Seen in Savannah: Saturn Astra

This quarter––SCAD does class blocks in 10 week quarters rather than semesters––I’ve taken to walking to my 8 o’clock a.m. class. It’s probably about a mile or mile and a half, but at 7 in the morning it’s still fairly cool, even if it’s possible to feel the humidity sticking to my skin at that early hour. Besides, if I rode the bus I wouldn’t get to see cars such as this.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Saturn Astra, and it’s understandable why. In 2008, its first model year, Saturn pumped out a grand total of 11,968 of them. The next year it dropped to 6,298. That’s a far cry from GM’s predicted 3o,000 plus. But this Astra is a little rarer than its brethren.

That’s right, this is a three door hatch. I’d never seen one in person before and, until this moment, I’d completely forgotten that the Astra was available with its two back doors chopped off.

It’s unfortunate that the Astra didn’t sell better. I quite like the styling. The long hood and short, swept back hatch area lend it a rakishness. The entire car seems hunkered down, thanks to the slanted belt line, and it looks ready to attack the road. But at the same time I can’t imagine that visibility is all that bad. The windshield is huge, while the panes of glass between the B and thin, angled C pillar is also fairly large. In all, it was a wonderful breath of fresh air from Saturn, especially after the Ion that it replaced.

Don’t remember the Ion? Well, here’s a reminder:

In particular it’s the performance version: the Red Line. It might’ve been fast, but it’s certainly not pleasant to look at.

Moving on now, it’s time to remember that the entire reason the Astra looks so good is because the Germans designed it. It’s an Opel Astra with a Saturn badge glued onto it in all the right places. At the time it was GM’s latest experiment to bring its European offerings to the States to see if consumers would bite. Unfortunately they didn’t. Let’s hope that the Buick Regal, the most recent Opel transplant to America, fairs better.

When Saturn shut was finally shut down in 2010, after limping through all of 2009 with the vague hope that someone would buy it, I was a little sad. With the Astra, the Sky roadster, and the Aura sedan I genuinely liked Saturn’s products. They all had clean, attractive designs and, from what I recall from the reviews, were competitive little cars. If GM had just pumped a little more money into Saturn to keep its product development and marketing up to snuff, they might’ve been able to shift a little more metal. Saturn wasn’t a carbon copy of Chevrolet like Pontiac was. It had a brand image that emphasized simplicity and ease of purchase thanks to its “no haggle” policy. The fact that GM is struggling to keep Saturn owners in the brand family is a strong indication of how much people liked it. (On a small, internet archaeological side-note, it’s still possible to view Saturn’s website. GM keeps it up as a way to pull potential Saturn buyers, and those still loyal to the brand, into GM products, such as the Chevrolet Cruze.)

But I can understand why it went. GM had to downsize to save itself. They had to drop everything but their four core brands: Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac. While I can make a case for euthanizing GMC, that’s for another post. It’s just unfortunate for Saturn, and GM as a whole, that things got that bad in the first place.

At any rate the gentleman who owns this car, and I know it’s a gentleman, as I saw this Astra on the road a few days later, is keeping the Saturn flag flying. Even better for enthusiasts is that he’s one of the virtuous.

Under all that glare and pixel blur from my iPhone is a manual transmission. This car is fortunate enough to have an owner that appreciates hot hatch-ery. It’s a pity that it wasn’t for sale, and that my bank account isn’t bigger, as I’m in the market for a new car and this one would be nearly perfect. It has enough utility in it while incorporating a high fun quotient.

But, such is life. May this Astra give its owner many years of enjoyment. In return, here’s hoping that he takes care of this rare little hatchback.

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