Astra Not Catching On Yet Amidst Small Car Wave

I have taken some flack from pals of mine in the business for not endorsing the Saturn Astra. One pal from Finland, no less, e-mailed me to complain about my review.

And then there was the ultimate repudiation. My friend Dan Neil of the LA Times, whose middle name is, “The Pulitzer Prize winner,” gave it a solid thumbs up review.

From Danno: “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.”

Oh well. But an e-mail from tells me that consumers must have read my bit on the Net.

While the perennially popular Honda Civic has a meager 48-day supply on dealers’ lots, and even the aging Kia Spectra saw a 16.7% increase in sales over last year during the month of April, the Astra is not faring as well. Dealers are sitting on a 236-day supply, says autotrader and Automotive News. Ouch. investigated further, and found that when it comes to specific Astras sitting on dealers’ lots, consumers show six times more interest in competing Spectras, and a whopping 22 times more interest in Civics.

The one bright spot for Astra, besides Neil’s review, is that there are indications that General Motors’ plans to get shoppers to “Rethink” Saturn as a more upmarket brand are succeeding, as the Astra’s buyers eschew the lower-end XE in favor of better-equipped XR models. Visitors to have shown 50% more interest in the XR spec, even though it’s typically priced $2,000 higher than the average XE.

Indeed, the Astra that neil and I tested was in excess of $20,000. IN that segment, my top choice is the Nissan Versa. The manual tranny SC model I priced out on cost $16,584, minus the $1,000 reb ate that’s available. The Versa’s suspension and gearbox is everything I was looking for in the Astra. Both models get comparable fuel economy—26/31 for the Versa and 24/32 for the Astra.

I’m sure GM would likle to price the Astra more competively, but it’s made in Belgium. And the weak dollar being what it is….ouch.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.