2004 Opel Astra OPC
Author: John Oxley
As a result Opel developed a reputation as a manufacturer of hot hatches - and none more so than the latest Astra, the rip-snorting turbo-charged OPC.
Naturally the whole exercise was fed by Opel's exploits on the racetrack, particularly when the Opel Dealer Team emerged under the tutelage of the legendary Bernie Marriner, plus the introduction of the Super Boss as the hot hatch to beat both on track and between robots.
Since then Opel has taken a more conservative route with its cars. Yes, there have always been the GSis of this world around, but they have by and large been cosmetic adaptations of Opel's mainstream products rather than wild and woolly road racers.
Truth is, in South Africa at least it seemed as if Opel had lost the plot...
However, nothing lasts forever, and in a dramatic turnaround Delta Motor Corporation has come storming back with a limited run of the very best Astra hatch yet produced - the Astra OPC, fitted with the same 147 kW engine as found in the Astra Coupe.
In addition the OPC gets body, interior and suspension mods that take it far from the mainstream and make it into a highly desirable hot hatch that outperforms even the legendary Golf GTI.
The current Astra enjoys smart and modern styling, with a perky grille, wide headlamps, and clean swept-back looks that are appealing without being either dramatic or controversial.
However, the Astra OPC takes this look and makes it all bigger and bolder.
Firstly, it's a three-door hatch, not a five-door as others in the Astra lineup.
Secondly, it's fitted with aerodynamic aids which help it stick to the ground, and more importantly for some, make it look a darned sight more aggressive.
Thus we see 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 grille with a deeper front air intake and colour coded bumpers back and front.
Viewed from the front, the enlarged air intakes, black engine grill and air cooler catch the eye. Ducts located next to the round fog lights, which are integrated into the bumper, channel cool air to the high performance brake system.
This three-door newcomer comes with a full luxury interior that includes semi-leather Recaro racing-style seats, with the rear seats designed to match, 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-looking grey console, and instrumentation that has red indicators on a white face.
The car is quite spacious inside, with lots of headroom and legroom back and front, but access, as always with a 3-door, is made more difficult by the need to clamber around the front seats.
That said, Opel has made it easier by allowing the seats to slide forward as well as tip.
Naturally the rear seat folds forward to increase luggage space when necessary.
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.
Under the skin
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-litre ECOTEC engine as found in the Opel Astra Coupé Turbo, a model already available in the Astra range in South Africa.
As mentioned this 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 6 800 r/min.
The Lotus-tuned Dynamic Safety Action (DSA) suspension features McPherson struts and wishbones on a closed sub frame with twin tube gas pressure shock absorbers and an anti roll bar.
At the rear is a compound torsion beam axle and coil springs with twin tube gas pressure shock absorbers
Stopping is taken care of by 308 mm ventilated front disc bakes and 264 mm ventilated discs at the back.
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.
It's easy to get a good driving position thanks to the tilt adjustable steering column and height-adjustable driver's seat, and one settles easily into the form-hugging seat - although some people might find it a little TOO huggy.
Opel hasn't done much to give the car a sporty exhaust sound, and in fact turbo-powered cars are generally quieter because the exhaust impeller "chops up" the exhaust sound.
However, the moment you press the accelerator you realise this one is a quickie.
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.
Drive is through a slick shifting 5-speed manual transmission - but, to be quite honest, we would have expected a 6-speed manual.
That said, on the open road the OPC has extremely long legs, and the speedo needle whips very quickly into the 200 km/h plus territory and on to the top speed of 240 km/h.
Handling in particular is superb, while ride quality is smooth but firm, as to be expected from a sophisticated tarmac gobbler.
Turn-in is crisp and sure and acceleration out of corners is very quick indeed.
And those brakes! No matter how hard you drive it they are always there for you., with no sign of fade and a lot more power than one would expect from a hot hatch.
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.
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.
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.
It all translates into a car that is extremely driveable on those daily trips to and from work in the traffic, yet which has the legs to slip easily past the traffic once the road opens up - and which gives lots of pleasure when the road gets twisty.
More's the pity, then, that only 145 will be made available to the public. And this is THE very last batch in the world, since Opel has now switched production to its new Astra, and has not yet developed an OPC version of that.
- Very quick
- Very driveable
- Well finished
- No 6-speed gearbox
- Rear seat access