Nevermind...the Saturn Astra's a dud

Wow...I've been underwhelmed before, but

Okay, so let's review: I had a bout of unaccountable Car lust starting earlier this week. The Astra was the newest Euro kid on the block, all sexy and angular. So, today, I took a detour on my way to work and drove one.

Walkaround: The car is handsome and really doesn't look like an economy car, but rather an upscale small hatch, a segment the MINI Cooper created. Doors open and close with an assuring thunk. The hatch is pure euro, complete with parcel shelf and a good-sized storage area with the seats up. The rear window is very small (but we'll get to that...)

Interior: Hard plastic abounds, and control layout is just bizarre. I adjusted the trip computer trying assuming that was the cruise control, and nearly got into an accident trying to turn on the radio. A large LED screen dominates the upper dash, and the center stack seems to be going for the waterfall effect from Volvo. The driving position is spacious, and 4 adults could fit pretty easily (I was driving the 4-door hatch)

Driving position: Pure Focus, circa 1999. You feel like you're sitting on the car, not in it. Visibility is good, excepting the rear view; the back glass is like a gunslit from the driver's seat.

Driving it: If you've driven a Mk.IV VW with the 2.0L engine, you've driven the astra. The car moves out, but does so reluctantly. Gear ratios in the transmission don't take advantage of the engine, with 1st being too tall and 5th being too short. Sixty MPH yielded 3k rpms. The accelerator is too far below the plane of the brake pedal for heel/toe downshifts, but the shifter is so notchy and balky, you won't want to heel/toe anyway. Again--just like a VW!!! Seems like they were trying to mimic/benchmark the MkIV Golf, right down to the shift pattern and "sprung like a Buick" bodyroll.

The ONE redeeming characteristic was he steering--it was accurate throughout the travel, and the car seemed nimble, until you booted the throttle and were rewarded with a coarse roar from the engine room. This tub just doesn't want to move, similar to the old SPI Ford Focus, or the 2.0 VW.

Overall, I know the ION was DOA, but I question the economics of bringing over a car that's MUCH inferior to the equivalent Hyundai for FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS MORE?! Expect deep discounts on these if they hope to meet the meager sales goals of 30k this year. I really don't see who this car is for...econo-freaks won't look twice at its 32 mpg, enthusiasts would want more power and better shifter, and hipsters demand bluetooth and gadgets galore. Like I said--it's a DUD!

* * *

Overall, the test drive did its job...I climbed back into my 19 year old E30 and was never so glad to be in a RWD car with an engaging drivetrain.

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