Holden Astra CDTi Manual

A brilliant combination of practicality, performance, fuel consumption and price

By Michael Knowling

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At a glance...

  • Strong performance
  • Impressive fuel consumption
  • Good equipment level
  • Noisy engine
  • An excellent buy

This is the Astra we’ve been waiting for and, at less than AUD$30k, it’s sure to sell a storm. While the petrol Astra is a great car needing a better engine and the turbo diesel auto delivers less than spectacular fuel consumption, the manual gearbox version nails it.

The difference between the self-shifting Astra turbo diesel and the do-it-yourself version is massive.

If you’re happy to change gears manually, you’ll pocket AUD$1500 over the automatic model as well as enjoying far superior performance and fuel consumption. The manual gearbox version of the Astra CDTi brings an up-spec 1.9-litre turbo diesel with a DOHC 16-valve head, an 18.0:1 static compression ratio, variable geometry turbocharger, air-to-air intercooler, electronic throttle and common rail direct injection. Output is an impressive 110kW at 4000 rpm and a gut-wrenching 320Nm from 2000 to 2750 rpm. That torque figure is the key. Give the accelerator a prod with anything more than 1800 rpm on the tacho and, after a brief turbocharger delay, you’re head reels back under what can only be described as performance car acceleration.

But the party is all over by about 4200 rpm. The turbo diesel engine requires a mindset of short-shifting to keep it on the boil but fortunately the ratios of the six-speed gearbox are well suited to the job. In normal cut-and-thrust driving, the 1372kg Astra CDTi manual is genuinely quick – you can sprint away from traffic lights at a rate that’ll wipe the sneer off the face of anyone who denigrates diesels. With plenty of wheelspin off the line, this machine can reach 100 km/h in the high 8 second range. Not slow at all!

Perhaps more importantly, the manual version of the CDTi achieves impressive fuel consumption. While we struggled to achieve 7.5 litres per 100km in the turbo diesel self-shifter, this machine returned 5.7 litres per 100km (which is slightly better than the official ADR 81/01 figure). Given the performance on tap, that’s nothing less than incredible. But we must point out that, unlike a petrol-electric hybrid vehicle, the CDTi’s fuel consumption increases in direct relation to how long you’re stuck in traffic. In these conditions, the average fuel consumption display is constantly increasing.

Unfortunately, the Astra CDTi is equipped with a small diameter fuel filler neck that can make it a real pain to refuel. In many service stations you’ll find only a large diameter diesel nozzle and, if the tank is near empty, you’ll need to fill using a funnel. Inevitably, you’ll get diesel splashed all over you and the side of the car – not the sort of experience you want when purchasing a new car...

But probably the biggest criticism is engine noise. While the current breed of Peugeot turbo diesels run with virtual in-cabin silence, the CDTi is more along the lines of a John Deere... That diesel rattle can be quite annoying in urban conditions but is barely noticeable at high speed where it is masked by road noise.

The Asta CDTi manual rides on sports-spec 15mm lowered suspension that doesn’t spoil the package. It feels firm in urban conditions but add some weight in the cabin or venture onto a country road and the ride is perfectly acceptable. There’s plenty of suspension travel to accommodate B-grade roads, weight transfer is well controlled and the quicker ratio steering is suitably weighted and direct. A Sport button on the dash can be used to provide an even sportier steering feel and a much more aggressive throttle control strategy – perfect for tackling a twisty road. The Astra chassis has a bias toward understeer but is always predictable and, with standard stability control, very safe.

But channelling 320Nm through the front wheels of an Astra does have some drawbacks. When full boost pressure arrives there is a change in steering feel and some torque-steer. This is more pronounced in low speed urban driving where the traction control does its best to maintain the tyre-to-bitumen relationship. Considerable wheel spin can be provoked when pouring on the power when one wheel is on the bitumen and the other is on the road shoulder (like when executing a country road U-turn). Braking performance is well up to standard using the 308mm front discs found in the newly released Astra turbo coupe

Like all Astra five-doors, the CDTi is well sized to accommodate four adults and has a high standard of interior fit and finish. Standard features include six airbags, a single CD/tuner, cruise control, adjustable headlight angle and an easy to read multi-function central LCD. The sports steering wheel is covered in leather and has amongst the best functioning audio/trip computer controls on the market.

Our test car was draped in Holden’s Star Silver paint which gave the Astra a classy look. Adding to this were the standard 16 inch alloys, full colour-coding, front and rear fog lights and slightly lowered ride height. Paint quality was excellent and, like all previous Astras we’ve tested, there were no noticeable rough edges. It’s safe to say this is a well-built car.

With a price tag of AUD$29,990, the Astra CDTi manual is considerably dearer than an entry-level mid-size hatch but it's great value when compared to upper-level hatches. Just take a look at its performance. Its fuel consumption. Its practicality and standard equipment. Nothing else comes close...

The Astra CDTi manual was provided for this test by Holden Australia.www.holden.com.au

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