Port Elizabeth - When we think of popular hatches the Astra may not be the first car to come to mind. It’s always been a family car yet even among other hatchbacks the Astra has often been overlooked in favour of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, which were less family-friendly but certainly more enjoyable to drive.
That may soon change because the 2016 Opel Astra has taken a giant leap forward. It features technologies previously only found in premium brands and is a heck of a lot of fun to drive!
I’m going to make a bold claim and call the new Opel Astra one of the best hatchbacks available in South Africa. I say it’s 'one' of the best because there are a few niggles that keep it from being the absolute king in its segment.
Gallery: 2016 Opel Astra
The new Astra looks equally good when viewed from the front or rear. Smart touches include a chromed bar on the grille and sleek headlights.
The most noticeable change from it predecessor is the floating roof illusion which is all the rage in the motoring industry right now.
The new Opel Astra is also significantly more aerodynamic than before which results in less drag and better fuel economy, and also reduces interior wind noise.
The Astra has a low roofline which means taller than average people like me (I’m 1.9 metres tall) have to crouch to get in and out from behind the steering wheel. I did however manage it quite easy once the driver seat was lowered.
The side windows are large enough to give a good view of passing scenery but the rear view is limited and reverse parking can be tricky if you are not accustomed to relying solely on side-mirrors.
The back bench offers good legroom. Three adults fit side-by-side; however, I can’t imagine five grown men spending more than a couple of hours together in the new Astra without cabin fever setting in.
The door stowage areas are large enough to hold 1-litre water bottles and yet somehow more common 500ml bottles don’t rattle and roll about in the oversized receptacles.
Driver aids and gadgets
This is where the new Opel Astra shines. It features almost every acronym known to the motoring industry including but not limited to; Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Hill Start Assist (HSA), Electronic Brake-Force Distribution (EBD), LED daytime running Lamps (DRL), ABS, Bluetooth/USB/MP3/AUX inputs, Isofix Child Seat Anchors, rain sensor wipers, auto dimming rear-view mirror, park assist buzzers, and cruise control & speed limiter control.
All models except the 1.0-litre base version also come standard with a Driver Assist Pack that warns the driver of possible collisions, show following distance & posted speed limits, and a system that will increase brake force before an unavoidable collision to mitigate damage and injury.
Full-spec versions also boasts a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear leather seats, power folding side mirrors, keyless entry & start, rear view camera and hands-free parking (I did not get the opportunity to test the effectiveness of this feature during the official launch).
Satnav via an 8" touch screen is an optional extra for the 1.4T Sport and 1.6T Sport models only. Prepare to pay a relatively reasonable R10 700 for it.
One of the most exciting features for this class of vehicle is the Lane Keep Assist. It’s by no means a new technology but until now it’s only been available in very expensive vehicles. Unfortunately it’s also the Astra’s biggest disappointment.
'Opel Eye' system not full-proof
A front-facing camera called the 'Opel Eye' is meant to observe the road ahead and if the vehicle encroaches upon a lane marking the vehicle should automatically return to the middle of the lane.
This system works reasonably well as a warning device when you accidentally drift toward the verge (ideally at exactly 65km/h), but you cannot rely on it to save your life if you momentarily nod off behind the wheel.
There are too many variables that confuse the Opel Eye; such as smeared bugs on the windscreen, banked roads, uneven road edges, faded road paint etc.
What the system probably needs is side-scanning radar that accurately measures the environment and for the moment this technology is only to be found in premium brands.
What does work pleasantly well is the Intellilux LED Matrix Adaptive Forward Lighting (a mouthful that is only available in the 1.6T Sport MT Plus). This system will automatically deactivate or activate some or all of the 16 LEDs to illuminate around corners and allow you to use high beam without blinding approaching traffic.
It’s a great system that seems to work very well. All bets are off on how much it’ll cost to replace these complex headlights if they should one be damaged by a flying rock or a relatively minor fender bender.
Mass is every vehicle’s vice and Opel’s engineers have managed to shave between 120kg and 200kg off the new Astra, depending on the model.
The reduced weight translates to better fuel economy and crisper steering without causing the car to become jittery and bouncy.
On the six hour drive from East London to Port Elizabeth not a single pothole or stray animal managed to upset my test vehicle and surprisingly for such a relatively small car; I didn’t feel in the least bit tired when I reached my destination.
Slaloming between traffic cones and inflatable ‘taxis’ on the immense parking lot of General Motor’s Vehicle Distribution Centre outside Port Elizabeth was a revelation. The Astra never lost composure while being flung about by the gaggle of overzealous motoring journalists attending the official launch.
Wheels24’s Charlen Raymond said: "The 2016 Opel Astra honestly is a good car. I am astounded by its build quality. The suspension is not perfect yet its capable of soaking up road imperfections, gliding over surfaces to ensures an enjoyable ride.
"The 1.6 Turbo will always be my default choice but the 1.4T Sport might be the sweet spot in the range. It provides proper mid-range punch and tackles any mountain pass with vigour and enthusiasm."
There are three engine derivatives on offer: Two of them are brand new to South Africa and all of them are petrol-powered. No diesel versions are currently being considered, but that may change if there is sufficient demand.
Opel’s 1.0-litre Turbo ECOTEC ecoFLEX three cylinder engine with 77kW/170Nm is fitted to the 1.0T Essentia MT and 1.0T Enjoy MT models. This is a detuned version of the 1.0-litre turbo three cylinder engine which was first introduced in the Adam and Corsa. Expect a minimum fuel consumption of just 4.3 litres/100 km.
The 1.4 litre Turbo ECOTEC is the middle child of the line-up. This engine produces 110kW/230Nm for the manual and 245Nm between the same rev range for the automatic. It may not be as quick as the 1.6 but it comes unexpectedly close. Due to its lower weight it makes this derivative easier to steer and it consumes less fuel, which is always a bonus.
At the other end of the spectrum lies the 1.6 Turbo ECOTEC delivering 147kW and 280Nm which increases to 300 Nm when the engine management system initiates over-boost. The 1.6 reaches a top speed of 235 km/h.
1.0T Essentia R254 000
1.0T Enjoy R284 300
1.4T Enjoy MT R328 000
1.4T Enjoy AT R338 000
1.4T Sport MT R354 000
1.4T Sport AT R374 000
1.6T Sport MT R387 000
1.6T Sport PLUS MT R407 000
The new Opel Astra comes standard with a 5 year/120,000km warranty and Roadside Assist, and a 5-year/ 90 000 km service plan to be performed every 12 months or 15 000 km.