Saturn Astra
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2008 Saturn Astra XR

The new Saturn Astra -- comes in three- and five-door models. I spent the week in a three-door in up-level XR trim, equipped with optional leather seats ($745), an upgraded audio system ($595) and 18-inch alloy wheels ($495) slathered with fantastic Dunlop summer performance tires. Delivered, our test car priced out at $20,330. (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
This is a stiff, flat-cornering little road racer that is hugely entertaining to drive, even if it is just slightly, um, boisterous. -- Dan Neil (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
Yes, it’s got torque steer. Absolutely, it’s got a front-wheel-drive push to it. But it’s all so delightfully unrefined. In terms of corner-shooting dynamics, I’d put the Saturn Astra up against the class of the field, which is the Mazda3, and that’s high praise. (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
The steering wheel is fat and heavy in your hands; the ratio is quick and the response off center immediate. Give it a little tug to the right or left and the car tacks instantly with big, biting turn-in. -- Dan Neil (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
Under the hood is a 1.8-liter, DOHC inline four with variable valve timing -- which GM loves to call Ecotec -- twisting the meter to 138 hp at 6,300 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. -- Dan Neil (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
Where the Saturn Astra comes in for extra praise is that it hasn’t been cruelly lobotomized by some chassis engineers who have decided Americans don’t like a too-firm ride or don’t appreciate a car that’s “darty.” -- Dan Neil (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)
The Astra three-door is also, quite plainly, the coolest-looking car in its class. The dramatic bowed shape of what’s called the DLO (daylight opening), the rakish profile, the harmonious geometry of the lighting instruments and body contours and well-planted stance all make it kind of incredible that this sleek road weasel is the replacement for that awful gorgon, the Saturn Ion. (Jay L. Clendenin/ Los Angeles Times)