Holden's new Astra sedan: riding with Old Blue Eyes
One day I'd love to have a go at naming a motor vehicle paint colour. It would be fun, because these days you don't just call a car red or blue or black. Instead, the colour descriptions are all part of marketing - with the more exotic the description, the better.
General Motors seems good at coming up with interesting paint names. For example, right now you can buy a Holden Commodore painted Son of a Gun Grey, or Light My Fire which is a sort of orange. Or you can order a Colorado ute painted not just red, but Absolute Red.
All this came to mind when Holden New Zealand hosted a few journalists in Auckland to spend a few hours behind the wheel of its new Astra sedan, which is arriving on dealership floors about now.
It came to mind because the model I got to drive was painted a very dark blue called Old Blue Eyes.
* After testing the Holden Astra R, we don't miss the letters S and V at all
* We drive the rest of the Astra range
* Can Astra sedan really cut it against the hatch?
* Why "lightweighting" is a thing at General Motors
The hue - and its name - has actually been around for some years now, with General Motors using it on several of its models, particularly those sold in the United States. For many other vehicles in other parts of the world the paint, which is an official GM colour, has gone by the names of Blue Velvet, Dark Sapphire Blue and Dark Adriatic Blue.
But in USA it always seems to have been called Old Blue Eyes, which makes sense because that was the nickname given to the legendary American singer and actor, Frank Sinatra.
Do you know that he was one of the world's best-selling musicians, selling more than 150 million records? And that when he died in 1998 the lights on the Empire State Building in New York shone blue and roulette wheels in Las Vegas casinos stopped spinning for a minute?
That's how big Sinatra was. So it does seem appropriate that the wheels keep spinning on his memory - in GM's case, the wheels of many vehicles painted a hue called Old Blue Eyes.
The new Holden Astra sedan just arrived in New Zealand is actually the Chevrolet Cruze, which was designed and developed in USA. Our version is built in South Korea, and for Australasian use the suspension has been specially tuned so the ride is firmer than the American and European versions. And of course, the front fascia has been changed so it looks more like a Holden.
Let's hope this isn't confusing: this new Astra sedan replaces the Holden Cruze sedan, and even though it is known as Cruze in every other part of the world, it is called Astra here so it can join the Europe-sourced Astra hatch to form Holden's small-medium vehicle lineup.
So the latest Astra vehicles - hatch and sedan - are the same but different. The hatch is available with R, RS and RS-V levels of specification and powered by 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre turbocharged engines, while the sedan has been launched with LS, LT and LTZ levels of spec and has only the 1.4-litre engine under the bonnet.
Their ride and handling is different, too. The hatch is the sportier of the two, particularly the RS-V which is powered by a 147kW turbocharged 1.6-litre engine that gives it real oomph. The sedan is more comfort-oriented, as would be expected of a small sedan.
With all that as background, we headed off on the first New Zealand drive of the new Astra sedan, which is priced exactly the same as the hatch, starting at $30,990 for the LS, moving up to $34,990 for the LT, and onwards to $38,990 for the LTZ. All these cars come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission, although the LS can be purchased as a six-speed manual via dealer indent order.
The group of journalists moved through the fleet of Astras during a journey that took them out to a couple of the beaches on Auckland's west coast, and in my case it culminated with an LTZ - painted Old Blue Eyes.
This is a nice small sedan, well appointed with heated leather front seats (which came in handy during our nationwide cold snap), an electric sunroof (which definitely did not), climate control air conditioning, an excellent range of electronic safety specification, and such goodies as integrated satellite navigation and advanced park assist.
The car is also shod with 18-inch wheels and tyres, which helps give it nice ride and handling characteristics. The car is 120kg lighter than the Cruze sedan it replaces, and not only does that help make its handling considerably more lithe than the Cruze, but it lets the 110kW 1.4-litre turbocharged engine perform rather well.
Overall, it's a good car. Of course being a small sedan means it won't sell in big numbers, but the important point is that the Astra sedan will combine with the Astra hatch and soon the Astra wagon to present a very full Holden offering in the small-medium market sector.
And as for Old Blue Eyes? The colour is a bit too dark to suit my tastes - I'd rather go for one of the other hues on offer. Gasoline, Burnt Coconut or Nitrate Silver anyone?