Some may say that the new Saturn Astra is a big improvement over its predecessor, the Saturn Ion. We say, how could it not be? The hapless Ion was a strong contender for America's worst small car and the most recent example of our storied incompetence in that arena.
Today, however, is a new day at Saturn. General Motors, after launching the division as a flag-waving riposte to the invasion of small foreign imports, evidently has decided: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Is this depressing defeatism or shrewd realpolitik? Maybe both. While it's bad news for our country's engineering and manufacturing sectors, in the case of the Astra at least, it's good news for America's drivers.
The Astra is a rebadged Opel, imported from Europe. The car is virtually unchanged from its counterpart on the Continent. Even the name is the same. More important, though, is that the European suspension tuning is neither softened nor dumbed down for U.S. duty (although the tires have been swapped for all-seasons). Our test car had the Sport Handling Package, which is standard on the XR coupe and optional on the XR four-door hatchback (but not offered on the base XE). The $695 package includes seventeen-inch wheels, stability control, quicker steering, and firmer springs and dampers, as well as a lower ride height.... Read full article