Going underground

OurGarage

ALEX INWOOD

Eco nonsense

Itís taken a while to figure out what the Astraís Eco button, which sits loud and proud at the top of the button-infested centre stack, actually does. Iíd prodded and poked the thing, but it didnít seem to change anything. Throttle and engine response felt just the same. Realisation finally hit when stopped at a set of lights and I discovered it controls the Astraís idle-stop system. With Eco on, the system is engaged. Switch it off and the engine, and the air-con, continue to run, which is handy on hot days.

Alex finds a case for self-parking

WEíVE had a turbulent month, the Astra GTC and I. Those familiar with my time with Holdenís Sunny Melon hatch will know Iím in love with its swoopy design, its perky 1.6-litre turbo-petrol and the way it strikes a sweet balance between handling and ride comfort, even on 19-inch wheels.

But this month we hit a hurdle. It arrived in the form of a tight and eerily dark underground car park where the Astraís poor visibility, lack of reversing camera and wide 11.9m turning circle combined in a perfect, swirling storm of frustration. Letís just say I havenít completed that many three-, fiveand seven-point turns in a very long time.

As good as that sexy, narrow glasshouse looks, it leaves you with zero reference as to the rear extremity of the car, so youíre totally reliant on the incessant beeping of the Astraís overly sensitive parking sensors.

Even when youíve parked, the irritations arenít over because you then have to clamber out of the thing. Iíve moaned about the Astraís enormous doors before, but they really are heavy and cumbersome enough to taint a potential ownership proposition, especially if you live in the inner city.

All of this is sounding rather negative, which is disappointing because the Astra has excelled and surprised in other areas.

After three months trapped in Melbourneís choking traffic, an 1100km round trip to the Murray River town of Mildura finally gave it a chance to stretch its legs. And I can report that on the freeway the Astra chewed up the kilometres with quiet and efficient ease. Sitting in sixth for most of the journey returned a fuel figure of 7.3L/100km, the seats are comfortable, thereís plenty of useful storage and the door bins swallow two bottles of water.

Part of the trip even saw me cram two fully grown adults into the back, and as dubious as the Astraís coupe exterior made them feel, they soon realised the back seat not only has a supportive and deep cushion but is seriously roomy.

The one annoyance on the trip was the ride, which felt pattery and struggled to settle on sub-par tarmac. A downside to those big, good-looking 19-inch alloys.

Another bummer is that the road to Mildura is mostly straight and featureless, so Iím yet to truly explore the Astraís dynamic ability. This really is something I need to do, not least because itís fitted with GMís exciting-sounding HiPerStrut front suspension, which is meant to reduce torque-steer, and a Wattís link rear-end. I feel an early morning blast on some choice mountain roads coming up.

HOLDEN ASTRA GTC SPORT

Date acquired: November 2015 Price as tested: $29,990 This month: 1822km @ 8.1L/100km Overall: 4422km @ 8.3L/100km