BOOTED UP THE REAR: Turbo power meets entry level premium motoring in the Opel Astra Sedan

BY CHARL BOSCH - JULY 24, 2014

In the last edition of Business Link Magazine, I had the opportunity to sample the facelifted Chevrolet Cruze, fitted with parent company General Motors’ now-familiar 1.4-litre turbocharged Ecotec engine which produces 103 kW and 200 N.m of torque.

Having come away impressed with the little engine’s low-down torque and the ease in which it effortlessly whooshed the Cruze along, accompanied by a smile producing whine from the turbo, I was quite keen to find out how this engine would perform in the Cruze’s more upmarket bother, the recently launched Opel Astra Sedan.

Introduced late last year, the booted Astra marked Opel’s return to the compact sedan segment after a decade’s absence.  It also shook up the segment which, up till now, has been dominated by the likes of the Volkswagen Jetta, high spec versions of the Toyota Corolla and the ever present Korean twins in the form of the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Cerato.

My first taste of the Astra Sedan came in December last year when the range topping 1.6 Turbo Cosmo arrived for testing. As mentioned in that article, it was also the first time an Opel sedan stood in the family driveway since my dad sold our 1993 Astra 160iE in 2005 with over 300 000 km on the clock.

Suffice to say, a lot has changed in that time and with GM having positioned Opel as its premium offering, the Cosmo won instant praise with its high level of spec, powerful engine and superb build quality. Question is, has anything changed at the other end of the Astra Sedan spectrum?

The model in question is the 1.4T Essentia, which serves as the entry level turbo model in the Astra Sedan range. Although being labelled as ‘entry level’ would often be viewed in a negative light, there is certainly nothing basic about the Essentia trim.

In profile, the Astra Sedan still remains an attractive car and as mentioned before with the Cosmo, it simply does not appear to be a hatchback with the boot section welled on as an afterthought. The lines are clean, striking and even with the standard 17-inch alloy wheels, likely to age rather well.

Speaking about that boot, it certainly proved its worth during the monthly trip to the shop. Opel claims a capacity of 384 dm³ which can be increased to 1048 dm³ with the rear seats folded flat. On paper this might not sound like much but in reality, the Sedan’s boot is massive.

Stepping inside, it is typical Opel fair with soft touch plastics on the dash and bar the missing bright work of the Cosmo, quality has not been skimped in Essentia trim. Need more evidence, just listen to the sound of the door closing.

In general, the Astra’s interior is a nice place to be. The cloth trimmed seats are very comfortable while the cab itself is quite roomy with storage spaces at the bottom of the centre hangdown section, down at the base of the doors as well as a few cupholders on the centre console. Space at the back is also good as I could perform the sit-behind myself test without complaining about a lack of legroom or indeed headroom.

Spec wise, the Essentia comes very well equipped with a cruise control, Bluetooth, six-speaker MP3 compatible sound system with aux and USB input, central locking, electric mirrors and front electric windows, ABS with BAS, EBD and traction control, six airbags and the now customary five star Euro NCAP crash rating.

As with the Cruze, the blown 1.4-litre engine does not disappoint when on the move. It offers dollops of low down torque and comes to party when asked. Coupled to the standard six speed manual box, a similar ratio automatic is optional, the combo made light work of inclines or slow traffic during my tenure.

In addition, the ride is setup for comfort and proved to be a helluva lot softer than my personal car. Although there was ‘feedback’ when faced with a manhole cover or rail crossing, there was no severe jolt that could break my back – in other words, a soft but informative ride.

Years ago, entry level meant four wheels, a windscreen and nothing much else. Fortunately times have also changed and so as entry level motoring as in the case of the Opel Astra Sedan 1.4T Essentia. As a package, it makes the perfect entry into premium motoring.

To book a test drive, visit Williams Hunt William Moffat, Corner of Knight Street and William Moffett, or call 041 396 4600.