Saturn Astra Three-Door Hatchback Has the Manners of a Euro Car

2009 Saturn Astra XR3's Bob Plunkett reviewed the Saturn Astra 3-door and enjoyed how well it drove. He described that the "rack and pinion steering produces a lively feeling to the wheel and the suspension system - with independent MacPherson struts up front and a semi-independent torsion beam in back with coil springs - creates a nimble and smooth-riding platform."

After adjusting all mirrors and fixing the form-fitting driver's bucket in a comfy position, we crank up the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, shove the short stick of a manual transmission into first gear and head south on Broadway for a few blocks before turning right on Clay to catch a freeway leading west on Route 26, the Sunset Highway, up a steep slope past Washington Park. To merge into the multi-lane flow of traffic, we step on the throttle and Astra's engine responds with a surprising surge as we shoot ahead in the fast lane while still climbing the long grade. This is a wee car, we're reminded, and its modest engine produces less than 140 horsepower. So why does the Astra XR run so assuredly up the freeway? Good question. These new wheels we're steering, wrapped in a taut package with curvaceous corners and a narrow ring of window glass, carry GM's most impressive small engine, a four-in-line with aluminum cylinder heads, dual cams on top with four valves in each cylinder and VVT (variable valve timing), sequential multi-port fuel injection and electronic throttle control. Output runs to 138 hp at 6300 rpm, with torque of 125 lb-ft at 3800 rpm. Of course, the whole vehicle only registers to 2805 pounds on a set of scales. So that's part of the reason why this thing feels so zippy: There's not much mass to consider, and what there is cuts through thin air with low resistance, thanks to aerodynamic streamlining of the exterior design and the maximizing of the torque and gear ratios.

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