When it comes to the mid-size hatchback choice, there are a few default choices, a few bland ones… and some often overlooked cars. The Opel Astra hatch is an example of the latter. With the new Opel Astra hatch being launched into the South African market, will this new one be ranked higher up the buyers’ ladder?
2016 European Car of the Year winner
For a car to win the European Car of the Year competition, it has to do something right. In fact, it has to do almost everything right. To find the reason for this, a new Opel Astra just had to be taken on test.
New Astra was designed and engineered to meet fast-changing consumer demands, along 4 binding principles: efficiency, design, connectivity and advanced driver assistance and safety technology. To meet these criteria, the team from Wir leben Autos set itself the challenge to turn Astra into a great all-rounded… such a great all-rounder that it became European Car of the Year winner.
Image: Supplied / AutoTrader
Sculptural artistry meets German precision
Evolution of the Opel design philosophy “Sculptural artistry meets German precision” ensures that the new Astra catches the eye with a lighter, more agile appearance. It is not an appearance that gets very noticed, which is good for a long-lasting slow-dating car shape: only a few people turned and mouthed/pointed “new Astra” as they passed by, as it does carry along the previous car’s basic now-familiar proportions, but turns it into a crisper, neater, swoopier version thereof. The characteristic blacked-out C-pillar gives the roof a floating effect.
In this intelligent grey (rather than a non-colour bland grey) the Astra looks in top form. It plays again on the understated intriguing character of the car, as it brings out the lines, and changes hue depending on light and angle – between light and dark grey, matt grey at side-on angles, and with a hint of olivy green and lots of paint metallic flakes.
It is like the intelligent understated person in the office – always looking smart, without wearing a flashy outfit… perhaps a distinctive hairstyle, but otherwise understated… the one who knows what to say, without talking too much.
Astra hatch model range
An overview of the new Astra hatch model range: when it arrived at GMSA dealers mid-April 2016, it was announced that new Astra will be made of 8 models, made up of from a choice of 3 engines (1.0T, 1.4T and 1.6T) ranking from Essentia to Enjoy to Sport and Sport Plus. Just below the middle is this Astra, in 1.4T Enjoy auto specification. Only the 1.4T engine is available with manual or auto.
The mid 1.4T engine in mid-spec Enjoy with the automatic gearing - could it be the balanced pick of the bunch?
Image: Supplied / AutoTrader
Designed to be smart
Remember those aforementioned 4 binding principles?
The Ecotec direct-injection turbo engines have been tuned to be more efficient. Compared to the previous Astra sedan 1.4T Enjoy auto (the previous hatch was not even available in auto in SA!) the power is up from 103 kW to 110 and torque jumped from 200 to 230 in the new 1.4T manual or 245 for this auto, while fuel consumption is reduced from a claimed 6.4 to the new car’s 5.5 l/100km, combined. Strangely, the on-board computer readout shows km/litre instead of the metric standard of l/100km. During the test time, it displayed 12.0km/l which converts to 8.3 l/100km, which is higher than the claimed urban of 7.2, though evidently some acceleration and high-rev testing was done – with more sensible fuel-saving driving, nearer to 6 or 7 litres/100km is achievable.
The new car is up to 200kg lighter than the previous generation. The body is more aerodynamic. It actually went against the trend (surprise) of increasing in size by actually getting a bit smaller, though interior space measures in areas like rear legroom, front headroom and hip point have increased. During an outing to the local nursery, the elderly female passenger voiced the good impression she felt of roominess and comfort in the rear seat. However, there is no air vent to the rear, so the dashboard vent had to be turned to feed some airflow to the rear.
Refinement is immediately apparent. Getting into the new Astra, the isolation and solid build quietness were enjoyed. The 1.4 turbo engine is quiet and smooth and eager, only becoming slightly louder (not obtrusive or harsh) at higher revs. The 0-100 km/h of 8.9 might seem average on paper, but on the road this Astra impressed with its acceleration.
The automatic shifts gears smoothly, and the P-to-D is one simple move, without needing to look down to select Drive. A soft nudge to the left will give you sequential-shift override of gears, where permitted, with forward for + and back for -.
Image: Supplied / AutoTrader
Here that understated intelligence is appreciated again. The Astra interior is not littered with many switches for all its systems, as it simply gets about the business of doing its best to keep you and yours as safe as possible.
Active Lane Keep Assist will nudge the steering wheel to help you stay in your lane should you wander across a lane, which it detects as unintentional if the driver is not using an indicator. Good.
Collision Alert will warn you if your approach speed is too high and you risk crashing into the vehicle ahead. Unlike other cars’ we-decide-for-you following distance, you can even adjust the following distance you feel safe with in the new Astra.
Traffic sign memory – the current road’s speed limit is shown on the instrument cluster. This is indeed helpful.
Opel IntelliLink lets you intelligently link to your phone, able to use various apps and audio streaming and such modern connectivity “customer needs”.
Tyre pressure per wheel is more informative than just a warning saying tyre pressure loss – on the new Astra, the actual tyres pressure for each of the 4 wheels is shown in the instrument cluster.
Coming back to the efficiency, it even shows you which item use the most fuel, for example that the air conditoner uses 0.1 l/h (100ml of fuel per hour).
An odd spec is the split between 1.4T Sport manual and auto: the auto gets leather, heated seats (front and rear), ergonomic driver sport seat with lumbar support,
The Sport and Sport Plus models also get keyless access, rear privacy glass, and larger alloy wheels. 1.6T models get a chrome exhaust tip (on smaller-engined models the exhaust is hidden from view). Seen or heard of the IntelliLux LED Matrix headlights? Sorry, that is only on the Sport Plus model.
On the not-so-nice side, it is strange that, in view of this car’s high-tech systems, the Enjoy has manual airconditioning. Sure, it is effective in cooling and heating, but the 2 round knobs do look a bit entry-level car, and having to by-hand switch the aircon on and off or adjust fan speed is not in keeping with the Astra’s smart new character.
This Astra also had a mystery centre console cover. Vertically centred in the console below the aircon controls is what seems to be a handy slide-out storage drawer where you’d place your keys/phone/belongings… it has a “handle” across it to open. Erm, except it doesn’t open. No-one could open it. Either Opel designed it in such a way that not even its staff knows how to open this cover, or the one on this car was stuck shut.
There is a useful 12V socket between the front seats, but also 2 cupholders – if you have 2 cups in there (e.g. 2 water bottles or cold drink cans which you don’t want to store in the front doors) where do you put your phone, or your electronic device to be charged with that 12V socket?
While it is good that Opel finally realised it has to bring in automatic for its Astra hatch, the 1.6T engine is not available in auto – will they not be missing out on sales if someone wants the higher-power (147kW/280Nm) high-tech high-spec Sport Plus (LED headlights etc.) with an auto? Think so.
No diesel engine option, Opel?
Image: Supplied / AutoTrader
The Opel Astra hatch range starts at R 254 000 for the 1.0T Essentia, reaching R338 000 for this midpoint 1.4T Enjoy auto, up to R 407 000 which buys the 1.6T Sport Plus.
Astra price positioning is pitched to compete with Ford Focus, starting at a very close R 254 900 for their Focus 1.0T Ambiente, while the comparable 1.5T Trend auto hatch retails at R 323 900. VW Golf sets off with the 1.2TSI Trendline, wearing a R 309 400 price tag, with the 1.4TSI Comfortline auto (R 353 100) being the closest to this tested Astra. The Hyundai i30 1.6 Premium auto seems outdated and overpriced at R 355 900. Peugeot offers the new 308 in GT Line (sporty, stylish trim) at R 371 900 for the auto. Other hatch autos are the Mazda Mazda3 hatch 2.0 Individual at R 343 900, Kia Cerato hatch 2.0 (R 331 995 for EX or R 361 995 for SX) and Honda Civic 1.8 Executive priced at R 370 200. Getting back to the Astra 1.4T Enjoy auto at R 338 000 seems good value.
If you cannot see yourself in something like the common Focus or Golf, the Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy auto is an understated and smart new hatch.