Journeys editor PAULA SWARD takes a drive through the hinterland of Queensland and New South Wales to test out the new Holden Astra Sedan.
We were riding through the cane, in the pouring rain… well, not quite, but we'd only missed it by a couple of days. Evidence of the flooding was everywhere – deep potholes, roadsides washed away, landslips and felled trees – all adding to the atmosphere and the driving challenge.
Our location for this Sunday Drive was somewhere a little different – from Coolangatta to Byron Bay and return. The vehicle? The new Holden Astra Sedan.
Holden has welcomed the sedan into the Astra family after it stopped manufacturing the Australian-built Cruze. It is part of the company's new strategy to have a more uniform look and experience across its vehicles.
Externally the sedan is sleek and streamlined, with a sporty look that by far surpasses its more staid-looking predecessor. With a range from a manual base-model LS to a top-of-the-line LTZ auto, this car has been built with touring in mind. The suspension and steering have been tuned for Australia's unique road surfaces and, while the hatch is a more sporty drive, this one is smooth as silk.
We certainly had a chance to try out the suspension as we wound our way through the spectacular hinterland both sides of the Queensland/New South Wales border. The Astra handled the challenging roads quite smoothly, and I felt very comfortable and in control. On the highway, the drive was altogether different, with very little to do but test out the technology that has been added to the new vehicle.
Holden has incorporated several new features across the range, including automatic headlights, reversing camera and sensors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a 7" colour touch screen in the LS, which is available in both six-speed manual and auto.
However, if possible I'd stretch to the LS+ auto, which adds 'Holden Eye' technology such as forward collision alert and forward distance indicator, as well as lane keep assist/lane departure warning, leather steering wheel, LED DRLs and auto high beam assist for an extra $1350 (RRP) on the LS auto.
Hopping into the top-of-the-range LTZ, it is easy to see where the money has been spent. You can add passive entry/push start, electric sunroof, forward collision alert, side blind spot alert, rain-sensing wipers, heated leather seats, advanced park assist and heated outside mirrors to the already extensive list. You also get a larger 8" touch screen and 18" alloy wheels.
As we made our way through the hinterland, I was struck by how different a place can look dependent on the weather. When invited on this trip I thought to myself 'excellent, a chance to escape the Tassie winter for some sunshine', even if it was just for 24 hours.
What transpired was altogether the opposite – I left the bright, clear sunshine of Hobart and arrived in a landscape shrouded by thick rain clouds. I was left to imagine how beautiful the scenery would be had we come at another time, but the experience was still enticing.
Arriving in Byron Bay I was struck by the amount of traffic pouring through the area. I recall visiting a sleepy seaside hamlet about 20 years ago, and now it looked altogether different. Granted, we had little time to explore as we were there for a different purpose. I hope that a return visit will uncover some of the laid-back charm the area is so well-known for.
However, I was not disappointed by The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa – a spectacular resort spread through 45 acres, with accommodation dotted amongst the subtropical rainforest. The outdoor pool looked smooth and enticing despite the weather, and while I didn't have my swimmers I could picture myself returning one day to sit poolside, sipping cocktails and soaking up some rays. Of course, I would also have to rouse myself into action to wander along to the day spa and enjoy everything from facials to massage and beauty treatments. A walk or drive to the lighthouse is also recommended, although during our trip the low-lying cloud rendered capturing any views impossible.
With little time on my hands I had to comfort myself with the luxury surrounds of my suite, which included two screened outdoor spaces, spacious lounge and kitchen facilities and a huge bath that would easily fit two people.
In the evening, I was treated to a sumptuous dinner of locally line-caught snapper, with olive oil and herb crushed potatoes and verbena tea sauce vierge (essentially diced tomatoes and herbs in a sauce made from verbena tea). These light and fresh flavours combined well with the fish, and paired with a 2012 Logan Apple Tree Flat Chardonnay, from Orange in NSW, made for a delightful end to a rather long day.
Our return journey to Coolangatta was no less eventful, with the opportunity to test out the top-spec LTZ as well as the base spec six-speed manual sedan. I had not driven a manual in quite some time, but found myself smoothly moving through the gear changes to take in the hills and corners with ease. I certainly noticed the difference in interior luxury and added features between the two specs, but the manual is still a decent vehicle for its price.
The sedan received a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, in spite of the lack of autonomous emergency breaking (AEB) across the range. ANCAP is upgrading its safety requirements next year, and it will not be possible for new models to achieve a 5-star rating without an effective AEB system fitted as standard, so this is something Holden will need to consider in its next upgrade if it is to maintain its top safety rating.
Unlike the German-built hatchback, which has a choice of 1.4L or 1.6L turbo engines depending on the spec, the entire sedan range is fitted with the 1.4L four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 110kW and 245Nm MT 240Nm AT. This healthy torque output led to consistent performance during our drive, with a pleasing response when planting the foot in uphill sections. Combined fuel economy on the official cycle is listed as 5.8L/100km for the manual and 6.1L/100km for the auto.
Holden will introduce a third family member to the range later this year, a Sportwagon. It will be very interesting to drive all three family members on Tassie's roads to compare.
This story appeared in Journeys magazine August/September issue. For more great reads click here.