Cape Town - In March 2016 the new Opel Astra has been awarded the title of Europe’s car of the year, so needless to say that there was quite a bit of expectation the new car had to live up to.
I was fortunate lucky enough to drive the six-speed manual 1.4T Sport from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town after the launch and having it on test the following week, it provided the perfect platform to get acquainted with this “champion”.
This is not something that can be said of all the cars in this tightly contested segment, but the Opel Astra leads at the front when it comes to design. It comprehensively out-sexy the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus while managing to not look soft. The new headlight design hugs the front-side of the car and flows seamlessly into the subtly chromed grille. Add this to the Astra’s lower roof and it creates a snug, purposeful stance.
READ: Driven: Is Opel's Astra the new king of hatchbacks in SA?
From the front, side, or rear, the Opel Astra looks the part. If I didn’t have to drive it I’d conclude the test right here. And that would be it: END. It really is that beautiful.
Class-leading features and tech
The Opel Astra 1.4T Sport is loaded with technologies and the main aim of this is to improve the safety of its occupants, as well as other road users. The Astra has a few of the same features as found on its competition, but it boasts with a bit more to set it apart.
The Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, to begin with, will warn you when you are veering out of your lane and will autonomously bring the Astra back if you cross lanes. It can be activated and deactivated by pressing a clearly-marked button behind the gear lever. It’s strange at first – the car steering for you – but you get used to it.
Another piece of tech is the Opel Eye. This camera, found at the front of the car, scans the road ahead and takes the necessary precaution in a range of circumstances. It reads the road signs – like speed zones and upcoming national roads – and projects it to the driver. It also measures the distance between you and the car in front and will carry out an emergency brake if it senses an accident. Plus, it alerts the driver of any and all impending dangers.
Opel's Navi 900 IntelliLink (optional on all Sports derivatives) works in conjunction with Opel Eye and displays accurate GPS tracking on the 8" touchscreen. The features on this technology can be voice-operated.
Powerful, beastly, breathtakingly fast… these are not adjectives to best describe the Astra 1.4T Sport. No, instead the Astra is rewarding and smooth. During my tenure with the 'Astrid' (that's what I started calling it), I ascended and descended a few mountain passes and really came to appreciate the driveability of the car.
See, a fast car will blitz up a mountain, but can sometimes leave the driver disconnected from the experience. The Astra, on the other hand, involves the driver. Its electric rack-and-pinion steering system is much more sensitive and the system's 2.8kg weight reduction ensures that the power steering can react more precisely.
Activate Sport’s mode, pop the car into fifth gear from sixth, and floor it. I could literally keep my speed around bends and the Astra will not buckle or swerve. The rear of the car is more stable than before and the electronic aids ensure that the car will not get tail-happy. Attacking without doubting the car's grip allows you to be confident when pushing on. 110kW/245Nm can be exploited without the car throwing its toys out of the cot and that is enticing!
The suspension on the car is more solid than the sole on a Toughees school shoe and 'Astrid's' sure-footedness had me from that very first pass.
Truth be told: the stability and on-road credentials of the new Opel Astra will definitely be one of the vehicle's biggest selling points.
Surely there must be gripes…
If I absolutely have to point out one criticism, it would have to be the fuel consumption. Opel claims a fuel-return of 5.1 l/100km, but I couldn't match that claim. When I parted with the Astra it had little over 2500km on its odometer, so it still needs to be driven in. But with a 48-litre fuel tank and consumption above the claimed figures, for the first few thousand kilometres, at least, you’ll be a regular at your nearest filling station.
Strangely, I do not have any major issues or concerns with 'Astrid'. Maybe I’m too involved (emotionally) or too in love with the car to see anything wrong with it. But it’s like John Legend said in that one love letter: “...Love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections...”
Maybe that’s how I feel about 'Astrid'...
Wheels24's Sean Parker:
The new Astra entered the local hatch with a prized belt around its waist: 2016 European Car of the Year. Does praise get any higher than that?
My few days with the new Astra yielded a mixed bag of results. Despite great new styling teaks, our test car hue doesn't amplify the Astra's lines that well, and frankly gave the impression of a rather underwhelming look overall. It would probably exude a totally different feeling perhaps in another shade.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, producing a claimed 110kW/245Nm felt underpowered. It could have been down to the low kilometres on the car. However, after adding around a 1000km to the odometer, the power delivery didn't improve.
Ride and handling was good for a C-segment hatch and the suspension does a good job of offering a comfortable ride.
Moving inside, the switch gear used by the German automaker is of good quality. All the driver assistance system buttons are located in one spot, which is ergonomically perfect. The Apple CarPlay system is a boon, with my Iphone able to sync in seconds.
All in all, the new Astra is a solid package that should do well in a crowded segment.