I was sitting here, brainstorming ideas for my “GM Bad Idea” segment, when it struck me: occasionally GM has a good idea. They’re few and far between, but they do occasionally happen, and the Saturn Astra is one of them.
For those of you who don’t remember the Astra, let me refresh your memory. It all goes back to the 1990s, when Saturn’s entire car lineup consisted of the S-Series, a compact front-driver offered as a coupe, a sedan, or a wagon. Eventually, the S-Series was redesigned, and then turned into the Ion, which lost some of the high-quality charm found on the earlier models.
It was around that time Saturn was expanding its lineup. They first added a midsize sedan, called the L-Series (and later, the Aura), followed by a compact SUV (the Vue), a minivan (the Relay), an SUV (the Outlook), and a sports car (the Sky). Unfortunately, all this meant that by about 2007, Saturn was just another GM brand with a lineup full of rebadges.
Enter the Astra. Intended to replace the dated Ion, the Astra was sourced directly from the European-market Opel Astra. It was offered only as a 3- and 5-door hatchback, and it came out for the 2008 model year.
Unfortunately, the Astra was too little, too late. Saturn was basically finished, and the Astra lasted for just one solitary model year. The brand died off shortly thereafter.
So why is it a good idea? Well, the Astra was a neat car. It had distinctive styling, it handled well, and the interior was reasonably nice, if you got past the bizarrely buttony stereo. Plus, it was unique to the Saturn brand — and it gave people the opportunity to actually own one of the European hatchbacks that journalists are always clamoring for.
If you’re in the market for a used hatchback, the Astra is worth adding to your shopping list. Parts will remain available, and the Astra is probably a little cheaper than it should be. Assuming, of course, that you can find one.