2008 Saturn Astra 3- and 5-doors

One of our top three most significant Chicago show debuts. Saturn‘s Astra is significant because it represents one thing: Change. GM’s fuzziest, cutest, and most user-friendly brand (Showroom as living room! Fixed price tags! Warm Cosby sweaters!) has long suffered from a lack of product. Traditionally, Saturns have been boring, dull, crappy, boring, boring, and, well, boring. The GM division was created as a front-line effort in the battle to regain ground lost to the Japanese; unfortunately, however, its product line never quite lived up to the hype.

Like most of the Saturn line these days, the Astra is in fact a pirated Opel. GM’s European division–last seen stateside with products like the Manta and Opel GT–contributed the Astra’s underpinnings and cosmetics. As such, it’s likely to actually be somewhat decent to drive, be decently well-built, and be a good value.

The Astra is the final model in Saturn’s long-needed revamp (the Sky roadster is now the brand’s oldest showroom offering), and it caps off a year of tremendous turnaround for the brand. (Really: When was the last time you actually heard people talk about lusting after a Saturn?) Good show, Saturn. Here’s to hoping the Astra doesn’t suck.

The Astra will be available only in hatchback form with three or five doors. Only a sporty XR trim will be offered for the former, while the latter gets the option of a cheaper XE model. All will be powered by a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder with variable valve timing and an estimated highway fuel economy in the mid thirties. The base transmission is a five-speed manual, but all models will have an optional four-speed automatic.

All Astras will come equipped with six standard air bags, and the three-door also features standard stability and traction control (it’s optional on the five-door.) For added safety, a high-mounted third brake light uses quick-responding LEDs, just like higher-priced Cadillacs.

Along with the standard features, there are some pretty cool options. Five-door models can be upgraded with a huge two-panel sunroof and seventeen-inch wheels, while three-doors miss the roof but get eighteens. Heated seats are offered with both cloth and leather, and XR models can be fitted with steering wheel-mounted audio controls. If a Saturn salesman were to have gone into a coma at this time last year and were to wake up now, he’d probably fall back under just from the shock of his company’s turn around.