Opel's new-product onslaught gained further momentum at the weekend with a multi-model introduction. Although the new cars (including the 147 KW Astra GSi) are additions to existing ranges, they fill important gaps in Opel's line-up.

By Hannes Oosthuizen, Associate Editor, CAR Magazine


Opel's new model onslaught gained further momentum over the weekend with a multi-model introduction. Although all the new cars are additions to existing model ranges, they fill important gaps in Opel's line-up.


Opel Astra GSi


2005 is shaping up to be a return of the classic GSi vs. GTI battles of the past. And Opel has struck the first blow by launching its new GSi first.


The new Astra is, to my eyes, certainly a more eye-catching car than the Golf, but I must admit I was slightly disappointed to see that Opel has given their new hot hatch almost no distinguishing features, save for striking 17-inch alloy wheels and a small badge here and there. However, it's still a very pretty car, if not as obviously "hot hatch" as the new GTI.


It's the same story on the inside. You'd be hard-pressed to find GSi-specific branding. My advice is to rather look at the specification sheet, which seems never-ending and includes features such as automatic climate control, six-way adjustable front sports seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers and AFL (Adaptive Forward Lighting) headlights. AFL headlights (bi-xenon with automatic cleaning) swivel with the steering to allow for better vision into corners. It's a claimed first for this class of car.


The Astra has a five-star EuroNCAP crash rating and has what Opel calls a "Safetec" protection system that consists of passive and active safety features such as a highly stable body shell with deformation zones, the IDS chassis with ESPPlus, TCPlus traction control, CBC (Cornering Brake Control) and ABS with brake assist. In addition there are front and thorax/pelvis side airbags for the driver and front seat passenger, head curtain airbags, active head restraints in the front, lap-and-shoulder seat belts for all passengers, two mountings in the rear for the ISOFIX child's seat system and pedals which automatically release in the event of a frontal collision.


Opel's TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) provides constant feedback to the driver on tyre pressures to warn of any abnormal inflation in any of the four tyres. The GSi is packed with suspension technology. It uses the marque's new adaptive IDS-Plus suspension system with Continuous Damping Control (CDC). By pressing the Sport button on the facia, the suspension settings are changed into a sportier mode, and there are also quicker steering and throttle responses.


Power comes from Opel's 2,0-litre turbocharged Ecotec engine. This engine produces 147 kW at 5 400 r/min and 262 N.m of torque at 4 200 r/min. Performance is, as you can expect, very strong, but the figures look a bit pessimistic on paper. Opel claims a 230 km/h top speed and a "sub-eight second" 0-100 km/h acceleration time. This is a little odd, because it certainly feels faster than that, and it should be, considering that Volkswagen's new Golf GTI, also with 147 kW, is claimed to reach the benchmark 100 km/h in 7,2 seconds (man). We will hopefully get the opportunity soon to test both in local conditions...


I suspect, however, that the new GSi's emphasis is more on mid-range power, flexibility, cruising comfort, than all-out tyre smoking performance. I’ve driven the new Golf GTi around the Paul Ricard racetrack, and here’s how the GSi compares with its rival. The new GSi feels like a top-spec Astra that has benefited from the addition of a really strong engine, while the new Golf GTI seems to have been designed as a hot hatch from the first stroke of the designer's pen. I must qualify that statement by saying I haven't driven a GSi on a racetrack, so for a final verdict on handling, we'll have to wait until CAR tests both models. However, I like both cars, but for different reasons.


Don't think of the new GSi as a successor to the legendary Superboss of the early ‘90s. It is far more refined, more luxurious and, with that advanced suspension, has a combination of comfortable ride and decent handling that certainly warrants its enormous development costs. But if you want a chilli-pepper hot hatch that delights because it is also a little scary and evil... my advice is to wait for the 176 kW Astra OPC. But as a refined, super luxurious and deceptively fast hatch, the GSi gets the thumbs up.


The Astra GSi comes with the Opel Compelete Motoring Plan included in the price. This 5 year/100 000 kilometre plan covers all regular maintenance costs, including the cost of wear components such as clutch, shock absorbers etc. Tyres are excluded but customers have the option of purchasing an extension to include tyres in the plan.


A three-year/100 000 kilometre warranty and twenty-four hour roadside assistance is standard. The price of the Opel Astra GSi is R252 730.


Opel Zafira OPC


Meanwhile, the Zafira OPC is surely the fastest compact MPV on the market. Opel recently showed the second generation Zafira at the Geneva Show, so you may rightly think the introduction of the OPC is just a way of getting rid of leftover European stock. That would certainly have been true if it wasn't for the little fact that the OPC is, even in run-out phase, without rivals.


It gets OPC (Opel Performance Centre) exterior modifications - aggressive airdam, side sills, rear bumper treatment and those spectacular OPC alloy wheels we saw on last year's Astra OPC. It is quite a sight. In fact, while test-driving a Meriva over the weekend at, let’s say "considerable speed", seeing a bright red Zafira OPC screaming up behind me was an impressive experience only matched by the sheer velocity with which it executed its overtaking manoeuvre.


The Zafira OPC uses the same 147 kW, 2,0-litre turbocharged engine that you find in the new Astra GSi. Opel claims a top speed in the region of 220 km/h and a 0-100-km/h sprint time of around eight seconds.


And yet it retains all the virtues that make the Zafira such a clever family car. It has the ingenious Flex-7 seating system that is still hard to match for ease of use, and many little family friendly features that you find on MPVs these days. But the MPV game has moved on a little, and there are some aspects of the Zafira's interior that are no longer up to scratch, especially on the rather plasticky facia. But all in all, this is a unique car that mom can use to take the kids to school, and dad can use to blitz the competition at the robot.


But there is a catch. If you're reading this now and feel tempted, allow me to burst your bubble. General Motors SA only got 100 Zafira OPCs (R248 000 each) for the market, and they've all been pre-sold.


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