Junkyard Gem: 2008 Saturn Astra XR 3-Door Hatchback

·3 min read

See Full Image Gallery >>

GM's Saturn brand spent the first part of the 2000s shifting over to vehicles on global corporate platforms, then spent the second half of the decade increasingly flailing for relevance as The General itself struggled to stay upright. By 2008, prospects for Saturn— and the American economy in general— didn't look so great, but that was the first model year for the Saturn-badged Opel Astra in North America. The announcement that the axe would be falling on Saturn came the following year, soon after GM declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and so 2009 became the final year for the Saturn Astra. Some MY2010 Saturns 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 my junkyard eye open for discarded Astras, and finally found this very clean '08 three-door in a Denver self-service yard last week.

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

I'm not sure if the Opel Astra got these GM "Mark of Excellence" fender badges, but all American-market 2005-2009 GM vehicles have them (not counting stuff bearing the crypto-GM Suzuki badge). I've got dozens of these badges glued to my garage wall, because why not?

Just one engine was available in the Saturn Astra: a 1.8-liter Ecotec four rated at 138 horsepower. The Ecotec has proven to be an unusually reliable engine, but I suspect that this one died in some expensive manner (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 extra $1,325 on an $18,375 car (that's about $1,765 on a $24,475 car in 2022 dollars), so either the original purchaser of this car preferred three-pedal driving or was just a cheapskate.

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 back had the automatic. Presumably, an American car shopper looking for the European-style driving experience of an Opel might prefer the manual.

Built in Antwerp, Belgium!

As this was just a rebadged Opel, the Astra did not have the standard GM radio faceplate found in everything from the Chevrolet Equinox to the Saab 9-3. They are a bit weird, as the center stack buttons controlled the tiny, yellow-tinged display above.

The Astra XR did come with a pretty good seven-speaker audio system with MP3 playback. Remember playing data discs loaded with MP3 files in cars? Seems like just yesterday.

American car buyers never did care much for the rebadged Opel Omega B, and the rebadged Opel Astra didn't fare a lot better a decade hence.

Maybe Saturn just didn't rethink American hard enough.

Yes, there was a Vauxhall version.

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

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

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