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2008 Saturn Astra

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2008 Saturn Astra Review


Once considered GM's best hope for fighting the Japanese small-car invasion, Saturn's cars have grown larger and more expensive while its customer base has grown older and more conservative. To get back in the groove, the company has borrowed a popular European brand to replace the aging and bland Ion. The 2008 Saturn Astra may be new to us, but this version has been a hot seller in Europe for over four years. Saturn hopes the reasonably-priced Astra will once again put it on the shopping list of today's tech-savvy youth, evidenced by the car's very own page on the popular Facebook networking site.

You'll Like This Car If...

If you're shopping for an affordable, fuel-efficient small car, but you also want something that's both fun to drive and style-conscious, the cute four-door and racy two-door Saturn Astra (each with a hatchback for enhanced versatility) are sure to please. You'll also appreciate Saturn's five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

You May Not Like This Car If...

If little details, such as an auxiliary audio input jack for your iPod, satellite radio and more than one cup holder for front seat occupants are important, the Saturn Astra falls short. Horsepower junkies will find more to like in the Volkswagen Rabbit or Mazda MAZDA3.

What's New for 2008

Saturn earned its reputation building reliable, fun-to-drive small cars, but the company has not had a hit in the compact car arena in quite some time. If the Astra proves a success, it will not only re-establish the company's import-fighter credentials, it might also yield a whole new generation of repeat Saturn buyers.

Driving the Astra
Driving Impressions

As one would expect of a European transplant, the Astra's steering is firm with good on-center feel and the handling is sporty with excellent stability. Equipped with 18-inch wheels, 14:1...

... close-ratio power steering and sport suspension, this is especially true of the two-door model. Despite having a big wheel-and-tire package, the Astra returns a pretty smooth ride with very little road noise intruding into the passenger cabin. The 1.8-liter engine is a bit buzzy when pressed hard, but this is true of most small four-cylinder engines; it needs to be revved high to make the most of its power, but overall it's a good fit for this car. We found the five-speed manual easy to operate, with very little play between the gears. The optional four-speed automatic is not as much fun to drive as the five-speed manual and, as most Astras will probably feature the automatic, we wish Saturn had equipped it with some type of manual-shift mode.

Dual-Panel Sunroof
The huge dual-panel sunroof (four-door only) covers nearly the entire passenger compartment and features a power-operated sunshade.

Sport Seats
Available only on the Astra two-door, the additional bolstering and long bottom cushion offer great support during sporting drives.

2008 Saturn Astra Details

The Astra interior is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the quality of the materials is first-rate, seating is comfortable and supportive and interior noise levels are surprisingly low, even at highway speeds. Four-door models offer good rear seat legroom, although with significantly less cargo space than the VW Rabbit. Standard on all models are six airbags, including seat-mounted side-impact protection and full-length side-curtain airbags. Although Saturn did its best to "Americanize" the Astra, noticeable shortcomings, such as the sole front seat cup holder awkwardly positioned behind the parking brake (there are two additional pop-out holders beneath the rear seat bench), no center console storage bin or armrest and the lack of an auxiliary audio input jack, satellite radio option or Bluetooth connectivity, don't mesh with the segment leaders.


There's a definite solidity to the Astra that's immediately apparent. The car looks substantial from all sides, bolstered by big wheels and tires, a high beltline and a wide stance. Four-door models offer an optional dual-panel sunroof, while the racy two-door can be outfitted with aggressive 18-inch wheels. The clever rear wiper automatically initiates one cycle when the front wipers are first activated. A large hatch opening makes loading bulky cargo a breeze, although awkwardly placed tether hooks on the seatbacks could possibly harm delicate items.

Notable Equipment
Standard Equipment

The well-equipped Astra XE four-door includes express-down power windows, rain-sensing wipers, power locks, rear wiper/washer, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, AM/FM stereo with CD, 16-inch wheels with full covers, side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) and OnStar. The XR adds 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, upgraded audio with MP3-encoded CD capability, variable-effort power steering and air conditioning. The XR two-door receives 17-inch alloy wheels, sport-tuned suspension, height-adjustable sport seats with manual driver's-side lumbar support and quick-ratio power steering.

Optional Equipment

Options for the four-door model include a four-speed automatic transmission, air conditioning (XE), a dual-panel sunroof with power sunshade, upgraded seven-speaker MP3-capable audio, 16-inch alloy wheels (XE), heated cloth seats and StabiliTrak stability and traction control. The XR two- and four-door models offer heated leather seating with manual driver's lumbar support and the seven-speaker upgraded audio unit, while the XR four-door can be outfitted with 17-inch alloy wheels and the two-door can have 18-inchers.

Under the Hood

The 2008 Astra has a 1.8-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine. With only 138-horsepower on tap, performance can best be described as average. The engine exhibits a bit more vibration than the class-leader Honda Civic and the four-speed automatic saps some of the fun from the drive. Fuel economy, on the other hand, is this powerplant's strong suit, beating the more powerful VW Rabbit and Mazda MAZDA3 in both city and highway estimates.

1.8-liter in-line four
138 horsepower @ 6300 rpm
125 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/30 (automatic), 24/32 (manual)

Trading in or Selling? Know where you stand with the most up-to-date Kelley Blue Book Value at your fingertips. See your car's value

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