Europe’s population is estimated to be around 750million (give or take the UK) and its land mass covers roughly 10 million km (again give or take the UK). Most of the population tends to congregate around major cities; which despite the ever changing people vs land equation, still leaves a fair amount of unattended land. Take a look any map, digital or old school (impossible to refold) print and you will see that like Europe; a considerably large proportion of NZ is unbuilt on and rural. Even when you take away the South Island, the North Island may have its fair share of major cities but we (thankfully) still have a vast amount of unkempt natural countryside.
On another seemingly unrelated note, Paris (also in Europe) has been cited as being the birthplace of Art Deco. However (and this is where it all fits together) Holden have just launched their new Astra, so they felt it very apt to invite us to our own Art Deco capital Napier (which is mostly surrounded by fields) and give us a taste of Holden Europeaness.
There is little doubt that Holden holds a certain amount of adoration amongst a large section of New Zealanders. But like many of us, I’m pretty sure that when you think of Holden, you think of a big sized sedan or possibly even a truck. However; as you are probably well aware, Holden are going through a time of change. Not only are they adding more depth to their range but (since they have a global pool to fish in) they are adding in some European flair to it too.
Although the Astra is a very well established nameplate (Since 1995) Holden were quick to point out that it’s an all new car and as such displays many of their car values such as; being great to drive (I’ll get to that soon), technologically advanced and loaded with safety.
The exterior styling is very neat and very sharp, it boasts German precision when it comes to design and engineering and yet has a certain continental chic about it too. The bonnet embraces the LED daytime running lamp infused headlamps and the chrome and black of the grille becomes a feature of the front especially as it dips down to meet the upturned lip of the lower valance and air ducts. Its profile sports its fair share of drama, the Bone line points downwards from the rear giving a sense of movement even when stationary, while lower creases flick back up towards the rear arches. A chrome accent follows the roofline accentuating the floating spoiler at the tail. LED lamps and a pronounced bumper complete the derriere and also cleverly reduce the drag. It’s really shed the pounds too, the substantial weight loss of around 160 kg’s (vs previous models) is not to be sniffed at.
The interior is clean and uncluttered, with lots of satin chrome and piano black. The Indicators are on the right (very Euro) and there is a scalloped lip under the 7 or 8’’ (depending on model) touchscreen to rest your weary thumb. Leather seats and trim (same with the wheel), power lumbar assist, sunroof, adaptive cruise…the options list and refinements are a plenty.
But the Astra is not completely all northern hemisphere; Holden have definitely added some local input. They have retuned the steering to both compensate for the high camber in NZ roads plus emphasised the steering feel – Kiwi’s apparently enjoy being part of the driving experience.
Our hosts had lined up all three model types for us to enjoy (the R, RS and RS-V) some Auto and some Manual, we picked the R manual right away. It could be deemed the bottom of the range but it certainly didn’t feel that way. Under the bonnet was a 1.4L Turbo (110kW/240Nm) that felt very much at home as we made our way out of Napier town centre. The manual gear gating felt quite a bit softer than the sports cars I had been driving of late but the actual selection was smooth and the clutch ‘bit in’ nicely. The lever fitted well in the hand and all 6 gears were easy to find.
The drive route took us out of town quickly and off up a long and winding hill that culminated in a calculated dead end, I say calculated because it meant (after a driver change) that we had to do the same twists and turns downhill! The previously mentioned steering modifications and torque vectoring immediately coming into their own. The Astra felt alive, enjoying the ride as much as its occupants.
As we headed towards our vehicle change point we came upon our next (I take it unexpected) obstacle – a road full of cows, and I mean full. They lined the streets and covered the tarmac, all mooing in admiration of the fleet of Astra’s that paraded past. It took a while but they finally moooved, so we upped the speed again and upped the fun. The pickup and acceleration felt more than ample and it didn’t appear at all strained to be venturing into treble figures.
At the change point we picked up the RS with its 1.6L Turbocharged (147kW/300Nm) heart. Leather wheel, advanced park assist which we didn’t get to use (nor the rear cross traffic alert for that matter). Lane keep assist, 17”Alloys and a very tidy 6 speed Auto box. The bigger engine does make a difference but not hugely – more torquey of course but not radically so. (in short, I’d suggest you take both options out for a trial). The drive route took us further out into the wilds and also back into some congestion, this time sheep. I kid you not, heaps and heaps of our woolly friends that appeared to be completely blown away by our Astra’s running in all directions apart from out of the way – it was evidently more than they had baaaagained for and we struggled to get past for quite a while.
We stopped for a very local feed of smoked trout and Bambi before heading back towards civilisation and this time we tagged the RS-V. 18’’ Alloy wheels, Heated leather seats, remote start, 4.2” colour instrument cluster, 8” colour touch infotainment screen with Sat Nav built in – fully loaded with the 1.6L engine to boot. The extra luxury did make a difference to my attitude towards the Astra. Of course it drove the same as the RS but it ‘felt’ more upmarket, more connected, I felt more informed.
It could very well be said that Holden is resetting itself in both the minds and the hearts of the Kiwi’s. They are re-focussing on YOU the customer and YOUR needs from a vehicle and the new Astra is a perfect example. It’s compact and yet roomy, it’s efficient and yet quite powerful, it’s chic and yet very precise. It certainly upholds Holden’s promise of being a great driving car and it ticks the safety and tech boxes too. It’s cool in the city and really enjoys the rural roads. As the 2016 Car of the Year Holden Astra proves, when you take away something from Europe both areas can ultimately benefit – let’s see if the same thing can be said for Brexit.
Photo credit: Simon Watts/www.bwmedia.co.nz
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