Pardon our French, but the Holden Astra really is quite polished
An awful lot has happened in between Holden New Zealand launching the all-new Astra and our local road test.
For one, it stopped being European Car of the Year - an award which formed a key part of Holden's promotion of this Euro-sourced (well, Polish-built) model. The car has been a long time coming, of course; it arrived in Europe late-2015, scoring the 2016 ECOTY and remaining the champion as it was introduced here in early-2017.
But come March, it was time to pass the trophy on and the Peugeot 3008 was named ECOTY 2017. So now the Astra is a former winner.
Also in March, Astra became French. Well, sort of. Ironically or appropriately given the above, Peugeot-Citroen acquired General Motors' Opel operation, which includes Astra and the Insignia (the latter will be sold here as the next-generation Commodore). Supply of the current generation of cars will continue to Holden under the sale agreement.
So, that's a bit of change in status for Astra. But the new car is no less impressive for all of that, taking Holden's small-car quality up a notch or three compared with the old Cruze hatchback.
Brand snobs might not be able to see past the grille, but the Astra really does deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, in terms of both style and driving dynamics.
The car featured here is the flagship RS-V, which at $36,990 offers a handy 55kW/80Nm more than the same-price Golf TSI Comfortline.
It's fairly well kitted-out too, with the "Holden eye" (groan) forward-facing camera that enables autonomous emergency braking, forward collision alert and lane-keeping assistance, leather upholstery, heating for front seats/steering wheel, an eight-inch touch-screen with phone projection and integrated sat-nav (not that you really need it, because you have phone projection) and LED tail lights.
The high style of the exterior carries through into the cabin, although the dashboard design might be a bit too swish for its own good. Some of the plastics are a bit dowdy, which is disappointing when the architecture looks so smart.
It's a fantastic car for Kiwi roads, thanks partly (but not completely) to calibration by Holden Australia. Our Astra has the same transmission and suspension setup as the European models, but the local people have had a fairly good tweak of the steering and stability control.
It's a nicely balanced, responsive machine on our often-demanding backroads. There's a good feel to the car during quick changes of direction and the six-speed automatic seems particularly adept at keeping things flowing along.
Flagship it might be, but the RS-V is a little old-hat in one respect: it has the same 1.6-litre turbo engine as the previous-generation Astra, which we saw here towards the end of its life in GTC coupe form.
Nothing really wrong with that, especially when it has similar output to hot hatches of a few years ago, but Astra-experience suggests the entry-level R model's all-new 1.4-litre alloy unit is a lot more lively and engaging. But then you can't have that model with all the luxury gear.