New Opel Astra – A Humble Hatch No More

When it comes to popular choices of vehicles in South Africa, there are three clear categories – bakkies, SUVs and passenger cars. In the latter category the hatchback has always been a firm favourite. Up to now, the VW Golf has almost defined the segment, with fierce competition from the Ford Focus, Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3.

But wait, what’s this? A plucky outsider has muscled their way into a favourable poll position by pulling off a massive coup – winning the European Car of the Year award for 2016! No easy task, seeing as it was up against some fierce competition, including the Jaguar XE, BMW 7-Series, Audi A4, Mazda MX5, Skoda Superb and the Volvo XC90 SUV.

The dark horse in question is the new Opel Astra and so we just had to investigate to satisfy our curiosity. Exactly how did this humble hatch scoop such a prestigious award?

According to Opel they set out to “design, engineer and manufacture a vehicle that would be amongst the most efficient, lightest, best connected, and offer advanced safety and driver assistance technology”.

That’s a pretty lofty goal, so did they achieve it? To start with the Astra is between 120kg and 200kgs lighter than the previous model, thanks to the lightweight superstructure. That’s a serious weight saving. It is also more fuel efficient, thanks to their ECOTEC engines and use of Start/Stop technology across the range. Finally, they have improved the aerodynamics and made it more compact. Yet, amazingly, there is actually more cabin space than in the previous model.  

But that’s only the beginning of the story of Astra the giant killer.

Drop dead sexy

Automotive design is definitely subjective but to our eyes there’s no question the Astra is a drop dead sexy vehicle. The ‘floating roof’, courtesy of the divided, ‘blacked-out’ C-pillar, is the first thing that catches your eye.

Then there’s the low to the ground aggressive stance, chrome grill with highly versatile headlights and sporty 17 inch alloy wheels. The overall impression is of a sleek and up to the minute design that is clearly put together with remarkable attention to detail in typical German fashion.

Although the Astra is marketed as a family car, it is obviously best suited to those with a smaller brood. The back seats aren’t hugely spacious but there is definitely enough space for two adults or three kids. Three adults could fit in, but it would be a tight squeeze. The front seats are adjustable in several directions, so getting yourself comfortable is not difficult despite the low roofline, although tall people do need to watch their heads when climbing in.

Due to the roofline dropping off sharply to the rear, visibility through the back window from the driver’s seat is not great. This means you have to rely quite heavily on your side mirrors when reverse parking. There is good storage spaces, including door bottle holders that can handle 1-litre size bottles but are cleverly designed to accept the more common 500ml bottles without flopping around.

Features? You’ve got ‘em!

You want features? The Astra has them in spades! It’s a tech geek’s paradise in there, with every alphabet soup driver safety aid you can imagine, including ABS and EBD, Electronic Stability Programme and Hill Start Assist. Then you also get your nice-to-have features like LED daytime running lamps, Bluetooth with USB/MP3/AUX inputs, rain sensor wipers, auto dimming rear-view mirror, park assist buzzers, and cruise control and speed limiter control.

The top of the range versions also include such luxuries as heated front and rear leather seats, power folding side mirrors, keyless entry and start, rear-view camera and hands-free parking.

As if these safety measures weren’t enough, there’s the Opel Eye, which utilises a front camera to monitor and prevent all kinds of common driver errors that can lead to accidents, such as helping you to maintain the correct following distances and monitoring posted speed limits so you don’t risk speeding fines (Traffic Sign Assistant). The Eye is also used for the Lane Keep Assist feature which will deliberately counter any accidental lane drifting.

It also feeds info to the Blind Spot Alert which warns you when an object enters either of your blind spots when changing lanes, overtaking or turning a corner by displaying an amber coloured warning in the relevant side mirror. This system has won the Euro NCAP Advanced Reward for advanced safety technology.

The downside of this feature is that it requires a clean windscreen to work, plus it can get confused by banked roads, uneven road edges, faded paint and other issues which are all too common in South Africa. Then there’s Active Emergency Braking.  This safety aid uses various inputs to calculate the probability of a frontal collision at speeds up to 85 km/h. If it detects that a collision is imminent it automatically increases brake force to reduce the impact as much as possible. Pretty amazing what modern vehicles are capable of!

Turbo-powered, all-aluminium engines

The new Astra comes with a choice of three all-aluminium turbo-charged petrol engines characterised by their smooth and quiet performance combined with vigorous power delivery throughout the rev range. Turbocharging and direct injection are employed across the board for maximum efficiency and thorough burning of the air/fuel mixture.  

At the entry level is Opel’s award-winning 1.0-litre Turbo ECOTEC with 77kW@4,500 rpm and 170Nm @1 800 rpm. This powers the 1.0T Essentia and 1.0T Enjoy models and is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox in both instances.

Next up is Opel’s brand new 1.4 litre ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo, offered for the first time in the new Astra and fitted to both Enjoy and Sport derivatives (manual and auto). It delivers 110kW@ 5,000rpm and generates 230Nm for the manual and 245Nm for the automatic.  With 110kW on tap, the 1.4 T moves from standing still to 100 km/h in 8.5 seconds for the manual (the auto is a smidge slower) and has a top speed of 215 km/h. This may well be thanks to an impressive power to weight ratio – 100kgs lighter and 7kW more powerful than the previous model. The 1,4 litre is bound to be the most popular choice, giving the best combination of power and fuel economy.

Speaking of which, in their road testing of the 1.4T auto, Car magazine found that this engine gets around 6,60 litres /100kms. They found the 0 – 100km/h figure to be accurate, achieving 8,46 seconds. By comparison the VW Golf 1,4 TSI, which has a power rating of 92kW/200Nm, achieved a 0 – 100km/h time of 10,26 seconds but had marginally better fuel consumption of 6 litres/100km.

Powering the top of the range 1,6 litre models is the 1.6 litre Turbo ECOTEC, shoving out 147kW and 280Nm and boasting a top speed of 235 Km/h. This powerhouse features an over-boost which will increase torque to 300Nm, all of which starts from only 1700 rpms. With all that power at your disposal, you will get to 100 km/h from a standing start in only 7 seconds and it will take you only 7,5 seconds to power from 80km/h to 120 km/h in fifth gear.

Staying in touch

No modern car is complete without connectivity and Opel has taken care of this necessity with their next-generation IntelliLink infotainment system. This brings smartphone connectivity and apps in to the cabin for customers with compatible smartphones.

All IntelliLink systems come with Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, audio streaming, aux-in, USB ports and Digital Audio Broadcast DAB+ as standard, for improved radio selection and reception.

On Sport models, you can opt for the Navi 900 IntelliLink system which offers a high level of personalisation, allowing you to adapt the system to your individual needs. Up to 60 favourites - including radio stations, phone contacts, artists, playlists and navigation destinations - can be stored.

We now understand why the Astra was able to clinch its prestigious ECOTY title. As a mid-level vehicle, it is remarkably well-equipped, has powerful yet fuel efficient engines and is a real pleasure to drive and look at.

1.0T Essentia         -    R 254 000
1.0T Enjoy              -    R 284 300
1.4T Enjoy MT        -    R 328 000
1.4T Enjoy AT         -    R 338 000
1.4T Sport MT         -    R 354 000
1.4T Sport AT          -    R 374 000
1.6T Sport MT         -    R 387 000
1.6T Sport PLUS MT    -    R 407 000
The Opel Astra comes with a 5 year / 120,000km warranty and a 5 year / 90,000km service plan. To test drive it, find your nearest Bidvest McCarthy Opel dealer HERE:


Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Send to Friend