Astra hatch classy and sporty

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The test car proved well-matched to the most technically demanding portions of the road test route, delivering a rewarding and at times entertaining experience. Photos: David Thomson

Opt for the current Holden Astra in hatchback guise and you'll be choosing a car that was crowned 2016 European Car of the Year as an Opel.

At entry-level, the hatch features the same 110kW/240Nm 1.4-litre engine as its booted counterpart. But step up to the mid-tier RS or flagship RS-V hatch and there's a 147kW/280Nm 1.6-litre turbo under the bonnet.

It was the RS-V, which is only available as a six-speed automatic, that came Drivesouth's way for appraisal. Performance (of which more later) is not the RS-V's only appeal; it's also the safety star of the Astra range, being equipped with the latest in autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, forward distance indicator, forward collision alert and blind-spot warning systems.

Part of Holden's customisation for this part of the world has been tweaking the nose of the new Astra sedan to give it visual co-ordination with the hatch.

Truth is though, that from the bonnet back, the four and five-door Astra variants do not share a single panel in common. The RS-V is (as it should be) the sportiest looking member of the hatch family.

It sits on 18-inch 10-spoke alloys and 225/40 R18 Bridgestone tyres, and has a small rear wing, twin exhausts and chrome garnishing. Quite different in interior look and feel to the sedan, the cabin cuts a classy, sport-oriented dash, with leather trim and a preponderance of dark, glossy surfaces.

Imitation composite highlighting, snug heated sports seats, and a heated sports steering wheel feature up front. The RS-V also picks up the premium 8-inch touchscreen interface for Holden's MyLink infotainment system (and with it, standard satellite navigation), dual-zone climate control, and an electronic park brake.

The hatch is bested by the sedan for rear room and boot space, but it is still reasonably accommodating. I'm a fan of the 1.4-litre engine used by the sedan and lesser hatchback variants, but with an extra 37kW and 40Nm, the 1.6-litre RS-V has a performance edge that is blunted only a little by the absence of paddle-shift controls for its slick six-speed automatic transmission.

One of the engine's key strengths is the availability of peak torque at just 1650rpm. This makes for especially responsive in-gear acceleration, and compensates for a relative lack of free- revving character at the upper end of the rev range. Unsurprisingly, selecting sport mode is vital to experiencing the RS-V's performance best.

As well as sharpening throttle response, sport mode adds crispness to the vehicle's gear shifts, and heft to the steering. That steering, like the RS-V's brakes, stability control and torque vectoring, benefits from fine-tuning for Australasian conditions.

The test car proved well-matched to the most technically demanding portions of the road test route, delivering a rewarding and at times entertaining experience without sacrificing too much in ride comfort and all-round refinement.

Astra hatch classy and sporty
At a Glance

HOLDEN ASTRA RS-V AUTO

Overall: ****
Design and styling: ***+
Interior: ****
Performance: ****
Ride/handling: ****
Safety: *****
Environmental: ****

For: Strong engine, decent ride/handling balance, nice interior
Against: No paddle shift, manually-adjusting front seats
Verdict: A very good all-rounder, thoughtfully tweaked for local conditions 

Price: $38,490
Engine: 1598cc four-cylinder turbo petrol, maximum power 147kW@5500rpm,
maximum torque, 280Nm@1650rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBD, TCS
Safety rating: Five-star European NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/40 R18 tyres
Fuel and economy: 6.3 litres per 100km, fuel-tank capacity 48 litres
Emissions: CO2 146 g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4386mm, width 1809mm, height 1485mm

RATING (4/5)