Saturn Becomes GM's European Everyman Brand

Steve Schaefer from the San Leandro Times newspaper drove a black sapphire 2008 Saturn Astra three-door hatchback, and he thought it was an "eye-catching, fun-to-drive car." He wasn't the only one to notice the Astra's good looks. He wrote that "a senior executive at my day job, who owns a Porsche 911, admired the Astra as I parked it."

The five-door Astra comes in two models — XE and the betterequipped XR. The three-door, the sportier of the two, comes only as an XR model. This is not a stripped, base-model vehicle. It has fourwheel disc brakes with antilock, and the Stabilitrak traction control system is standard. Stabilitrak works with the brake system to keep the car moving in the right direction under bad road conditions and emergency situations. You also get things such as remote keyless entry, tire pressure monitor, rain-sensing windshield wipers, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls and a driver information center. In fact, my tester had only one option — an upgraded audio system with seven speakers, CD changer and graphic equalizer. Inside, the Astra feels European, as you might expect. There's plenty of good-quality gray plastic, with a texture resembling a basketball's. The center information screen is small and deeply inset. I think a larger navigation system could fit there if ordered. There's a handsome chrome Saturn logo on the steering wheel. The firm, deeply bolstered seat features manual lumbar adjustment. I found no cupholders up front — a European design decision. All Astras come with a 1.8- liter Ecotec 140-horsepower four with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing. A fivespeed manual transmission is standard with a four-speed automatic optional. The standard combination, combined with the XR's sport-tuned suspension, makes for a highly amusing motoring experience.

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