This week Opel announced it is on a mission. It needs to be and it plans to launch seven new models in the next few years.
Opel, together with its UK division, Vauxhall, has been a discussion point in the General Motors boardroom in Detroit for years. At one point, it was even under threat as the focus of the company in Europe switched to Chevrolet. That plan did not really work out and instead the company is moving back to Opel to try to boost sales.
One of the biggest weapons in its arsenal is the latest generation Astra. After years of hoping the market would accept its run-of-the-mill last generation version, the company finally woke up to the idea that it needs to be competitive. It has thrown everything at the new Astra from efficient turbocharged engines to technology and infotainment. It appears to have worked because no sooner had it been launched than it grabbed the coveted 2016 European Car of the Year title. Importantly, it is a finalist in the SA Car of the Year competition.
The designers and engineers went back to the drawing board with the new version, creating a new platform called DX22. The platform makes the car up to 200kg lighter than the old version. It is slightly smaller, but clever design means it has more interior space. It is also packed with technology.
Whether it stands out from the crowd or not is another matter. Styling is subjective, but the designers have not exactly been radical with their pens. Our test model was black, which allowed all those little design features such as the blacked out section of the C-pillar and other touches to simply disappear into what looked like a sea of blackness.
We did not take pics of the car, so you will have to look at the nice red one on this page and imagine that it’s black. Looks nice in red though, doesn’t it?
Inside things are much better, with something of a premium feel. Nothing is overdone. There is just the right amount of piano black trim, brushed chrome accents and nicely padded plastics. Our test unit did have a rather odd piece of thick plastic at the bottom of the centre console. Close inspection revealed it was a smartphone holder. I suspect it is a clever way to make money for the parts department though because it does not feel as though it will last long and looks like it’s a bit of an afterthought.
Above it though sits a great touchscreen infotainment system complete with GM’s MyLink setup. It’s an intuitive system that also links to your smartphone and Opel’s own app store.
The highlight, though, is the drive. On paper the 1.4 turbo looks mediocre with 110kW and 245Nm, but clearly the engineers are wizards because everything comes together in a package that is just superb. There is no turbo lag, the engine responding instantly to the slightest of throttle inputs, even in the auto version we had on test. The gearbox is smooth and the steering balanced to provide a comfortable cruising character or a devil attitude should you be in the mood.
Even the Sport button is more than just a placebo. Push it and the car springs to life as though you just threw Red Bull in the tank. Responses become quicker and suddenly you want to leave the city traffic behind and blast for no reason but the love of driving.
The chassis and suspension also show that they received a great deal of attention. The ride is comfortable even over slightly worn tarmac and when you get the chance to hurl it into a corner every element works in unison.
As a package Opel has done a fantastic job with the new Astra and it deserves its accolades. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy
Engine: 1399cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 110kW from 5000 to 6000rpm
Torque: 245Nm from 2000 to 4000rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 8.9-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 210km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 5.5l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 127g/km (claimed)
Price: From R344 800