Hot Opel Astra OPC driven in SA!
Fast, very fast - the Opel Astra OPC in action
Author: John Oxley
The tarmac shimmered way into the distance as the day got hotter, but I wasn't sweating in my race suit as I waited for my start time. No, totally relaxed would be a better description.
Yet I was about to unleash the fastest car Opel has ever released in South Africa, and on a circuit which would allow me to test every facet of its performance, brakes, roadholding and handling.
The fact that I was competing against the clock, and other motoring journalists, didn't really faze me. My focus was on the car, and what it could do.
And boy, can it do a lot!
With 177 kW of power, plus a lusty 320 Nm of stump-pulling torque from as low at 2 400 r/min, and right up to 5 000 r/min, the OPC isn't one of those cars you have to rev like a banshee to get the best out of.
No, smooth is the keynote.
A smooth engine.
The OPC has had its balance shafts removed to allow freer revving, and has quick throttle response thanks to "drive-by-wire" technology. Compared to the standard 147 kW turbo-charged four-cylinder motor as found in the Astra GSi the OPC gets modifications to the variable camshafts, a different turbo, and a different intercooler. There's also oil-spray cooling for the forged aluminium-silicon pistons. Opel claims a top speed of 244 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 6.4 seconds.
There are fat 321 mm ventilated disc brakes at the front and 278 mm solid ones at the back. Naturally there's ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, plus Brake Assist which also flashes the brake lights under full deceleration.
The already great Astra chassis is lowered slightly, and has a fatter anti-roll bar, plus all the latest electronic aids to ensure you don't go hurtling off into the scenery. These include IDS Plus as already found on the GSi, but enhanced, and which includes the latest electronic stability programme ESP Plus, traction control, and understeer logic control.
The OPC is based on the fastback GTC coupe, and looks dynamic even when it's standing still.
But the OPC is enhanced over the GTC by getting a deep front spoiler and a large central cooling intake, flanked by foglights. There's also a honeycomb mesh screen on the lower air intake and brake cooling vents.
Along the flanks there are new side sills, and big 18 inch spoked alloy wheels shod with 225/40 R18Y tyres (with 19 inch wheels optional).
A plus point here is that one can see the massive blue-painted brake disc calipers through the spokes.
At the back the main feature is a rear spoiler atop the hatchback door, and inset into the lower part of the restyled bumper, a large bore trapezoidal centre mounted tailpipe.
Right, the tail end also gets a new look
Smooth is also the keyword for the interior. Here we see a totally new look from the ordinary GTC. The two round analogue dials in the instrument binnacle contain revcounter and speedo (reading to 260 km/h) with chrome surrounds. The fuel gauge snuggles between them
In the centre of the dashboard is a big LED panel which gives fuel consumption and so on.
There's a leather-covered sport steering wheel, leather-covered gearshift lever, and there are carbon fibre lookalike inserts in the dash panel and doors cappings in the car's body colour.
Most noticeable, however, are the form-fitting Recaro racing-style seat, with high bolsters to offer the very best in sideways support, and covered in a combination of fabric and leather (with full leather an extra-cost option).
Finally, there are aluminium pedals and door sill trims.
A full compliment of creature comforts and luxury features are included in the standard equipment list.
There's an automatic air conditioner, radio CD combination with MP3 compatibility and six speakers, electronically adjustable and heated side mirrors, electrically operated windows, tilt and telescope adjustment for the steering column, remote central locking system and 60:40 split fold-forward rear seats.
On the track
General Motors SA had elicited the aid of the South African Air Force to allow us to test the cars to their full in safety, and without getting involved with other road users, and we were privileged to be allowed to use a section of the air force base at Hoedspruit - which has a main runway 4.5 km long.
We were even more privileged to have former F1, sports car and saloon driver Jo Wickelhock on hand to show us the way, ably assisted by ex SA production car racer Grant McCleery, so there were really no excuses.
And none were given.
The circuit, laid out on one of the long taxiways, comprised a long left hand sweep, taken flat in third after a short shift from second, then into a tight left-right followed by a fast right then a fast left, then a blast down a long straight which saw the speedo max out at 200 km/h.
Then maximum braking and fast downshifts to second for a 180 degree hairpin, and back through two more chicanes, finalising in a fast right-hand sweep into a 180 hairpin and past the timers.
We got four laps of this each time, (a total of 10.3 km) and I must say that not only did the times come down, but the driving got smoother as we went through the day.
The stomping 177 kW 16-valve turbo engine
Altogether we drove three sessions, more than enough to thoroughly test the car, plus one blast down the main runway at which we attained an indicated top speed of 240 km/h (just off the claimed top speed of 244 km/h) before having to brake hard.
What was the car like?
We were not allowed to turn off the traction control or even use Sport mode (which tightens up the steering and quickens throttle response) for safety reasons, but even in bog standard trim this is one heck of a car.
Despite the electronic assistance you can still get understeer if you push too hard, but when you get the hang of it we could take even the tight bends almost flat in third, with just a moment's lift-off before entering to settle the car.
Down the straight we stayed in fourth gear until the last set of runs - of which more anon. The speedo was reading 195 km/h at that point.
Then hard onto the brakes. Time after time, but they bit hard, there was no sign of fade, and it soon became apparent that they were totally up to the job.
The cars were fitted with the latest Yokahama rubber for the tests, and these, too, held up extremely well, with only the slightest feathering of the fronts despite the hard driving.
And now to the final test.
For this one the cars were equipped with full racing slicks, again courtesy of Yokahama, and what a revelation!
Gone were the screeches and chirps from the tyres, replaced by massive grip.
Now you could really feel how well the chassis was sorted, and understeer disappeared almost totally.
Smooth driving got its own rewards, and I lopped a full three seconds off my times, as well as hitting a maximum of 205 km/h, this time in fifth, before having to brake at the end of the straight.
I first drove the car in Sicily at the world
launch almost a year ago, so I knew what to expect.
This time, though, the testing was more precise, more structured, and I was able to get a better understanding of the car's finer points.
Make no bones about it, this is a superb motor car. You can get faster cars, but I doubt you'll get many that handle a lot better. And you'll pay a BIG price premium.
For the Opel Astra OPC, you'll have to cough up R256 690.
By the way, there will be an OPC enhanced Opel Meriva and Opel Zafira at the Auto Africa Expo in Johannesburg in October in preparation for a sales launch early in the new year, plus an OPC version of the Opel Corsa before Christmas next year.