What Changed for 2008:
- All-new compact model; replaces Ion as the entry-level Saturn
- Derived from the European-market Opel Astra
- Available exclusively as a 3- or 5-door hatchback
- New 140-hp 1.8-liter engine with variable valve timing
- Front-wheel drive
- Anti-lock brakes (ABS) and six air bags standard
- Stability control standard or optional on all models
- Three-door models feature stiffer suspension, quicker steering
Saturn has been considering the idea of bringing models from Opel, General Motors' European division, to the U.S. for quite some time. The Saturn Aura bears many similarities to the Opel Vectra, the Saturn Sky is a dead ringer for the Opel GT, and the 2008 Saturn Vue was developed in conjunction with (but is not quite identical to) the Opel Antara. With the new Astra, Saturn is making no pretenses: The car is essentially a re-branded Opel Astra, the compact hatchback that's been a cornerstone of Opel's lineup for years. The Astra replaces the Ion sedan and coupe in Saturn's model lineup, and true to Euro-form will be available exclusively as a 3- or 5-door hatchback.
Like other Saturn models, the 2008 Astra is offered in XE and XR trim levels. The XE, available only as a 5-door hatchback, comes with power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; cruise control; rain-sensing wipers; ABS; and a CD/MP3 player. Options include air conditioning; dual-pane sunroof; alloy wheels; heated front seats; and StabiliTrak electronic stability control. The XR, available as a 3-door or 5-door, adds air conditioning and 16-inch alloy wheels and is available with leather seats and a dual-pane sunroof (the latter only on the 5-door). A sport-handling package, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, tighter suspension, and StabiliTrak, is optional on the XR 5-door and standard on the 3-door, which also offers 18-inch wheels.
The 2008 Saturn Astra is powered by an Ecotec 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Output is 140 hp at 6300 rpm and 126 lb.-ft. of torque at 3800 rpm. The front-wheel-drive Astra offers a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission, the latter designed by Japanese supplier Aisin. EPA fuel economy estimates had not been announced at the time of writing.
All 2008 Saturn Astras come standard with six air bags-dual front air bags; front-seat-mounted side air bags; and two-row side curtain air bags-as well as ABS. Other standard safety features include active head restraints, which move forward in a rear-end collision to better protect against whiplash, and a pedal release system, which allows the pedals to detach in a collision, reducing the likelihood of foot and ankle injury, Saturn claims. StabiliTrak electronic stability control is standard on the 3-door Astra XR and optional on all other models.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had not tested the Saturn Astra at the time of writing. However, the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP) crash tested the current-generation Opel Astra, on which the 2008 Saturn Astra is based, and awarded it a best possible score of 5 stars.
The 2008 Saturn Astra's optional Aisin 4-speed automatic transmission includes an innovative \"neutral idle\" system which shifts the transmission into neutral when the car is stopped with the transmission in drive. This eliminates the drag of the torque converter on the engine. When the driver releases the brake, the transmission shifts back into gear.