Saturn is launching a new car to replace the Ion compact this fall. The introduction of the 2008 Saturn Astra, revealed to the American public at the Chicago auto show, will complete a revamp of the entire Saturn lineup that began little over a year ago.

The new Saturn Astra is essentially a federalized version of the Opel Astra. The snazzy looking Astra is a common sight there, and was the top-selling model in its segment last year, outselling the Ford Focus.

The new 2008 Saturn Astra will be available as a three-door coupe or a five-door hatchback.

Both the three-door coupe and the five-door hatchback will follow the modern European look with a sleek front end and large rear end. The five-door model has close to a vertical tailgate while the three-door model has a sloping tailgate with an interesting wrap around taillight treatment.

Opinions seemed to be equally divided among visitors to the Chicago auto show as to which version looked best. Some liked the five-door best, while others thought the sportier three-door with it's lower roof line and larger wheels was far more attractive.

Inside, there is room for five passengers. The 60/40 split rear seat folds down for increased storage space. When the seats are in use there is 12 cubic feet of storage space under the cargo cover. Fold down the back seats and this grows to 45 cubic feet, measured up to the ceiling.

The instrument pod is located in front of the steering wheel and incorporates two large circular gauges for the speedometer and tachometer with a small analog fuel gauge between them. The center stack has a smooth faux aluminum finish. The controls are operated by large knobs.

The Astra will be offered in two trim levels, XE and XR. All models will be powered by GM's 1.8-liter Ecotec engine with variable valve timing producing 140 horsepower. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

Safety features on all Astra models include dual-stage frontal air bags, front seat-mounted side air bags to help protect front occupants and head curtain air bags for front- and rear-seat occupants. Other safety features include active head restraints, collapsible pedals, front safety belt pretensioners and load limiters plus OnStar with one year of Safe & Sound service. StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with traction control is standard on the three-door, and optional on five-door models.

The Astra replaces the Ion as the lowest priced model in the Saturn lineup, although it will likely be priced a few thousand dollars higher when it goes on sale in the fall.

 

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