Meet Unit 9
Most motoring journalists resemble a walking automotive encyclopaedia, flavoured with a tad of opinion. The one thing we can’t comment on is the longevity of new vehicles, which is why I always look forward to testing a car for more than a week – in this case, Opel’s new Astra sedan in 1.6T Cosmo trim.
Launched a few months ago to supplement its hatchback sisters, the Astra sedan is competing for a rather small piece of our car buying public’s attention. The hatch is simply more popular and versatile but – as we quickly discovered thanks to some overseas guests – not quite as spacious.
When three cheery Brits arrived at Cape Town International, the Astra’s 460L boot trumped both hatchbacks in our garage. A similar scenario unfolded on their reluctant return trip to the airport and later for our Christmas dinner; with bags of presents and a giant Lindt white chocolate crème Brule.
Most motoring journalists don’t own a car or nurture one or more classics, yours truly falling slap-bang into the second category. That means we don’t really form bonds or ownership associations with test cars; they simply don’t stick around long enough to allow such feelings to surface.
Which is another reason I love long-term vehicles. They give you a glimpse into what it would be like to hold the pink slip and live with the motorised beast for a while. The GM factory even christened this Astra sedan at the launch with a small green tag on its key proclaiming that our car’s name was “Unit 9”.
Unit 9 certainly looks dashing, even the strange goldy-bronze-ish metallic colour shows sharp design details and a well-integrated boot, beautifully contrasted by chunky chrome elements and other shiny highlights like the big oval exhaust tip, reflective door handles and this Cosmo model’s striking 18-inch wheels.
Its interior is just as stylish with black leather and a sparkly black trim around the cabin. Most buttons on the dash and sporty steering wheel are backlit and offset by delicate chrome strips, the finely marked instruments flank a red trip computer which is mirrored atop the dashboard by a display for audio, climate and vehicle info.
The central hang-down section is a bit messy but we quickly learnt where to find everything; the climate control is a little simpler and of the very efficient type. Bluetooth audio streaming and phone controls worked like a charm, as did the cruise control, hill hold assist and electronic park brake.
What became immediately evident is that this range-topping 1.6-litre turbo-petrol is the performance model in the range with excellent low-down torque and punchy mid-range response from its 1,598cc DOHC four-cylinder engine. Peak outputs are 132kW (180hp) at 5,500rpm and 230Nm at just 2,200rpm.
Opel claims 0-100km/h in 8.7 seconds and we got very close with a best figure of 9 flat, 400m falling in just over 15 seconds. One target we failed to achieve was the average fuel consumption of 6.8L/100km – our best was in the mid sevens and our overall figure was 9.5L/100km.
That will give you a range of around 530km from the 56L tank but I hasten to add that Unit 9’s excellent in-gear performance was well worth the extra thirst. A less enthusiastic driving style and more forays on the open road should also get you closer to the manufacturer’s claim.
Those snazzy low-profile wheels are suspended by McPherson struts and the front and a Watt’s link in the rear, in plain English that means Unit 9 and others of its kind are slightly hard at slow speeds but strike the obligatory balance between a comfortable ride and sporty handling.
We even tore up a small mountain pass and came away impressed – this Astra sedan provides more than sufficient grip, good steering feedback and almost no torque-steer. The 1.6 turbo motor runs out of puff near its redline but, as mentioned above, rockets forward in the mid-range.
Two concerns we had which may just be specific to Unit 9 were a slipping clutch and crunchy second gear – only when driven in anger though. You may spot both of these in our acceleration video further down this page and I hope these issues are merely the result of a hard press car life.
None of this was a problem at the civilised speeds in everyday routines or holiday excursions like visiting relatives on a scorching hot day, negotiating capacity parking lots (front and rear beepers are standard), dashing between the airport and Waterfront or meeting old friends for a cup of coffee.
Our Opel Astra sedan even sprouted a small fan club made up of friends and family who grew very fond of Unit 9. Needless to say this also included all testers at Galimoto Media and I’m happy to reveal a few more impressions we gathered over our month of driving.
Unit 9 didn’t have a start/stop system but there is a tiny gear change suggestion display which insists you change up at 2,000rpm. Obviously it can’t predict your next move and only annoys you at part throttle but the amazing thing is that it’s usually right – that eager engine WILL pull forward from 1,500rpm onwards.
The rear seats fold in that essential 60/40 split ratio which extends the cargo capacity to the insane levels you may require to transport a gigantic canvas of the Eiffel Tower. The automatic headlights and wipers are very convenient, last-named have a wide spray of mist rather than the usual jets of water.
Unless we missed something, the boot has no discernible opener on the outside and the trunk lid can only be opened by a button on the key or another on the dash. And like most modern Opels, press and hold the unlock button on the key to drop all four windows – the same goes in reverse for the lock button.
This feature is brilliant on a hot summer’s day and just as welcome as the one-touch window buttons which still operate briefly after the ignition is switched off. It’s little things like these you only discover after an extended period with a car and makes the Opel Astra sedan a lovely companion on the road.
All Unit Nines are packed with other convenience and luxury features like multiple airbags, driver aids and clever storage solutions but I would encourage you to rather pop down to your nearest Opel dealer to discover these and the rest of the Astra sedan.
Which just leaves the price – this top-of-the-line edition costs N$284,500 with a whopping five-year/120,000km warranty, roadside assistance and 90,000km service plan. Most motoring journalists would agree that this represents excellent value considering the car’s space, power and features.
So long, Unit 9. We’ll miss you.
0-100m: 6.4s / 86.2km/h
0-200m: 10.0s / 110.7km/h
0-300m: 12.9s / 126.0km/h
0-400m: 15.5s / 138.9km/h
1/4mile: 15.6s @ 86.6mph (139.3km/h)