Wickedly sexy, and with oodles of power to match its looks, the Opel Astra OPC will soon be available in Europe, but will the launch of the high-performance model, and the striking three-door GTC, boost the Astra's fortunes locally?

Wickedly sexy, and with oodles of power to match its looks, the Opel Astra OPC will soon be available in Europe, but will the launch of the high-performance model, and the striking three-door GTC, boost the Astra's fortunes locally?

After its rousing introduction in South Africa late last year, the Opel Astra seems to have run out of steam somewhat as the VW Golf 5 (aided by the recent introduction of the handsome and popular GTI) has captured a big proportion of the family hatchback market.

The fully-imported Astra OPC, with its arresting good looks and breathtaking performance, will go on sale in South Africa during the third quarter of 2006, CARtoday.com learnt on Monday.

The turbo-charged 2,0-litre engine, which is mated with a six-speed manual transmission, produces 176 kW at 5 600 r/min and peak torque of 320 N.m at 2 400 r/min. It is claimed that the sporty model can accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 6,4 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 244 km/h.

Not simply a "faster version" of the Astra GTC, the car has received a generous dose of the Opel Performance Centre's styling additions. Its front end is dominated by a deep spoiler with a central engine cooling intake flanked by fog lamps on either side.

At the rear, the OPC's most eye-catching detail is its single exhaust outlet, followed closely by a prominent rear spoiler. The side sills are bolder than before, and the OPC's bright blue brake calipers also set it apart from its tamer siblings.

In addition to two-tone Recaro sport seats, the cabin is fitted with chrome-ringed instruments, a three-spoke leather steering wheel, leather gearshift and aluminium pedals.

The hot Astra's suspension consists of McPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear, supplemented by the adaptive chassis control (IDS plus) system as standard. Several structural changes have been made to the OPC, including lowering the body by 15 mm, adopting firmer spring and shock absorber rates, and fitting additional springs in the suspension struts to reduce body-roll.

The IDS plus is integrated with ESP plus, traction control (TC plus), understeer control logic, ABS with brake assist and continuous damping control.

The OPC's 17-inch wheels and high-performance braking system ensure you stop in time, and its electro-hydraulic power steering has been upgraded to deliver precise responses. Drivers can also switch between regular and "Sports Switch" modes, the latter said to quicken the responses of the shock absorbers, steering and accelerator.

Standard equipment on the model which will be imported to South Africa include front and side airbags, active head restraints and curtain airbags for the front and outer seats.

The car will be built at GM's Antwerp plant in Belgium alongside the other Astra models. Its SA pricing will be determined closer to launch date.

The OPC is based on the three-door GTC model, which, according to a GMSA spokesman, has been delayed from its original October release to early 2006, ostensibly to appease clients looking to attach a new model year to their purchases.

The GTC will be launched with the panoramic windscreen option when it arrives early in 2006.