Astra’s actually not a bad effort for Holden.
What a pity the sanest advice I can give you on Holden’s much-hyped Cruze replacement
is ‘don’t buy it’. At least, not if you know what’s good for you. That’s next.
I’ve been getting a lot of Astra enquiry from people like you lately. Understandably,
I guess. You know, Holden has amped up the marketing spend, and consumers – perhaps you
– are responding to that. I’m John Cadogan from AutoExpert.com.au,
the place where Aussie new car buyers save thousands off their next new cars – you can
hit me up on the website for that. You’ll notice that I don’t accept any
car company advertising. So I’m not in the business of keeping carmakers sweet, and nor
am I in a popularity contest. Commercially it makes no difference to me what anyone buys
– my procurement guys get the same fee for an Astra as they would for a Mazda3, an i30
or an Impreza – whatever. That’s as unbiased as you can get.
I’m just biased against people spending tens of thousands of dollars on the wrong
car from the wrong brand, and living in consumer hell for the next three to five years as a
consequence. You should see some of those e-mails I get. It really does drive people
to the edge, and this informs my advice on what car to buy more than any other single
factor. Astra’s not such a bad car, simplistically.
The detail design of the interior is not as good as a Mazda3 or a Hyundai i30 – dollar
for dollar. Nor is it as space efficient. Despite all three being the same size, you
actually get 10 per cent more cargo volume in an i30, and 13 per cent more in a Mazda3.
If you’re thinking about breeding over the term of ownership, that might be significant
to you. The 1.4 turbo petrol engine in the cheaper
models of Astra … it’s OK – it’s comparable with the 2.0-litre non-turbo engines in equivalent
Mazda3, Impreza and i30. But Astra has a nine-month service interval, where Mazda, Subaru and
Hyundai all have 12 – and this is significant if you’re a low-mileage driver.
Unfortunately, Astra’s 1.6 turbo petrol engine (allegedly the premium engine) is not
really very well thought out. Astra RS is the cheapest model with that. You’ll drive
that away for well under $29,000, and you’ll probably get the auto for under $30k if you
negotiate like you mean it. So it’s pitched right at Hyundai i30 SR, which is also a 1.6
turbo petrol. But the problem with the Astra 1.6 is: premium
unleaded. And even though it demands this more expensive fuel – which pumps up the ownership
cost considerably – it does not deliver any more performance than the Hyundai, which runs
happily all day long on 91. So frankly, this is kind of a cheap-arsed
way for Holden to bring the Astra in from the Opel factory in Poland, where that car
is built. Opel was basically GM Europe until earlier this year when the French bought it,
and that lost Holden a heap of leverage for future product right there.
Opel makes about 1.1 million cars a year – and just for reference, Mazda is about 40 per
cent bigger and Hyundai-Kia about seven times bigger.
So: Back to the fuel. The basic fuel in Europe is 95 octane, and it would cost money to re-tune
Astra for our 91 in Australia. So, any time you see a cheap Euro-made car running premium
unleaded, it’s an advertisement for ‘cheapskate importer’.
The price of fuel is very important to many new car buyers, and while there’s a general
obsession with fuel economy, a lot of buyers – maybe you – forget to check the minimum
octane requirement. PS – here it is a very bad idea to operate the car on lower octane
fuel than the manufacturer specifies. Because that can destroy the engine. Good safety tip.
So, if the car says, premium unleaded, do not use 91 or e10. You will be stuck paying
for the high-priced fuel. Holden has also stripped the advanced safety
features out of the base model, effectively making corporate fleet drivers, rental car
drivers and private punters for whom early $20s is a real stretch … it makes them into
second-class citizens on safety. And frankly in this popular segment, it is immoral to
make safety a socio-economic criterion. Astra also has a space-saver spare wheel and
tyre. That is completely unacceptable on (quote-unquote) “Australia’s own” carmaker – nice job
dismissing the needs of everyone who might drive long distances in regional areas. What
happened to core values suddenly? Did we fall over on them in the shower all of a sudden?
Holden has done a great job on the suspension tuning – they’re pretty good at that. So
at least the Astra is set up for Australia’s crap roads. And it looks OK – except for the
sedan, which is as ugly as a Honda City – and that’s profoundly ugly. Still – it’s also
a subjective assessment right there. And the only one in this report.
If you’re in the market for a car such as this, and you’ve narrowed it down to an
Astra, you’re probably reading and watching a billion reviews. And I wonder how many of
them – which are really there to appease carmaker advertisers rather than to inform actual car
buyers – I wonder how many of them mentioned all of this stuff.
They’re probably mostly road tests with some specs and some quotes from the press
kit. Unfortunately though, owning a car is not a three- to five-year road test by you.
It’s a serious, medium-term financial commitment. You are locked into that car for your mobility.
And this leads me to the main reasons why I recommend you not buy the Astra.
Firstly: Holden is terrible at customer support, and renowned for selling unreliable cars to
uninformed Australians. Holden has been so bad at this, for such a long period of time,
that the corporate watchdog, the ACCC, recently attempted to put Holden’s head in a vice
via a court-enforceable undertaking to comply with the legislated consumer guarantees.
You know a company is behaving badly when the ACCC issues a press release (August 3rd)
entitled “Holden undertakes to comply with consumer guarantees” – I couldn’t make
this up. Like, in what universe is it newsworthy when a company agrees to comply with legislation?
It implies that compliance with the law up to this point was only optional.
What sort of limp-dick regulatory environment declares it OK to fail to comply with legislation?
Consumer guarantees exist to protect you – with a right to refund or replacement in some circumstances
and by ensuring that there are minimum requirements like fit for purpose and reasonable durability.
For many years Holden has treated these guarantees as completely negotiable. It’s absolutely
immoral. Like, you’re a king when you’re on the showroom floor, but a slave in the
service department. Now, people always accuse me of bashing Holden,
and to those critics I would say: A bash is where you deliver intentionally, a tsunami
toxic fiction. However, these are facts. You cannot bash someone with the facts. The ACCC’s
action is a fact. Easily verifiable, like the rest of the facts here, should you wish
to investigate independently. So, with its head in a vice, Holden admitted
the breathtaking panorama of its consumer misrepresentation, and its widespread breaches
of consumer law. This too is a fact. The e-mails I have received for years from Holden owners
at the ends of their tether – left completely out in the cold – these are facts. And I would
not want you to walk a mile in their shoes. Doing battle with a corporation such as Holden,
in court – is a soul-destroying, and financially debilitating exercise – even if you win. And
then, Holden will attempt to slap you with a gag order – a non-disclosure agreement – just
to shut you up. I’m told this remains standard operating procedure at Holden even today.
If you sign that NDA and then talk about your settlement – just once, at the pub, to a girlfriend,
in an e-mail to a friend, in an SMS, years later – whatever – and they find out, Holden’s
arsehole lawyers will sue you for breach of contract. Because they are arseholes. It’s
what they do. As a reporter, I have made various critical
statements about Holden that history subsequently validated, and they behaved like consummate
arseholes to me, too. So, kindly excuse me for failing to give Holden the benefit of
the doubt in this regard. My advice to you is: You can probably live
with Astra’s premium unleaded fuel requirement, with the space-inefficiency, with the crap
spare tyre, and with Astra’s general interior mediocrity. But because you are owning the
car – as opposed to just road-testing it for three years or something – you’re financially
committed – you need to manage the risk of being badly supported to completely fucked
over if your Astra has a problem. With Holden this risk is too significant to
dismiss, in my view. Mazda3, Hyundai i30 and Subaru Impreza are objectively better products
from objectively more morally focussed carmakers who will support you better. So there’s
that. Lastly, you need to consider Holden’s protracted
slide to obscurity – 147,000 sales in 2007. Fast-forward 10 years: 94,000 sales last year
– that’s Nagasaki on the morning of August the 10th, 1945, commercially. And there’s
no evidence Holden has stopped the bleeding, having just fired one in 10 of its dealers.
Things are looking very bleak indeed for Holden’s future.
And then there’s the French, and the entirely unknown way that Peugeot-Citroen ownership
of Opel will play into Holden’s future product. And both of these facts play into the risk
of depreciation disaster, which Holden Cruze owners today feel only too acutely.
So I’d suggest the depreciation risk here is too high to ignore, and neither of these
future-type crystal-ball-gazing risks pertain to the Mazda3, the Hyundai i30 or the Subaru
Impreza – subject to unknown unknowns of the future. So if I were you, looking at buying
an Astra, I’d weigh all this up very carefully indeed. Even if you love the Holden brand.
I get that. This is not a bash. These are facts. Inconvenient
facts for Holden, certainly, but facts nonetheless. It might be time for you to change horses
– before you need to enquire about getting a good solicitor with consumer law experience,
who’s not too expensive. And after all that, if you still want an Astra
– OK – I’m happy to help. My team will do the best it can to get you a good discount
there. Ultimately it’s your choice, and definitely I respect that. Either way, I want
it to be an informed one. I’m John Cadogan. Thanks for watching.