2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-Door: 'American' is Not Its First Language (Visit this link)
Our test car was a 3-door model, which has a roofline that's lower than the still-pretty 5-door model. In bright red and with 18-inch wheels, it looks simply marvelous. It's sporty and dynamic in a way no Saturn (Sky excepted, perhaps) has ever looked. It looks every bit the premium small car, in much the same vein as the Audi A3 or Volkswagen GTI. The design and finish in the interior continues the exterior's strengths, with a chunky Teutonic look that calls to mind many VW products from the past decade, and premium soft touch materials everywhere. The seats, covered in a high quality leather, may be the best I've ever experienced in a GM vehicle. It drives well too. Though ours was saddled with a 4-speed automatic, the 140HP 1.8 liter 4-cylinder was reasonably peppy as well as being smooth and unobtrusive. It wasn't nearly as quick as the car's sexy styling would suggest, but in today's reality where fuel economy is more important to most compact car customers than outright power, that's ok by us (though we can't help but hanker for a theoretical Red Line variant that uses the European model's optional 240hp turbo engine). The car's real appeal is in its ride and handling. It rides in a manner that its 40-series 18-inch tires should not permit – its ride is sporty but never jarring, and it soaks up imperfections with a solidity and level of refinement usually seen on far more expensive German sports sedans. The steering, while not providing much feedback, is pretty precise and accurate. In a nutshell, it feels like a true German car.