2008 Saturn Astra 4-Door XE Hatchback (Visit this link)
Once considered GM's best hope for fighting the Japanese small-car invasion, Saturn's cars have grown larger and more expensive while its customer base has grown older and more conservative. To get back in the groove, the company has borrowed a popular European brand to replace the aging and bland Ion. The 2008 Saturn Astra may be new to us, but this version has been a hot seller in Europe for over four years. Saturn hopes the reasonably-priced Astra will once again put it on the shopping list of today's tech-savvy youth, evidenced by the car's very own page on the popular Facebook networking site. As one would expect of a European transplant, the Astra's steering is firm with good on-center feel and the handling is sporty with excellent stability. Equipped with 18-inch wheels, 14:1 close-ratio power steering and sport suspension, this is especially true of the two-door model. Despite having a big wheel-and-tire package, the Astra returns a pretty smooth ride with very little road noise intruding into the passenger cabin. The 1.8-liter engine is a bit buzzy when pressed hard, but this is true of most small four-cylinder engines; it needs to be revved high to make the most of its power, but overall it's a good fit for this car. We found the five-speed manual easy to operate, with very little play between the gears. The optional four-speed automatic is not as much fun to drive as the five-speed manual and, as most Astras will probably feature the automatic, we wish Saturn had equipped it with some type of manual-shift mode.