NEW FOR 2009:

– Twelve-hour clock replaces 24-hour clock; information screen date changes to month/day/year from day/month/year; block heater added
– Revised 16-inch wheel cover design on XE four-door
– Available charcoal/tan cloth seats with tan door inserts on all models
– Exterior colours: Polar White replaces Olympic White; Quicksilver replaces Star Silver

An all-new model for 2008, the Saturn Astra undergoes only minor changes for 2009. The switch from its European background to its North American market is reflected in the change to a twelve-hour clock and the new date sequence, along with a block heater.

The latest generation of the Opel Astra, which has been on sale in Europe since 2004, the Saturn Astra is almost unchanged from its European version, save for fascia alterations to meet our bumper standards, and styling cues that identify it as a Saturn.

Available only as a hatchback, the Astra comes in two- or four-door configuration, which the company calls three- and five-door. The four-door comes in XE and XR trim, while the two-door is XR only.

All models use a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, with five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic.

Features on the XE include 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlamps, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, rear washer/wiper, charcoal metallic trim accents, cruise control, floor mats, driver information centre, power locks with keyless entry, power windows with express down, tilt and telescopic wheel, cloth seats, driver’s height adjustment, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, CD stereo, and OnStar. Air conditioning and electronic stability control are available as options.

The XR four-door adds 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, silver metallic trim accents, bright door sill plates, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, premium cloth upholstery, CD/MP3 stereo, and fog lamps.

The XR two-door adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-wrapped sport wheel with audio controls, sport bucket seats, sport suspension, and electronic stability control.

Depending on the model, available options include a sunroof, heated seats, leather upholstery, and premium stereo.

Very satisfying to drive, the Astra has exceptional handling and steering feel for the price, along with a strong engine. Tall drivers may find it a tight fit, though, and visibility can be limited with the small rear windows. Its overseas heritage means that cupholders are an afterthought, so do as the Europeans do: enjoy the drive en route to the sit-down café.

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