Saturn finally has a real player in the compact-car segment with the Astra, which is borrowed from GM's European Opel operation. The Astra may be small, but it isn't exactly inexpensive. Essential options like aluminum wheels, air-conditioning, and stability control quickly push its price toward $20,000. Competitors such as the Honda Fit, which is smaller than the Astra but still impressive, start at less than $15,000. Luckily, Opel has a fresh version of a model that slots in below the Astra - the Corsa. Word on the street is that Saturn may soon add this hatchback, available with either two or four doors, to its U.S. lineup. We recently spent a few days with the Corsa in Italy, and that gave us an early look at this potential small Saturn.
The Corsa feels similar to the Astra going down the road, which is a good thing. The ride quality is excellent, and the handling is almost hot-hatch fun. The small Opel is also quiet and refined. But the penalty for this polish is excess weight. The 1.4-liter engine in our five-speed-manual-equipped test car struggled to motivate the Corsa, taking a very long 12.6 seconds to meander to the 60-mph mark. Opel does, however, build more powerful engines, including a 1.8-liter that's used in the Astra and is already certified for the United States.
A bigger stumbling block might be the cost of the Corsa in America, given the weak dollar. To be competitive, prices would need to start at about $13,000, some $7000 less than the base price of our underpowered European test car. One can only hope, though, that the General's accountants can crunch the numbers to make a business case, because we'd love to see a Saturn Corsa on American soil, where it could fight the Fit in the entry-level market.