DRIVING IMPRESSION: Opel Astra 1.6T Sport Plus


Much like a dictionary, the terms and definitions used to describe aspects of the modern day automobile encompasses about the same length with terms ranging from the easy - wheels - to the difficult; Continuously Variable Transmission (def. belt-driven stepless automatic transmission that offers seamless and smoother shifts than a normal torque-converter setup).

However, like some of the words contained in the book that knowns everything, a great number of these are seldom used despite their explanation making for fascinating reading. One such designation is a Q or sleeper car, i.e. a model that appears normal and unassuming at first glance, but with a surprising and unexpected turn of pace when you turn the key and nail the loud pedal.

The arrival last month of the eagerly awaited brand new fifth-generation Opel Astra was something of a highlight as it was not only the first opportunity to sample one of the blitz’ most loved models, but also to experience what parent company General Motors claims to be the segment leader in of safety and in-car connectivity.

While our first taste of the newcomer involved the entry-level 1.0-litre three cylinder model in mid-range Enjoy specification, the Astra is more often remembered for its sporty offerings such as the 200iE, GSI, unique-to South Africa 200tS and of course the insane OPC.

To this end, and while it might sound odd to classify it as a Q-car instead of family hatch with a touch more grunt, the flagship Astra 1.6T Sport Plus showed in no uncertain terms it deserves this designation when a Summit White tester recently came to play for a week.

On first glance, there is very little to suggest that the sportiest version of the Astra would take first place in a race between the lights.

Apart from the 18-inch alloy wheels and (optional) IntelliLux LED Matrix xenon headlights, the latter which we will get to later, the Sport still boasts the same classy and sleek appearance as the Enjoy with extensive use of chrome and piano key black detailing, tampering bonnet, honeycomb grille embezzled with the Opel blitz, blacked-out C-pillar and those angular wraparound taillights cutting in the bootlid and fenders.

It is only when you get inside though that the Sport starts to reveal its secrets. Finished in a combination of piano key black inserts teamed with leather and soft touch plastics, the interior feels and looks classy with the same clean and uncluttered appearance that impressed in the Enjoy.

As well as boasting upgraded levels of material fit-and-finish, the Sport’s Intellilink 4.0 infotainment display gains an extra inch in width for a total of eight, with the unit in our tester, apart from incorporating Android Auto and Apple CarPaly, also featuring Opel’s optional Navi 900 satellite navigation system.

Eschewing the current trend of smartphone-based navigation apps, the nav’s traditional setup was not only easy to use but also intuitive with the image quality being particularly impressive.

Like the Enjoy, interior space in the Sport is generous with good levels of head and leg room up front, while the leather covered sport seats were comfortable and supportive without pinching too much leg room from passengers seated in the rear. Surprisingly, both front and rear chairs can be heated separately with the former also boasting electric lumber support.

It is however when you survey the extensive list of tech and safety gadgetry that the Astra starts to make its presence known. Fitted as standard with Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning, Following Distance Indication, Forward Collision Alert and Low Speed Collision Mitigation Braking, the Sport also comes equipped with Blind Sport Recognition, Advanced Park Assist and Torque Vectoring, the latter aimed at transmitting torque evenly between the front and rear axles.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest drawcards, the IntelliLux LED Matrix xenon headlights uses a development of the Adaptive Forward Lighting system which debuted on the Insignia in 2008, to effectively eliminate blinding on-coming traffic at night.

In short, the setup uses the same Opel Eye front camera that identifies traffic signs and monitors distance, to scan the ambient lighting and traffic conditions, before adjusting the lights individually using eight LED’s per headlight section.

Complicated it might sound, the end result was frankly astonishing with forward illumination on normal or full beam being in a different league to traditional xenon LED’s. As well as swivelling at speeds up to 70 km/h to illuminate corners, the lights also dip automatically when a vehicle in front is detected at speed, effectively reducing the risk of further dazzling.

The tech fest continues with the list of “everyday” standard items which include keyless entry / go, six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, aux input and USB, climate control, cruise control, rain sense wipers, heated steering wheel – which came in handy on a number of occasions – folding heated electric mirrors, push-button start, electric windows all around, tyre pressure monitor, six airbags, ABS with EBD, BAS, ESP, and Hill Start Assist.

Although our tester had arrived with a tad over 1100 km on the clock, any thoughts of taking it slowly disappeared almost immediately when the slightest prod of the throttle send the rev needle skywards and the speed into three figures.

Living up to the Q-car principles, the Sport comes fitted with GM’s brand new Medium Gasoline Engine (MGE) displacing 1.6-litre, and producing an astonishing 147 kW and 280 N.m of torque; figures equalling those of the Mark V Volkswagen Golf GTI and Opel’s own 2.0-litre Ecotec turbo that powered the short-lived Astra H GSI.

With the latter figure rising to 300 N.m on overboost, the engine, which until the arrival of the yet-as unconfirmed OPC is the most powerful in the Astra’s arsenal, makes it intentions known from low down with virtually no turbo lag, and a surge of power once you go past 2 500 rpm.

Press the pedal a little more and venture past 3 000 rpm, the surge become as a flood accompanied by the intoxicating sound of the turbo and a speedo that constantly wants to exceed the national limit. Best described as relentless in ‘normal mode’, everything goes up another notch when the Sport button in front of the gear lever is pushed.

With quicker throttle response and sharper steering, the Sport becomes like a mini-OPC with good levels of feedback from the latter and a firm but comfortable ride.

Putting these to the test, the Sport took the flowing R331 / 330 between Port Elizabeth and Patensie in its stride with the additional combination of Cornering Torque Control and Electronic Drag Torque Control providing for a constant delivery of power without slip when going into or existing the twisty bits.

Backed by a slick shifting six-speed manual gearbox, the Sport, despite being subjected to a bout of spirited driving during its week stay and the start / stop being switched off, recorded a commendable 6.9 L/100 km according to the trip computer, not far from Opel’s claimed 6.1 L/100 km.

While it might not carry the performance designation South Africans have come to know and love it for, the latest Opel Astra Sport makes no apologies for coming close to rival its iconic GSI and OPC predecessors in some areas thought to be forbidden territory. Discreet with loads of kit and a gem of an engine to boot, its entry to club of sleeper-cars is all but assured.



ENGINE LAYOUT DOHC 16v Inline 4 Turbo
MAX POWER 147 kW @4700 rpm
MAX TORQUE 280 N.m @1650 rpm
DRIVE LAYOUT Front engine; Front-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION Six-speed manual
ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H] 7.3 secs
TOP SPEED 235 km/h
EMISSIONS 141 g/km
PRICE R407 000

*As claimed during test period