Astra starting line up revealed

Everything you wanted to know about the new Astra launching here in December – save for pricing, that is.

SPECIFICATION of the hatchback set to be at the forefront of a campaign to shake off perception that Holdens are ‘dad’s cars’ has been confirmed by the brand’s New Zealand operation.

However Holden New Zealand says the pricing it will attach to the new Astra five-door will not be disclosed for some weeks yet, with early to mid-November being probable.

Local brand boss Kristian Aquilina has also warned that, while Astra will be cheap enough to avoid perception that it has a European premium, neither will it simply carry over the super-aggressive stickers that have been announced for the Australian market.

Though he acknowledges that the New Zealand and Australian dollars are presently just a few cents apart on exchange rate, Aquilina says it’s never that simple.

That exercise “ignores all the other factors that go into the price of a vehicle here … the fact of the matter is, when it comes to a per unit price of a vehicle, you have a lot of fixed costs as in Australia, but spread over a smaller volume of cars.

“That is going to put upward pressure on price here. The Aussie to NZ dollar is one thing to look at, but the Kiwi to Euro is also in there.

“We come up with our pricing approach fairly separately and we still have to go through the exercise in NZ.”

However, he says there should be no fear about the outcome.

It was not reasonable to imagine “we will be coming out with a European product and be trying to charge premium pricing … Astra will be a mainstream small vehicle in our range and it will be competitive.”

Holden Australia chose to disclose the model line, specifications and pricing late yesterday, apparently to time in with the start of production at an Opel plant in Poland.

The car will launch in New Zealand and Australia in December, in three different specification levels – R, RS and RS-V - and with two turbocharged petrol engine choices, a 1.4 with 110kW and 240Nm and a 1.6 making 147kW and 300Nm. The smaller engine is restricted to the R.

Australian market Astra kicks off at $A21,990 plus on-road costs for a manual R, with the automatic adding $A2200, while the mid-level RS is $A26,490 in manual and $A28,690 in auto, and the RS-V is at $A30,990/ $A33,190.

Those prices allow it to compete head-to-head across the Tasman with the new Honda Civic sedan, Volkswagen Golf and Subaru Impreza. It is around $A1000 pricier there in base form than the Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Kia Cerato, Hyundai i30 and Holden’s current Cruze hatch.

The latter has provided the impetus for Holden NZ having kept quiet about Astra – not just in the past but for the next few weeks.

“We still have Cruze stock to sell and that has been our focus,” Aquilina said.

“That process is going well but we have to finish it before we start to actively marketing and merchandising Astra.”

Astra will ultimately become Holden’s dominant small car but Cruze is not expected to be entirely out of the picture, with thought the new-generation sedan edition will ultimately show as a Holden.

Also, even though the Cruze hatch and sedan production line within Holden’s Adelaide plant closes on October 7 – leaving it to be purely a Commodore producer until that car ends its life in late 2017 - current Cruze will likely remain in the showroom for some months, as Holden NZ is building up a stock reserve. The Cruze wagon will also continue out of South Korea until around the same time; an Astra wagon will then take over.

Insofar as Astra is concerned, Australia has indicated that the 1.6-litre variants will only be available with a six-speed manual gearbox for the first few months of sale, with the auto versions starting to arrive in March, 2017. However, both manual and auto 1.4 variants will be available from December. 

As for the performance flagship VXR? The current edition will remain in circulation for some time yet, though GM has signaled a new shape version of the family hotshot is under development.

The Astra R’s 1.4-litre Ecotec turbo-petrol has a “targeted” combined fuel consumption figure of 5.8 litres per 100km. No claimed local market consumption has yet been claimed for the 1.6-litre Ecotec direct injection turbo.

Holden has assured its engineers were involved in the car’s local market tuning.

“Holden and Opel share very similar DNA but we still made sure our engineers were involved in developing Astra and setting targets, right from the start of the programme,” director of vehicle performance Ian Butler.

“We’ve engineered our own unique Australian chassis input which, when combined with the new 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine options, we’re confident will excel on the variety of road surfaces in Australia.”

Holden has revealed some of the standard gear, with the R offering 17-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a reversing camera with rear park assist and a digital radio.

The RS adds keyless entry and start, Advanced Park Assist, Side Blind Spot Alert, the Holden Eye forward-facing camera that is linked to autonomous emergency braking, a forward collision warning and lane-keep assist.

In RS-V guise, that Astra has 18-inch alloys, leather-appointed front heated seats, a heated steering wheel, an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, satellite navigation, LED tail-lights and dual-zone climate control.

High-tech LED Matrix headlights are available as an option on the RS-V.

Astra’s potential to alter the perception consumers here have of the Holden brand was outlined at last week’s Colorado media event, with Holden NZ general manager of marketing Marnie Samphier revealing that the outcome of two years of local research – including talking to everyone from brand diehards to people who would never be seen driving one - delivered the bombshell that, while there is great affection for the Holden nameplate, a lot of young people view it as “a car brand for my Dad”.

“People had a genuine love and affection for Holden, but they felt it was a brand for somebody else, not for them. Younger people in particular told us 'it's a brand for my Dad'. It validated what we'd thought all along.”

Samphier says HNZ's mission over the next three years is to eliminate that “subconscious rejection” of the brand as it introduces new models.

She said Holden assuredly doesn’t want to lose the “great stuff” – things like performance and that it’s a Kiwi character (even though it's an Australian brand).

“But we want to turn those aspects around. So in terms of performance, it's not all about V8s and rear-drive, it's more about the excitement of the drive. In terms of that Kiwi connection, it's less about Kiwiana and more about the progressive aspects of NZ culture.”