BRATISLAVA – In an exclusive for CAR magazine, we travelled to Slovakia for a first drive of the new Opel Astra.
What is it?
The new Astra – the 11th generation – is the latest and the most important model in the Opel renaissance that’s unfolded over the last three years (there will be 29 new Opel’s by the end of the decade says Opel chairman, Dr Karl-Thomas Neumann). C-segment hatches might not quite sell like they used too, but to Opel and traditional rivals VW, they represent the essence of what these brands stand for. And for Opel that means a blend of innovation, engineering, build quality and value for money.
It looks good, doesn’t it?
The exterior design borrows some cues from the 2013 Opel Monza concept – a car that chief designer Marc Adams describes as the inspirational font for many of their future models. This new Astra is low, lithe and lean, with a “floating roof” C-pillar that tricks the eye and both stretches and lowers the Astra’s side profile.
Its underpinnings are parent company General Motors’ new D2XX compact platform that will be shared with, among others, the new Chevrolet Cruze. In the Astra it has resulted in a car that’s both shorter, wider and lower than its predecessor. Interior space, however, claims Opel has increased. It’s also a lot lighter – up to 200 kg over the previous car with marginal gain savings across all areas from the engines to the body in white.
Is it really bigger inside?
Well it certainly feels roomier. The dash is flatter and simpler, accentuating front passenger legroom and offering added space rather than cocooning the driver. There are far fewer buttons on the facia and centre console, and what there are have been corralled into two separate islands. 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.
The front seats are also particularly comfortable (they have been certified by AGR, a German “Campaign For Healthy Back” organisation) and feature massage, ventilation, and memory functions, all of which are a first in this segment.
And engine options?
We’ll likely be getting three turbopetrols: a 77 kW 1,0-litre Ecotec; a 110 kW 1,4-litre Ecotec; and a 147 kW 1,6-litre Ecotec. The latter two are all-new powerplants in our market (indeed the 1,4-litre gets its world premiere in the Astra) and the 1,0-litre is a version of the engine used in the Adam and Corsa.
What’s like to drive then?
Our test route took us from Vienna over the border into the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava. After initially driving the 1,0-litre, a coffee stop allowed me to swap key fobs for what will be the top-of-the-range powerplant in the Astra line-up – the 147 kW 1,6-litre. It was a planned move because some 20 km further down the road was the start of the Pezinská Baba, a 5,1 km ribbon of tarmac that ascend the Little Carpathian mountain range and once hosted one of Europe’s premier hillclimb races.
All the cars on the launch were fitted with manual transmissions – a five-speed on the 1,0-litre and six-speed on the 1,4 and 1,6 – though auto transmissions will be available as options too. The manual ‘box felt reassuringly solid, though perhaps not quite as precise and slick as some of its competitors – the VW Golf and Honda Civic spring to mind here.
While the engine was certainly up for a spirited ride up the hillclimb, the chassis was a little less enthusiastic. With a ride that feels very well damped and supple rather than firm and sporty, the Astra is never going to be a car loves being chucked around. Unless your corner entry speed and turn-in is spot on, the Astra tends to slight understeer if you come in too hot. That said, it’s responses are entirely predictable and manageable, which is always what you’re going to take above something snappy that’s prone to whip its tail around at the slightest opportunity. The Sport button next to the gear lever does sharpened the throttle response and added weight to the steering, and while it feels as refined as the benchmark Golf’s, it doesn’t quite have that dynamic quality that defines the VW.
While that could be read as a criticism, it’s not meant to be. It reflects a sophisticated hatchback that offers a very comfortable, pliant and predictable ride. A final drive the following day back to Vienna in the 1,4-litre allowed some last reflections on what is another impressive model in the resurgence of the Opel brand. It’s a good-looking hatch that offers some tech until now only seen in pricier segments. The Astra offers excellent interior passenger space (although the boot did look somewhat smaller and shallower than its competitors) and some class-leading tech – the Intellilux LED matric lights are certainly a first in the segment and the Intellilink Navi 900 infotainment system has a very intuitive interface.
Engine:1,6-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
0-100 km/h:7,8 sec
Top Speed:235 km/h
Fuel Consumption:5,9 L/100 km