The Mk6 Opel Astra is here at last. VW Golf, Ford Focus, pay attention as it’s already sold a quarter million units since its European launch. The compact C segment already has GMSA presence thanks to the Chevrolet Cruz, but with Opel’s Astra the need for a more premium product in hatchback format is quenched. The typical Opel skin is stretched across a more sinewy five door form, complete with upturned blade graphic along the base of its flank simulating an athlete’s flexed calf muscles, with a meaty selection of alloys in each arch measuring 17 or 18 inches depending on which model you’ve selected. We do however miss the style line that used to bisect the old car from nose to tail. We were spoilt for selection – amidst a sea of red, silver, black, blue and white metal, three models were on offer comprising a pair of 1.6litre units – the first (Essentia) being normally aspirated and producing 85kW and 155Nm, plus a turbo charged variant (Sport) churning forth a fiery 132kW and 230Nm. The third iteration proved a real gem – a 1.4 litre turbo that managed to feel as sprightly as the larger capacity sibling, and capable of producing 103kW and 200Nm – that’s power on par with the outgoing 1.8litre mill, with 14% more torque available thanks to the forced induction. In this 1.4T Enjoy spec the new Astra achieves a zero to hundred sprint in 9.7 seconds but returns a very modest 5.9l/100km fuel consumption. Both turbo cars benefit from a six speed manual, whilst a five speed transmission is more than adequate for the 1.6 Essentia.
The chassis underpinning the entire range incorporates McPherson struts upfront for its suspension whilst, interestingly, at the rear Opel have opted for a Watt’s link system in conjunction with its torsion beam rear suspension – ideal for quelling lateral forces during cornering. Whip along the winding roads of Mpumulanga and its presence is appreciated. Dive between cloth and leathery cabins and you’ll be pleased to note that German engineering means pleasant ergonomics and tactile materials abound. It’s still not quite ‘Golf’ in terms of ‘seriousness’, with a hint of ‘busy-ness’ almost borrowed from the East filtering through. The sloped back nature of this dashboard is a vast improvement over the almost vertical facia on the outgoing car. Technology levels too have been increased with a multitude of safety and braking systems onboard, including a slew of new one such as Hydraulic Brake Fade Assist and Cornering Torque Control. Across the range you get ABS, cruise control, a rake/reach adjustable steering wheel with satellite controls, MP3 compatible CD/Radio player, daytime running lights and more. A comprehensive 9 mode Premium Lighting pack is even on offer on the Enjoy Plus model, which also benefits from the FlexRide (adjustable) suspension complete with customizable ‘Sport’ and ‘Tour’ modes. First impressions are more than favourable and it looks like it will be another a close battle between the Astra and the C segment stalwarts.
Regrettably no diesel models are available. Nor are any coming. Watch this space.