles with manual transmissions so seldom nowadays that we wonder why the danged things won’t start when we turn the key. Even doing that is a bit of a novelty; most vehicles start by pushbutton in 2017.
Anyhow, the penny eventually drops that you must depress the clutch to start the Astra R, preventing you from bunny-hopping into the car parked in front when the engine fires.
The six-speed manual isn’t the best of the bunch but of course anything’s better than any auto to a traditionalist. You’d probably describe the throw as long and the engagement as a tad vague, but it shifts between gears in quick and breezy fashion, and that helps make the 1.4 R almost as quick as the 1.6L powering two-thirds of the new Astra line-up. On the clock, for both performance criteria we use, the 110kW/240Nm all-alu 1.4 engine has the R under a second slower than the auto 1.6 RS-V we drove a month ago.
Being the base model you’re immediately made aware of that; there’s nothing fancy like a proximity key but despite the cloth upholstery, seats in the R are more comfy than the sports offerings in the RS-V, even if both have next to nought in the way of lumbar support. Those with bad backs will need their lumbar rolls in any level of Astra.
While the 1.4 doesn’t have quite the clout of the 1.6 off the mark, hit the Sports button and it gains extra drive. There’s enough that, out in the wilds, this seems roughly as quick as the RS-V, but without the roughly-does-it ride. In the R model, fettled by the Aussie engineers for ‘local’ conditions, the suspension follows the dips and humps faithfully, and all the while the rather shapely body maintains its composure. By comparison the RS-V is a bit too much of a good thing. The R is also quieter on road, its Turanzas not generating as much clamour. They also do a great job also of keeping the car grounded. It’s genuinely fun to hustle through twisting carriageways, its overall lightness as noticeable as the leaden feel of cousin Cruze was disappointing. We imagine the auto version of the R is almost as handy, if not quite as fun.
You get the latest MyLink entertainment system in the R, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with voice recognition, and standard fare includes six airbags and ESP, a reversing camera (screen is a bit mean) and warning sonar, auto-on lights, cruise and speed limiter, DRLs, and split folding, all for $30,990. The six-speed auto adds $1500. Alternatively, for the same additional amount, you can fit the driver assistance package, which includes lane keep assist, autonomous city braking, a leather steering wheel, forward collision alert and rain sensing wipers. Most will likely consider the auto option better value. Bye for now Cruze, welcome back Astra.
|Model||Holden Astra R||Price||$30,990|
|Engine||1399cc, IL4, T/DI, 110kW/240Nm||Drivetrain||6-speed auto, front-wheel-drive|
|Fuel Use||5.8L/100km||C02 Output||135g/km|