The Astra Irmscher gets better looks, sporty interior.
Are you a face man or a leg man? That's what you have to think about when you evaluate the Opel Astra 1.8 Irmscher.
In this case, by "legs" we mean sporting performance. Pretty face? Well, the Irmscher Astra has certainly got that, and more.
Opel has long been associated with the Irmscher aftermarket house, a highly reputable German tuning firm well known not just for its "go-faster" kits, but also for "look-faster" add-ons.
However, in South Africa this association has been more towards the latter than the former - Irmscher Opels (the old Rekord had an Irmscher version) have used standard engines and suspensions, but with all the bits to make them appeal to a younger market.
And this was the route taken with the Astra Irmscher, where Delta Motor Corporation, which builds and markets Opels in South Africa, opted more for the look than the outright performance, keeping operating cost structures within normal Opel parameters and norms - with the backup of the 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan that forms part of the purchase price.
The Irmscher model features front and rear spoilers, side sill extensions and leather interior that includes a two-tone steering wheel and alloy-look centre console trim. Fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/50 VR 16 tyres the Irmscher looks impressive without being overtly aggressive or consigning it to being exclusively a "boy's toy".
The other features on the car are the same as for the 1.8 Sport and include traction control, front fog lamps, chrome radiator grille surround, fold-down grab handles, multi function display, cruise control, electrochromatic rear view mirror, power side mirrors, heated driver side mirror, power windows and steering wheel radio/CD control.
Common to all models in the range are Opel's ECOTEC 16-valve engines, close ratio five-speed manual transmissions, a Lotus engineered chassis and tuned suspension, electro-hydraulic power steering and corrosion resistant zinc-coated body panels. The engines, designed for unleaded fuel, also have improved exhaust emission control.
On the safety side the Irmscher is kitted with front and side air bags for both front occupants and anti-lock braking with electronic brake force distribution. Traction control assists when exuberance surpasses reason.
The fuel system features evaporative emission control that ensures petrol fumes are recirculated within the system rather than venting into the atmosphere.
The 1.8-litre engine (for all models) has been re-engineered and benefits from a power increase with maximum output upped to 92 kW at 5 600 r/min and torque moving to 170 Nm at 3 600 r/min from the Opel Z18XE1 engine.
As mentioned the engine of the Irmscher has not been tweaked and its performance improvements come mainly from the more aerodynamic body packaging and the improved road holding provided by the revised tyre size.
However, the standard improvements made to the 1.8-litre engine are immediately apparent, and it now feels strong right through the rev range. Approaching the red line the exhaust note is pitched at the right level to denote sporty but, again, does so without becoming intrusive and detracting from the comfort zone of the cabin area.
The low profile tyres fitted to the Irmscher aid in making it stick to the road - the trade-off obviously coming in overall ride comfort. The Irmscher is at its happiest on paved roads and preferably smooth ones. Over rippled surfaces the ride seems harsh, even though the suspension soaks up most of the aggravation.
A small price to pay for anyone who likes a car with positive response.
Pressing on and pushing the Irmscher deep into corners returns a lively feeling through the steering and a real satisfaction as the rubber bites down hard. Power steering is standard, but it still allows plenty of road feel to flow back to the driver while reacting swiftly and accurately to driver input.
It's not all fun and games though, and the Irmscher boasts plenty of practical attributes - the hatch styling and 60:40 split rear seats allowing luggage space to increase from 304 litres to 1 040 litres with the reasonably low rear sill aid the loading of bulky objects.
For the driver there are multi-adjustable seats and the steering column is both depth and height adjustable so the optimum seating position can be attained. The leather-clad seats provide comfortable, yet firm support and there is enough leg room in the rear to transport adult passengers in comfort.
Even with its sporty nature the Irmscher remains economical to drive with overall consumption 9.7 litres/100 km. Top speed is 205 km/h and the sprint from rest to 100 km/h comes up in 9.8 seconds. For fleet buyers or user choosers a "nice to know" is current estimates place resale values on this car at a shade over 50% of purchase price after 4 years / 120 000 km - a figure that could well improve one the limited edition run has been completed.
The obvious appeal of the model is for anyone wishing to make an image statement or as support for a new product that would benefit from a fleet of identical vehicles that are head-turners in their own right before the application of any branding or corporate logo.
And getting back to what we said at the beginning - nice face AND nice legs, too!