THE RIDE: Three-door, five-passenger 2008 Saturn Astra XR compact hatchback.
DOWN THE ROAD: Say adieu to the Saturn Ion and welcome the Astra, which has been a big hit in Europe as the Opel Astra. The European inspiration is evident in the front-wheel-drive car's exterior and interior. The car offers decent acceleration and smooth shifts that result in a comfortable ride and secure handling.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: A 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engine develops 138 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 125 pounds-feet of torque at 3800 rpm. A variable-valve timing boosts fuel efficiency and the engine's power output. Also helping save gas is the electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering system. Up front is an independent strut-type suspension with stabilizer bar while the rear is taken up by a semi-independent torsion beam with an integral roll control. The Astra is mated to a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission, which conserves fuel when the car shifts into neutral while idle. A 12.2-inch front vented disc and a 10.4-inch solid rear disc take care of the vehicle's stopping abilities.
LOOK & FEEL: Based on a unitized body/frame, a bold and bright chrome bar runs across the front and rear fascias. Body-colored exterior mirrors, door handles and bumpers, along with a sole exhaust pipe, stand out. Slide behind the firm-gripping, three-spoke rake/telescopic steering wheel and the first thing you notice is the cockpit binnacle housing white-on-black fuel, tachometer and speedometer dials. Fold the 60/40 split rear seat and you end up with 44.7 cubic feet of storage space. Also standard is air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows, a driver information center and an AM/FM in-dash CD stereo player with seven speakers.
SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbags for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front safety belt pretensioners and load limiters, active front head restraints, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.
OUT THE DOOR: $17,875, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges. The $745 premium trim package of leather seats and leather-wrapping steering wheel, and driver and front-passenger heated seats is a wise choice.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, 225/45R17 all-season; wheelbase, 102.9 inches; length, 170.5 inches; weight, 2,833 pounds; fuel capacity, 11.9 gallons; highway, 30 mpg; city, 24 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: The Saturn revitalization that began with the Sky roadster, Aura sedan, Vue and Outlook SUVs has trickled down to its entry-level ride, the Astra. Admitted, the car isn't a powerhouse but it does perform adequately with a first-rate interior, ample cargo capacity and affordable price. Welcome to the Saturn gang, Astra.