DRIVING IMPRESSION: Opel Astra 1.0T Enjoy

BY CHARL BOSCH - AUGUST 1, 2016

For a company virtually staring down the barrel of a gun seven years ago, the steady but ongoing rise of Opel has been nothing short of spectacular.

Very much like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes after parent company General Motors had threatened to add its name to the list of automakers no longer in existence, the Russelsheim-based manufacturer’s dramatic turnaround post global financial crisis has only been reaffirmed by the scooping up of industry awards and models punishing way above their weight.

Driven by strong demand for the Corsa, Adam and Mokka, Opel has also been on the up trying to win back the hearts of South Africans after a number of challenging years and GM’s apparent favouritism towards Chevrolet as its main brand.

These concerns now very much aside, and despite the inherent success of the aforementioned trio, the much-revered Opel blitz has always sounded more apt when mentioned in the same breath as its model named after the Latin word for stars; Astra.

An undoubted legend of the racetrack and familiar sight on many suburban driveways during the 1990s, the Opel Astra could be described as a landmark model for GM since the erstwhile Delta Motor Corporation introduced the original 25 years ago as a replacement for the venerable Kadett.

Although the latter continued to live on in hatchback form till 1999, the first generation Astra, known internally as the Astra F, became such a worthwhile accomplishment that it walked away with consecutive South African Car of the Year awards in 1993 and 1994.

While the models that followed never achieved the same success as questions about its Opel’s viability began to emerge, the arrival of the fifth generation Astra K a few months was unanimously welcomed by the local media after Europe had given its approval by crowing it European Car of the Year 2016.

As someone who spend a great deal of his early years in the back seat of a metallic black ‘93 Astra 160iE, the recent arrival of a rather feisty titled switchblade metallic silver 1.0T Enjoy brought back a sense of nostalgia as became evident that some of the original’s magic had returned.

In line with GM’s positioning of Opel’s as its premium brand, the use of the 2013 Monza concept as styling inspiration for the Astra has worked to a tee with the somewhat anonymous looks of the previous generation making way for a sleek and classy appearance, highlighted by a tampering bonnet line, pronounced honeycomb grille topped by the signature chrome Opel blitz logo bar, swept-back headlights with daytime-running LED’s, deep lower intake, upwards running shoulder line and sporty 17-inch alloy wheels.

Along with the blacked-out C-pillar giving the impression of a floating-roof, the bloated rear end of the old Astra J has been dropped in favour of a more sophisticated look with wraparound taillights cutting into the bootlid, larger window and distinctive bumper.

Tipping the scales at some 200 kg lighter by sacrificing the old Delta II platform for GM’s new D2XX, the Astra’s biggest noteworthy change however comes when you step inside.

Whereas the previous model was extensively criticised for its button festooned centre console, the newcomer adopts a clean and minimalist approach with a seven-inch touchscreen display replacing the old button-activated setup. Incorporating Opel’s Intellilink 4.0 media interface with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, using the system was both easy and intuitive with the Bluetooth link-up to my Sony Xperia Z5 compact taking only a few seconds.

An interesting feature was the fitment of a wireless smartphone charging pad below the ventilation switches, which clipped on to a bracket that resembles the handle of a storage cubby. Known in Opel speak as the Powerflex bar, the addition, while appearing somewhat finicky at first, came as an absolute boon and a definite must if your phone’s battery life struggles to crack 10%.

As well as being roomy at the front with more than adequate levels of head and leg room, space in the rear was particularly impressive as I was able to comfortably sit behind myself with room to spare. While not class-leading, the boot is still capacious with Opel claiming a total cubic capacity of 351-litres.

A key part of the Astra’s appeal has been the inclusion of a number of features previously unheard of in this segment or mostly likely only available from an expansive options list. These include Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning which automatically steers you back inline, Following Distance Indication, Forward Collision Alert and Low Speed Collision Mitigation Braking which applies the brakes when an accident is detected.

Not to be outdone, the “normal” list of creature comforts include electric windows all around, six-speaker sound system with USB and Aux input, automatic on/off lights and wipers, cruise control, traction control, Hill Start Assist, front and rear parking sensors, heated electric mirrors, six airbags and ABS with EBD and BAS.

Continuing the “less is more” approach, the Astra now makes exclusive use of small capacity forced induction engines with the unit in our tester serving as the entry point.

Essentially the same mill used in the Corsa and Adam, the 1.0-litre turbocharged EcoFLEX three pot again displaces 999 cc, but retuned to produce 77 kW instead of 85 kW with torque remaining unchanged at 170 N.m. As well as the power drop, Opel has also removed a ratio from the gearbox leaving five with the combination translating into the 1.0T not being liable for emission tax as the emitting CO2 figure only comes to 99 g/km.

While some lag is noticeable at low revs, the engine does a fairly good job overall of hauling the Astra, really coming into it its own as you pass 2 500 rpm. Missing a ratio it maybe, the five-speed box nonetheless offers crisp and smooth shifts with a setup that makes perfect use of the available power.

Subjected mostly to the daily commute, the Astra still recorded impressive consumption figures during its week-long stay. Switching the start/stop off, the trip computer eventually registered the equivalent of 6.1 L/100 km although this dipped to 5.9 L/100 km at one point.

Using MacPherson struts with coil springs at the front and a torsion beam with coils at the rear, the Astra’s ride setup, much like its trim designation, was enjoyable and smooth with only really bad unavoidable imperfections causing a few hairy moments.

It would be fair to say that Opel has really rung its neck out to re-establish the Astra as a viable yet premium product to South Africans. With more than enough levels of kit, stylish looks and an engine that offers just enough grunt to exploits its talents, you could say it’s point has been made.

 

SPECIFICATIONS:

ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 12v Inline 3 Turbo
DISPLACEMENT 999 cc
MAX POWER 77 kW @4500-6000 rpm
MAX TORQUE 170 N.m @1800-4300 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Five-speed manual
ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H] 11.2 secs
TOP SPEED 200 km/h
FUEL CONSUMPTION 6.1 L/100 km*
EMISSIONS 99 g/km
PRICE R284 300

*As claimed during test period