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A FAST ’N’ FURIOUS FACE-OFF

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

V HOLDEN ASTRA GTC SPORT KIA CERATO KOUP TURBO TOURING

PRICE & EQUIPMENT 20 POINTS

Holden’s next-gen five-door Astra is due late this year, and we’re yet to spy a three-door, so for at least a while, if you want a Lion-badged small sporty car, the Astra GTC is it.

But there are plenty of alternatives to the $29,990 GTC Sport manual tested here, such as the $30,690 Kia Cerato Koup Turbo Touring manual alongside. 15/20 These cars share standard hill-start assist, front and rear parking sensors, auto headlights, front and rear fogs, heated electric side mirrors and decent infotainment systems with sat-nav and Bluetooth. As top-spec versions they also get smart keys with push-button start, and a chilled glovebox in the Kia. 15/20

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY 20 POINTS

Stepping up from the Astra GTC to the GTC Sport brings welcome upgrades including heated eight-way adjustable front sports seats with cushion extenders and power lumbar adjustment. The split/fold rear seat has Isofix points for a pair of child seats. Seats fold flat to expand the 380-litre boot into a wagon-like load area. 15/20 Kia cabin is a bit too similar to the Cerato sedan’s. Koup boot is similar to Astra’s in that it holds 378 litres, but lacks the handy large loading aperture of the hatched Holden. Matches its rival with 60/40 split/fold rear seats and Isofix points, though, and offers at least as much leg room. Rear air-con vents are nice to have. 14/20

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY 20 POINTS

Both cars feature 1.6-litre direct-injected turbo-petrol fours teamed with six-speed manuals (six-speed autos are optional). The Holden produces 280Nm from 1650- 5000rpm and 147kW from 4750-6000rpm as a manual (the auto loses 20Nm and 22kW). Officially uses 7.5L/100km of premium unleaded from a 56L tank. 15/20 Kia makes slightly more power and a fraction less torque, mustering 150kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm from 1750- 4500rpm, using regular 91-octane from a 50L tank at 7.7L/100km. Both respond well from low- to mid-revs and feel equal to their high-seven-second 0-100km/h claims, though neither car sounds terrific. 14/20

RIDE & REFINEMENT 20 POINTS

Taut suspension set-ups ensure the Astra and Koup don’t ride like a cooking Cruze or Cerato, but the Holden has the edge (as long as the surface doesn’t), despite sporty 19-inch alloys on 235/45 hoops. Thank its more advanced suspension design and superior tuning. The Holden is also more adept at shutting out wind and road noise. 14/20 Kia’s 18-inch wheels with 225/40s and torsion beam rear suspension are not a recipe for comfort. The ride is fidgety on the kind of busted bitumen common in Aussie cities, though quite acceptable on fresh tarmac. The cabin can get noisy on country coarse chip, and lets wind and suspension noise intrude too. 13/20

STEERING & HANDLING 20 POINTS

‘HiPerStrut’ front suspension, a similar dual-axis design to that used on former Ford and Renault hot-hatch heroes, sets the Astra apart. It gives some of the benefits of a double A-arm set-up without the cost, and helps the GTC Sport respond quickly and positively. Greater feel from the electric power steering would be nice, though. 15/20 Electric steering with Kia’s three-mode FlexSteer system largely amounts to a gimmick, but you can at least setand- forget your preferred weighting. Basic suspension ensures handling is not quite up to its rival – or even Kia’s own IRS-equipped Proceed GT. Lacks finesse, but balance is quite good and it’s fun for what it is. 13/20

POINTS SCORE

74/100 69/100

VERDICT

These warm coupes make sense based on the amount of power, straight-line performance and fun you get for the money.

Speed-versus-spend is at its strongest in the base versions, but the upper variants tested here bring desirable equipment, such as sat-nav in the Kia. The manuals are less costly and more involving than the autos, and more powerful in the Holden’s case. We like the styling of the Holden (and its hatchback practicality) while the Kia looks plain inside and the Holden feels dated. They’re swift, but don’t sound great; fun, but not exactly finessed. We’d pick a Polo GTI over either of them – or a genuine hot-hatch if the budget can stretch to $40K. If we had to choose, though, we’d take the Astra on looks alone.