Cars again

The solar hot water upgrade meant I postponed the car upgrade for a few weeks. But I’ve been looking at what I might get.

My current car, the aging and increasingly unreliable ’93 Magna, has a theoretical City consumption of 10 litres per 100km. Although I don’t drive much, downsizing should reduce consumption a little bit.

Despite GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz’s remarks about global warming being “a total crock of s***”, following some comments on one of my previous posts, I’m quite enamoured of the Holden Astra. Evidently the 1998-2005 models are a good buy: good build quality (good things come out of Belgium — eg Tintin, chocolate, and the Mannekin Pis), good safety rating, and the 4 or 5-door models are probably about the size I’m looking for. I like the cut of its jib. Fuel consumption is 8 to 8.5 litres per 100km, depending on manual or auto.

Other possibilities:

  • VW Golf — my sister’s buying one, and I think she’d like us to drive twin cars… I don’t doubt it’d be nice, but I think it’d be more money than I’m keen on spending for my low-distance driving — one review says you might as well buy an Astra! — 8 to 9.5 litres per 100 km
  • Ford Focus — I quite like the styling, but the safer late-model versions probably aren’t in my price range. Yes they sponsor my footy team, but I don’t feel strong loyalty because of it — 9 to 9.5 litres per 100 km
  • Mazda 3 — only average safety rating — 9 to 10 litres per 100km, so no big saving on fuel.
  • A Peugot 307 or a Mercedes A-series would both be nice, but are probably too expensive for me, for anything decent.
  • Prius — like the one I’ve driven, but cost can’t be justified for me, unless somebody’s giving me a $30K contribution towards it.

I’ve also been told to consider buying an auto instead of a manual. I prefer manuals (even if the first hill start I’d done in ages last weekend scared me half to death), but it’s been suggested to me that an auto may be better suited maintenance-wise to driving short distances. Anybody got any opinions on that? Most of the Astras out there are manual.

Meanwhile, I’ve found that Ultratune Roadside Premium Assist is only available to vehicles less than 12 years old. 247 Road Services doesn’t seem to have that restriction, but maybe I’ll leave it until the upgrade… it’ll be an extra impetus to get on with it.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

16 replies on “Cars again”

A lot of people I know have the TS Astras – the manual owners are happy as larry, the auto owners seem to have problem after problem. Something to keep in mind…

I don’t see a problem with manual cars After 23 years and 6 manual cars I’ve only ever replaced 1 clutch. My auto cars need gearbox servicing every 2 years. and I’ve had to rebuild 1 automatic (very expensive). I still wish I’d kept our Astra CD (manual)that my wife sold to buy her PT Cruiser. would have been so much chaeper to run than my commodore(but not for much longer).


IMHO go for a manual box, esp in a small car. They are less expensive, less complex (less to go wrong) and they make the car more fuel efficient. Not such a huge deal on big engines, but by the time you start getting towards a small car size, then they take a bigger slice of the available power.

Of course autos are a delight to drive in the city with no clutch and gear changes.

Its a matter of perspective. I guess over 90% of UK cars are manual (perhaps in Eur generally?) and folks there would ask ‘why?’ if one suggested bying an auto.

Just practice those hill starts and you’ll be right as rain!

Only the clutch should ever be a problem with a manual. Auto’s do have better resale value and are easier to sell. I am surprised to hear that so many Astras are manual.

Have you considered a diesel ? – _much_ better economy and emissions, as long as you do the servicing by the book to make sure the particulate matter emissions (the black smoke you see from trucks that _arent_ being serviced properly) are kept down. Also diesels are mechanically a lot simpler and more robust, making them super reliable too. Granted they have less power than petrol motors of the same capacity, but I dont think that will be an issue for you. And you can produce your own biodiesel from kitchen and garden waste – independence from the oil companies – huzzah!!!!

The auto in those Astras is quite good, so if you find that the best car you see is an auto, don’t be afraid to buy it. The engine is good and I’ve driven an automatic quite a distance and not found it to be lacking power or to have too much thirst.

One thing some people don’t like about the TS Astra is the firm seats. See what you think of them. I like them, but other people find them too hard. Also get the CD model because the lower models have stupid omissions like power mirrors and rear head restraints.

And forget hill starts. Unless it’s a serious hill like you’d find in the Dandenongs, personally I’m far more comfortable at just moving my feet quickly and taking off without rolling back more than a few inches. It’s even possible on Toorak Rd at Tooronga Rd.

Yes diesels are better and the lower power figure is misleading, because they make a lot more torque and at lower speeds than petrol engines. They take off quicker at the lights and they accelerate better all round because they have more torque. But it’ll be hard to find a cheap one.

Our Astra is an auto. Had very few problems with it in 7 years and 50k km. Thinking about getting a hybrid next though :)

All: thanks for the feedback. Sounds like I can happily stick with a Manual.

Andrew: To clarify: most of the Astras on sale are manuals, at least around the lower end of the scale. The mix might be different overall.

Philip: I do the same on hill starts. For most, it’s not necessary if you know the car and you’re quick enough. The one last weekend was the first in ages for that very reason – it was coming out of a side street in Flemington near the river (it may have been Kingston Ave), and was so steep that the car edged backwards even with the handbrake on.

Leif: Ah, but diesel engines cost. I’m looking at the $10-12K range. I don’t drive much, so I’m not interested in spending a great deal more. I cut my emissions by driving less. (I’m also pondering more solar investment, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Is Honda a popular car brand in Australia? I have had very good luck with them here and other family members drive and like them too. My brother’s ’91 Accord has over 200,000 miles on it(320,000 KM)and this car has endured 17 harsh Chicago winters. They are well known to be very long lived cars and they hold their value. Volkswagens depreciate much more and they are not as reliable as Hondas according to Comsumer Reports. Read their auto issue online if you can. It objectively rates most every car and truck sold in the USA. They even rated Honda to be more reliable make than Mercedes this year. Peugot, Renault, and Holden cars are not sold here.

I know very little about Holden cars but I will look at them when I choose a car to buy in Australia. In less than 2 weeks I will be living in Melbourne!

I’m looking for a sweet spot between price, fuel consumption, safety, size and reliability. I had considered Honda Civic, but not Accord. Looks like the Accord is as safe (4 stars) but wouldn’t save me anything on fuel consumption, and anything post 2000 is more expensive than comparative Astras.

Holden = General Motors. Some Holdens are sold in the USA under another name — might be Chevvy or Pontiac or something, I don’t recall.

I have a 2003 Astra and love it! I upgraded last year from a 1978 Golf so it was a nice change…it’s an SXI Auto, so has all the cool stuff like electric windows and wheel controls for the stereo..I spent a lot of time researching and the Astra was the best value for me when I factored in the cost of fixing (if needed) insurance and resale value. I’m getting about 450-500km on a $50 tank which is pretty good esp since it’s ALL city driving.

Good luck car shopping!

Hi Daniel,

It might have been me who put the TS Astra idea in your head the last time you asked about cars – I bought one new in 2001 and traded it this time last year with 164,000km on board. I wish I’d kept it as it made an ideal city car to complement the Commodore for family duties, but with rego and insurance being what it is, it makes more financial sense to run one gas guzzler for all duties (much to my chagrin). At least I can use PT to get to work and offset my emissions, but a more sensible rego costs system wouldn’t hurt.

Anyway, I can only reiterate what a good car my TS Astra was. I’d suggest the manual – the auto is good, but the manual definitely feels more lively and will return better fuel economy.

You seem to be keen on safety – and good on you – so I’d suggest looking around for a CDX model if you can find one as they came with side airbags as well as the four doors I’m assuming you’d prefer. Alternatively, all of the AH series Astras (2004 onwards) had side airbags as well, but I have no idea what they sell for these days. One other point to consider is that not all TS Astras had ABS brakes – none of the City models do and it was an option on the CD – easy way to tell is that the ones with ABS have five bolts holding the wheels on, the ones without ABS have four.

I could go into detail on Astras ad infinitum, but to save everyone else’s sanity, happy to discuss via email. Or you could pop on to and ask the local Astra experts there.

Yep, I’d definitely recommend the TS Astra. Marco’s got it all right – make sure you get the CD or the CDX model for safety and stick to 2004 or earlier (there were a few of the TS models made in Poland after 2004… not sure if they had problems though). We’ve owned two, a CD and a CDX and neither have given us any big problems. I wouldn’t go for a later AH model as they are heavier but with the same engine – not so great. One thing to keep in mind though (cost wise) is that the timing belt change is recommended on the TS Astra at 60000kms (as opposed to 100000 on a lot of cars) – if you get one with close to that sort of mileage, check if it has been done – it can be an expensive service if you have to pay for it…

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