Saturn's new Astra is a direct import from Opel, GM's European division. Our bright red XR 5-door with 17-inch aluminum wheels is a practical compact wrapped in a great-looking package. The 138-horsepower 1.8-liter Ecotec engine provides adequate power when combined with a 5-speed manual, and I managed close to 25 mpg around town. Developed in Germany for the European market, the chassis and suspension feel solid for this price range, starting at $17,545 for the XR 5-door. But I also found some unwanted complexity with both the turn-signal and wiper controls, requiring a number of attempts before getting the results I wanted. The audio system was also confusing and difficult to master compared to the systems offered in other GM products. I did appreciate the tilt and telescoping steering column, the 3-spoke sport wheel and the optional large dual-panel sunroof. - Mike Meredith

When I first saw the bright red hatchback with its big alloy wheels, panoramic roof and pleasing lines, I thought GM had made an excellent decision converting this European Opel to a Saturn. But then I drove it. There is very little low-end torque, so it always seems to start out with a shudder. The shifter for the 5-speed transmission felt a bit notchy, and handling was nothing to write home about. But after spending a few days in the Astra, I got used to the low torque. The interior is roomy, with plenty of space in the back seat as well as the cargo area. But what really won me over was averaging 28 mpg. These days, good fuel economy can trump just about any minor complaint. - Perry Stern

The Astra adds to an improving lineup of stylish cars from Saturn. It may remind some of the Mazda3, but it's not as sporty and not quite as long. The sculpted headlights and twin-spoke wheels complement the overall looks. One of my favorite features is the large two-panel sunroof. As good as the Astra may look, the engine feels anemic, the handling is subpar (especially for such a small car), the rear seats are cramped for anyone over 5 feet tall and it takes a while to get used to the European interior design. Although the Astra looks good on the outside, it needs more work on the inside. - Johnny Pak

MSN Autos

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