Opel’s Astra is an often overlooked competitor in the busy C-Segment of the hatchback market. It plays a supporting role to the likes of Audi’s A3, VW’s Golf and Ford’s Focus. With the recently launched new Astra range, Opel’s parent company, General Motors will be looking to change the current situation.
Fresh-faced but familiar
The new model is the 11th generation of the firm’s C-segment contender, earlier members of the family were called Kadett, a nameplate that South Africans adored and bought by the truck load.
This newcomer is immediately recognisable as an Astra, but is also completely modern and fresh in its design approach by taking cues from the 2013 Opel Monza concept car. The rising waistline and pointy frontal aspect give it an arrow-like appearance. The rear treatment is far more generic with sculpted taillamps which don’t really set it apart from others in the class.
Smaller outside, larger inside
The new Astra is based on GM’s new D2XX compact platform, which helps create a car that is shorter, wider and lower than its predecessor, something which is evident in the external design cues.
Despite the smaller exterior dimensions Opel claims that interior space has been increased. Along with the new, lighter underpinnings Opel engineers have systematically found various other areas to trim mass. The net result is a reduction of up to 200 kg in mass when compared to its predecessor.
Clean and spacious
The sense of space in the cabin is accentuated by a flatter/lower facia which seems to free up front passenger space. We got the chance to try out front and rear legroom on the launch, with the rear proving to provide enough legroom for even taller passengers.
There are far fewer buttons on the facia and console, and the few remain have been grouped into two groups. Many of the previous button-controlled functions are now incorporated into the Astra’s new-generation Intellilink infotainment system that supports both Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
Turbochargers across the range
Buyers can choose from one of three turbopetrol engine options. Starting off the range is a three-cylinder, direct injection motor that develops 77 kW and 170 N.m of torque. This engine is offered solely with a five-speed manual gearbox.
The 1,4-litre four-cylinder engine (110 kW) is similar to that found in the smaller Corsa. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or automatic transmission to be mated with this transmission.
Leading this range, until the inevitable high performance OPC derivative arrives, is a 1,6-litre motor that produces 147 kW/300 N.m. The only transmission coupled with this engine is a six-speed manual.
It was the entry level model that I sampled on the launch. You can also read a driving impression of the 1,6-litre model by clicking here. This inline triple has that characteristic offbeat soundtrack, which I think sounds great.
Despite a lack of displacement, the engine feels plucky enough on pull away and, thanks to the turbocharger delivers a handy, wide spread of torque across the middle of the range, which is where the bulk of driving takes place. Though I didn’t get an official figure for this car I am sure that the performance is aided by a relatively low mass.
I was surprised; however, to find that the smallest motor in the range has the transmission with the fewest ratios. It makes more sense, to me anyway, to stick in another gear and give driver’s the opportunity to exploit the powerband a bit more effectively.
Premium offering, old-tech
GMSA was keen to impress upon the gathered media that the new Astra can be compared to the likes of the Audi A3, etc when it comes to standard equipment, and that it certainly beats its traditional rivals in such areas.
With that in mind I was surprised to learn that the new Astra still rides on an old-tech compound link/torsion beam rear suspension. On the smooth sections of the launch route this isn’t that much of an issue, but on the less ideal sections of Eastern Cape roads the rear suspension couldn’t quite iron out surface imperfections especially with the rear springs loaded through mid-corner.
It’s probably unlikely to be that big a deal to most buyers, but surely such a key area should have been addressed with the new model as the Astra’s main rivals have been riding on multi-link rear suspension for over two generations already.
On the whole the new Astra has taken a quantum leap forward in several areas, improvements which have netted it a European Car of the Year award. Unlike previous generations which were there and thereabouts this latest model is a strong contender in the C-segment.
I foresee that the latest Astra will be a far more common sight on local roads than the model it replaces as the blend of standard equipment and sophistication are a great draw card for anyone shopping in this segment.
Look out for a road test on the new model in an upcoming issue of CAR.
Engine:1,0-litre, 3-cylinder, turbopetrol
Fuel Consumption:4,4 L/100 km
Maintenance Plan:5 years/90 000 km