South Africans are a brand-loyal bunch, be it towards a make of tomato sauce or the badge sitting atop the bonnet or set into the grille of their car.
Opel is no exception. Since the Blitz-badged manufacturer arrived on local shores some 80 years ago, its reputation for building humble but reliable vehicles has garnered it a substantial following. Then there were the special homegrown models of the mid-1980s and ’90s such as the Kadett “SuperBoss”, which achieved cult status. (One of CAR’s testers briefly reminisced about the Kadett he once owned, and its neatly designed indicator stalks perfectly sculpted for a driver’s index finger).
This devotion towards certain marques has posed a difficult challenge to automakers: persuade motorists to make the switch from the competitors. The Rüsselsheim-based manufacturer aims to do just that with the top-of-the-range Astra, all while offering its devout fans an aspirational midsize hatchback.
When the Astra 1,6T Sport OPC-Line AT arrived for testing at the CAR offices, the team was instantly impressed with its level of standard specification (the only optional extra is an electric sunroof). The cabin is well insulated and perceived quality is sound. Gloss-black interior trim remains a bugbear of ours and the Astra’s centre console’s finish is no exception, as it easily attracts myriad fingerprints.
The eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is simple to use and includes smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth, USB ports (two of which are sited behind the centre armrest for rear passengers), navigation and a reverse camera. A 4,2-inch display in the instrument cluster relays information such as tyre pressure, following distance (in seconds) and percentage of oil left. Collision-alert and lane-assist are included in the package, too.
The heated sports steering wheel and seats were appreciated during the peak of winter. However, as one tester noted, pews with cooling functionality would be better suited for South Africa’s warmer temperatures, while a heated tiller and hind quarters are not really necessary. Interestingly enough, though, the manually operated front seats do offer electrically adjustable four-way lumbar support. It was a cinch to find an accommodating driving position.
Opel’s Intellilux light setup is impressive and made night-time driving a boon. This system comprises 16 LEDs (eight in each headlamp), which adapt individually to the given road situation.
The exterior trim is not as sporty as its “OPC-line” name would suggest. With no “Sport” badge fitted to this model, the only exterior items indicating this is the most athletic variant in the range are two chrome-finished exhaust outlets sited on opposite sides of the rear bumper. Although not sporty by design, the ten-spoke diamond-cut alloys, replete with grey inserts, look stylish.
Press the button marked sport for the transmission and the Astra begs to be driven with enthusiasm. The punchy 1,6-litre four-cylinder turbopetrol engine produces 147 kW and 280 N.m of torque, enough to see it reach the 100 km/h mark from standstill in 7,44 seconds. That won’t trouble any hot hatches, of course, but it still makes for a lunchy drive. Overtaking from 80-120 km/h was a recorded 4,79 seconds. The six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission changes cogs without fuss but paddle-shifters would not go amiss.
The Astra 1,6T Sport continued to impress during our stringent 10-stop braking procedure. Our test unit came to a halt in an average time of only 2,84 seconds, which resulted in it receiving an excellent rating by our measures.
The steering is sharp but can kick back over sharp road scars. Whereas similarly priced vehicles such as the Audi A3 Sportback are fitted with independent rear suspension, the flagship Astra is equipped with a simpler compound crank with Watt’s linkage arrangement. Similar to a torsion beam setup, this configuration, together with those elegant but large 18-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile rubber, do result in a somewhat jarring ride.
Sitting at the pinnacle of the local line-up, the Astra 1,6T Sport OPC-Line AT balances what it lacks in ultimate straight-line speed with generous levels of standard equipment (although not all items are necessary). We're curious to see how buyers will respond to this high-priced, high-spec Opel...
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Opel Astra Hatch price and specs here