Saturn Astra a Nimble and Fun Ride

Al Haas from Philly.com recently test drove a 2008 Saturn Astra 3-door XR. He called the Astra's handling "nimble," its comfort "right there," the 3-door's styling "sensible sporty," and the 1.8L engine's performance "adequate." Put all that together, and you've got one impressive small car. "I suspect there are a lot of people out there who are thinking: OK, I have to get a smaller, more economical car because of the price of gasoline, but I can still have some luxury, a sporty personality, and a car that offers a decent amount of room for people and stuff," Mr. Haas concluded. "The Astra provides all of the above."

The sporty styling happily rubs off on the Astra's dynamics. The car handles adroitly, thanks to a sport-tuned suspension that's firm even by European standards. The sprightly little four-banger adds to the driving fun. Equipped with 16 valves and variable valve timing, the Astra engine develops 138 horsepower. While that doesn't exactly sound like an afternoon at Pocono International Raceway, it was quite enough to let me enjoy myself in the test car that, at a modest 2,833 pounds, doesn't require a belchfire V-8 to behave in a lively fashion. In the last analysis, the nimble, subcompact Astra was fun in the curviest recesses of Chadds Ford, and ever so nice to maneuver and park on Center City streets intended for horses and pedestrians. The driving kicks were augmented by the nifty, short-throw, five-speed manual gearbox, as well as the handsome, aluminum-trimmed black interior. Besides its sporty looks and handling, the Astra offers a reasonable amount of room for people and cargo, as well as a surprisingly big equipment list given its starting price tag of $16,495.

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