2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-door hatchback

GM’s Saturn brand spent the early part of the 2000s transitioning to vehicles on global corporate platforms, then spent the second half of the decade increasingly searching for relevance as The General itself struggled to stay afloat. By 2008, the prospects for Saturn – and the US economy in general – weren’t looking too good, but that was the first model year for the Saturn-badged Opel Astra in North America. The announcement that the ax would fall on Saturn came the following year, shortly after GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, thus making 2009 the final year for the Saturn Astra. Some 2010 Saturn models were sold (the Sky, Outlook and Aura), but the Astra shares the dubious honor of the shortest Saturn sales run with the long-forgotten Saturn Relay minivan. For this reason, I keep an eye on my junkyard for discarded Astras and found this very clean ’08 three-door at a self-service yard in Denver last week.

The Astra can be purchased with three or five doors, in two very similar trim levels. This car is the three-door, which was only available in the semi-high-zoot XR trim.

Not sure if the Opel Astra has these GM “Mark of Excellence” fender badges, but all GM cars in the US market from 2005-2009 have them (apart from stuff with the crypto-GM Suzuki badge). I’ve stuck dozens of these badges on my garage wall, because why not?

Only one engine was available in the Saturn Astra: a 1.8-liter Ecotec four with an output of 138 hp. The Ecotec has proven to be an extremely reliable engine, but I suspect it died expensively (because the rest of the car looks so nice) and that’s why the car is here now.

The base transmission in the Astra was a five-on-the-floor manual, and that’s what this car has. The four-speed automatic cost an additional $1,325 for an $18,375 car (that’s about $1,765 for a $24,475 car in 2022 dollars), so either the original buyer of this car preferred three-speed driving or was just a cheap skater.

I haven’t seen enough junkyard Astras to know if the manual transmission is very rare in these cars; the five-door I found a few years ago had the automatic. Presumably, an American car shopper looking for the European driving experience of an Opel prefers the manual.

Built in Antwerp, Belgium!

Being just a rebadged Opel, the Astra didn’t have the stock GM radio found in everything from the Chevrolet Equinox to the Saab 9-3. They’re a little weird, because the buttons on the center console controlled the small, yellow-tinted screen above.

The Astra XR came with a pretty good seven-speaker audio system with MP3 playback. Remember when you played data discs with mp3 files in cars? It seems only yesterday.

American car buyers never cared much for the redesigned Opel Omega B, and the redesigned Opel Astra didn’t do much better in ten years.

Perhaps Saturn has not thought about America enough.

Yes, there was an Opel version.

And when there was an Opel version of an Opel, you know there must be a Holden version.

In Brazil, this car received Chevrolet Vectra badges (and was available as a sedan).

This ad for the Opel Astra left-hand drive hatch features English music and street signs, plus American landscapes. I’m guessing it was meant for the Low Countries.