Initially expected to be launched in early 2011, the new Opel Astra family hatchback has arrived in South Africa a few months earlier than anticipated – although still many months after its closest rival, the Volkswagen Golf 6. The latest generation Astra has been launched on the back of General Motors South Africa’s (GMSA) strong sales in August, which was 96% up on the same period in 2009 and enough to earn the brand a 15.8% overall market share – the highest in 10 years. With the introduction of the 2010 Opel Astra, GMSA expects the popular family hatch to bolster sales and continue the brand’s climb up the sales charts and our first impressions suggest there’s no reason to think otherwise.
For 2010 the Astra’s styling has taken a different turn. Gone are the rigid angles of the previous 3300 series Astra launched in 2006, replaced instead with softer lines running over a more curvaceous shape. While some may suggest the styling is a little bland, there are just enough styling cues to warrant debate, namely the ‘inverted blade’, running along the side of the car, as well as the wing-shapes in each of the headlight and rear light clusters.
Opel engineers have paid close attention to the interior design and have incorporated suggestions and preferences from over 400 potential customers. The result is a cabin with plenty of stage compartments, including coin slots, pen holder spots, a mini-glove box on the driver side, space for nine CD cases in the centre console, plus a small storage bin, cup holders and more. Apart from convenience the interior also boasts an air of quality and solidity and is well insulated from mechanical and road noise. Standard equipment across the model line up includes steering wheel mounted satellite controls for the audio system; rake and reach adjustment for the steering wheel; cruise control; power adjustment for heated side mirrors; height adjustable driver’s seat; power steering; air conditioning; car alarm and immobiliser with inclination and interior movement sensors; on-board computer with graphic information display and more. The exception to the cabin’s appeal is the handbrake lever that comes within millimeters of the gear lever surround, resulting in a pinched finger the first time we released it.
The interior of the entry-level Essentia specification models are equipped with black fabric covered seats, a dark pearlescent finish applied to the trim around the centre stack, door handles and air vents, as well as subtle ambient light in the headlining and around the gear shift moulding. Inside the Sport specification models, a jet black finish covers the centre stack, door handles and air vent surrounds. The sports seating is more deeply sculptured and upholstered in black leather with white stitching. The sports steering wheel features perforated leather trim and ambient interior lighting is extended to the front doors and translucent illumination for the instrument dial bezels.
The latest generation Astra has been designed with a strong emphasis on technology throughout. The chassis combines mechanical functions with electronic controls – a design philosophy dubbed ‘mechatronic’ by Opel – to retain the dynamic handling characteristics of its predecessor, but with improvements in steering response, stability and ride comfort. For the front suspension, Opel engineers have stuck with a tried and proven traditional McPherson strut layout. The rear suspension however, is comprised of a compound crank and Watt’s link. This new concept retains the advantages of size, weight, and overall efficiency of the compound crank rear axle layout and supplements this with support provided by the Watt’s link for lateral forces generated during cornering. The benefit is agile handling with stability and ride comfort as we experienced on the mountain passes between Nelspruit and Phalaborwa. The Astra handled fast sweeps and tight corners with aplomb, even when faced with mid-turn dips or bumps.
Another element responsible for the Astra’s good road manners is the optional FlexRide adaptive chassis system. With a choice of ‘Standard’, ‘Tour’, or ‘Sport’ modes, the driver can select between harder or softer suspension damping, while in Sport mode throttle response is quicker, power steering assistance is reduced and the instrument panel illumination changes from white to red. Even when left in the Standard mode, the FlexRide system constantly monitors prevailing road conditions, vehicle movements and individual driving style, including acceleration, braking and cornering, to optimise chassis behaviour.
Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL+), part of an optional ‘Premium Lighting Pack’, offers nine lighting modes optimised for varying road conditions. AFL+ includes features such as dynamic curve lighting, pedestrian area light, country, town and highway lighting modes, as well as incorporating high beam assist and LED daytime running lights. The 2010 Astra has been awarded a 5-Star Euro NCAP rating thanks to a list of safety devices that includes, front seatbelt dual pre-tensioners that provide tightening over the occupant’s shoulder and lap; front airbags; front passenger thorax/pelvis side airbags and side curtain airbags that cover the entire glass area between the A and C-pillars.
Four models of the Opel Astra are available with three different petrol engines. All engines have aluminium cylinder heads with dual overhead camshafts that operate four valves per cylinder. Cylinder blocks are in cast iron for strength and reduced noise and vibration.
The entry-level model is the Astra 1.6 Essentia, which is powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.6-litre petrol engine with 85 kW and 155 Nm at 4 000 r/min. The 1.6 Essentia has a 5-speed manual gearbox and offers fuel consumption is 6.3 l/100km and CO2 emissions of 147 g/km. Understandably, the Essentia required constant use of the gearbox to climb the steep hills in Limpopo province, but the slick shift action and throttle response meant it didn’t become a chore.
The first of the turbocharged engines is found in the Astra 1.4T Enjoy. The 1.4-litre engine produces 103 kW and 200 Nm of torque between 1 850 and 4 900 r/min. This engine replaces the 1.8-litre naturally aspirated engine found in the previous generation Astra and, while it has a smaller capacity, manages to offer 14 percent more torque and 18 percent better fuel consumption at 5.9 l/100km. CO2 emissions are also very good at 138 g/km. Quite possibly the pick of the bunch, the turbo’d 1.4-litre engine offers a good blend of performance and economy, with the healthy torque figure helping to maintain cruising speed on our test route through Mpumalanga. The 1.4T Enjoy Plus offers a higher specification level that includes the AFL+ lighting system, lowered suspension and Opel’s FlexRide adaptive suspension system. Both 1.4T models have a 6-speed manual transmission.
The Astra 1.6T Sport employs a turbocharged 1.6-litre engine producing 132 kW and 230 Nm of torque between 2 200 and 5 400 r/min. A brief overboost function delivers 266 Nm of torque for a maximum of 5 seconds, which can help with overtaking maneuvers for example. CO2 emissions are 159 g/km and fuel consumption is a claimed 6.8 l/100km, although when driven hard the gauge drops rather quickly. As with the 1.4 models, the 1.6T Sport has a 6-speed manual transmission. Being the current range-topper the 1.6T is equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, sports seats in front, leather trim, rear park assist, hill start assist, an electronic parking brake and more.
The 2010 Opel Astra offers a combination of performance, quality and comfort that will further entrench its appeal with Opel fans, while spurring on rivalry between its biggest competitor, the Volkswagen Golf 6, to a level that’s closer than ever before.
|Prices (incl. VAT)
|Opel Astra 1.6 Essentia||R218 000|
|Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy||R239 900|
|Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy Plus||R263 400|
|Opel Astra 1.6T Sport||R280 300|
Prices include a 5-year/120 000 kilometre warranty with roadside assistance and an anti-corrosion warranty. A 5-year/90 000 kilometre service plan is also standard and service intervals are every 15 000 kilometres.