Astra Features a Good Balance of Space and Efficiency

Nelson Ireson from MotorAuthority.com drove the compact Saturn Astra and appreciated the car's space and efficiency, as well as its handling prowess and interior quality. "The soft-but-not-too-soft feel of most of the interior surfaces is pleasing," he wrote, "and should prove easy to maintain, while the cloth seats are attractive and comfortable."

Where the Astra shines is in its handling. With a smooth but firmly damped ride, moderate body roll and a solidly planted feeling, the car inspires confidence whether you're just cruising the suburbs or hustling along some two-lane country blacktop. A solid turn-in gets the body set in its position, and the little hatch just clings to the road with all its might, no doubt getting some help from its alloy wheel and broad, sticky tire combination. The twitchy, unsorted feel of many economy cars is completely absent in the Astra. At least some of the car's good road manners and confident feel are likely attributable to the firm and communicative seating, which is well-bolstered but not so confining as to prevent bigger drivers from finding a comfortable position. The reviewer checks in at 6'2" and 230lbs, so even the larger end of the American populace should find the Astra a suitable runabout, at least in terms of size. The three-door XR is not a large car. Pull all the way to the front of a standard-size parking space and you'll leave enough room behind to make passers-by think the spot is empty until they begin to pull into it. But in terms of functionality, it's surprisingly good at doing 90% of the things a mid-size sedan would do. The rear seats fold down for a good amount of cargo space, enough to put a bicycle in with a little bit of thought and minor disassembly.

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Flashback Friday: How Saturn Built a Brand

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Saturn launched its lineup of compact sedans and coupes in the fall of 1990 as an relatively unknown and untested manufacturer of "a different kind of car." The Saturn team did the impossible by implementing a set of strategies that included building quality vehicles and crafting an intriguing message that attracted car buyers who had written off domestic cars long ago. That was no small feat. In his book, "Building Strong Brands," author David Aaker set out to "not only to describe what was done but also to suggest the logic behind the strategies: why they were pursued, and how they were intended to contribute to the brand." He concluded that "although certainly some elements of the Saturn strategy may have been critical, it was the synergy of the total program rather than the power of any single element - that led to its success."