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Opel Astra OPC

2004-01-19 07:45

John Oxley

What's more, this three-door newcomer comes with a full luxury interior that includes semi-leather Recaro racing-style seats, as well as air-conditioning, two-tone leather-rimmed steering wheel, and aluminium gearknob and pedals.

There's also a high-quality CD-radio combination, on-board computer, electric windows all around and central locking system with remote control.

The steering wheel has integrated controls for the audio system. There's a metallic finish console, and instrumentation that has red indicators on a white face.

Important standard safety features are Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), traction control (TCPlus) and ABS brakes, and for those who like to push to the limits there is the option to switch off the ESP and TCPlus traction control by simply pressing a button on the instrument panel.

There are no fewer than six airbags in total ? front, side and head, each side.

On the outside the car gets a big rear spoiler, designed to make the car stable at high speed, as well as a stiffer and lower (by 20 mm) suspension that supports new 17 inch wide alloy wheels shod with 215/40 ZR 17 tyres.

There are new side sills plus a new grilled with a deeper front air intake and colour coded bumpers back and front, while stopping is taken care of by 308 mm ventilated front disc bakes (rear 264 mm, also ventilated).

Turbo power

Unlike the Super Boss, which had a 125 kW 2-litre normally-aspirated engine with a special 16-valve cylinder head developed by racing specialists Cosworth, the Astra OPC comes with the latest 2.0 litre ECOTEC engine as found in the Opel Astra Coupé Turbo, a model already available in the extensive Astra range in South Africa.

As mentioned this produces produces 147 kW at 5 600 r/min, sufficient to accelerate the three-door Astra OPC from zero to 100 km/h in just 7.5 seconds.

Maximum torque is 250 Nm, available in a very wide band between 1 950 and 5 600 r/min.

This impressive torque characteristic produces an immediate response to throttle inputs with the turbo boost pressure set at 0.85 bar.

Although maximum power is delivered at 5 600 r/min with engine speed regulated to a maximum of 6 400 r/min under normal conditions, the electronic management system does, however, provide additional reserves and will allow short bursts of hard acceleration up to a higher peak of 6800 r/min.

Drive is through a slick shifting 5-speed manual transmission.

A refined engine design with twin counter-rotating balance shafts ensures low vibration.

Limited series

Just 150 of these Astra OPC models have been ordered for South Africa - the last batch produced in Europe as Opel Germany switches over to the new Astra shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in October - and the car comes in at a very competitive price of just R232 500, undercutting all its main opposition.

However, only 145 will be made available to the public.

Sales and marketing director Malcom Gauld warned that there could not be any more of these cars once all had been sold, but hinted that other Opel models produced by the Opel Performance Centre (OPC) might appear later.

An obvious one would be based on the Opel Corsa, while Opel Meriva models might also get the OPC treatment.

In addition Gauld told Wheels24 the company was evaluating the new models for the possibility of a return to standard production car racing in 2004. "There is strong support for this route within the company," he said.

Gauld added that the current Opel Astra range would continue in South Africa for the rest of this year, although we would expect the new Astra - and other models - to be displayed at the Auto Africa Expo in Johannesburg in October.

On the road

We drove the car extensively in the Eastern Cape, and I am happy to tell you I could find no fault with it.

On the open road it has extremely long legs, and the speedo needle whips very quickly into the 200 km/h plus territory.

Acceleration is smooth and very willing, just like on the Opel Coupe, with power available from really low down, giving pleasant driveability in all conditions.

This is NOT a boy racer, as the Super Boss was, but a refined gran turismo model that proves a worthy competitor to, among others, the BMW Compact.

Handling in particular is superb, while ride quality is smooth but firm, as to be expected from a sophisticated tarmac gobbler.

We were able to do quite a few laps of the Aldo Scribante race track in Port Elizaberth, and the car equipped itself extremely well.

Turn-in is crisp and sure, while acceleration out of the corners, even with the ESP turned off, is very quick indeed.

And those brakes! At one stage, after pulling 180 plus down the main straight I had to stand extra hard on the brakes to get around the tight sweeping right-hander, and for a heart-stopping milli-second wondered if I was going to have to put it onto the grass.

But no way - the big discs bit hard, and I realised I could have left my braking even later!

This is obviously not just a quick and cheap modification - the OPC treatment is world class, as befitting a company that uses its extensive experience in motor sport, more recently in the German Touring Car series.

Interestingly, as often happens with a powerful engine in a relatively small body, fuel consumption figures are excellent, with combined fuel use under the 9 litres/100 km mark.

The car comes with a 3 year/100 000 km warranty as well as a 36 months anti-corrosion warranty, plus Delta Motor Corporation's 5 year/100 000 km VIP Driver Support plan with roadside assistance.

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