The turning point
After much deliberation and staring at a semi-dirty laptop monitor I have decided that there is no other way of typing this: Opel is back. By spending almost a week with the freshly baked Astra Turbo I am thrilled to report that the German General Motors division has built an absolute winner.
I am not implying that Opels of recent memory were useless skadonks that nobody bought, and our sales charts should back this up. But what the new Astra represents is a solid stride forward in terms of engineering and all-round capability; a stride that should definitely alarm the makers of the proverbial people’s car.
Remove the badges of our latest test car and it could easily be mistaken for a contemporary Renault. Repeat this exercise on the inside and I’ll bet you a genuine leather laptop cleaning cloth that its occupants will classify their surroundings as being made by other French or German manufacturers.
The fluidity of its attractive exterior and the solidity of its welcoming interior should mark a turning point in Opel’s local fortunes and propel the Astra’s popularity into the midst of its accomplished rivals. If you’re not convinced, go test-drive one today. Now. It really is that good.
Favourable reactions from friends and family didn’t just stop with my Opel-obsessed best friend from school, oh no, while he was meticulously inspecting every button and crevice in the Astra cockpit, another friend sheepishly whispered at me “may I drive it?”
When asked her reason for this question she slowly brushed her hand over the steering wheel and answered “because I might want to buy one.” Had I actually handed over the Astra’s key I imagine she would have ordered one the very next day. Or never returned with mine.
Because, unless you work for Opel’s competition, the news only gets better when you drive the new Astra. My press demonstrator was the new 1.4T Enjoy model worth N$236,900, packing a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol 4-cylinder with 103kW (140hp) at 4,900rpm or 200Nm from 1,850rpm.
Although sounding a bit harsh at idle, the engine boasts with linear delivery of its impressive power and easily sufficient torque. The gear ratios aren’t perfectly stacked, the engine can struggle off boost, but once in its stride it loves to rev and even makes a pleasing and slightly grumpy noise.
Steering feel is precise, its pedals behave impeccably and the slick 6-speed gearshift adds to a formula which inspires confidence with a dash of speed. Top that off with a responsive and relatively comfortable chassis, predictable handling with lots of electronic safety nets, and yet again the Astra’s a winner.
Is it better than a Golf? I’d like to think it’s at least on par. It combines many excellent parts to make a fantastic whole. The rev limiter is somewhat intrusive and post-shift throttle take-up not exactly fast, but the Astra Turbo will see you zipping through a mountain pass with your full set of pearly whites on display.
Better yet, back in the confines of Kindergarten runs and shopping trips, the Astra takes an unassuming position as the daily family helper who can brighten up Mum (or Dad’s) day in a jiffy. And as can be expected for over a quarter of a million Rand, it is jam-packed with goodies and gadgets.
Air-con, power steering, bla, bla, it’s all here. My only criticisms were the ventilation control’s plain temperature regulator (numbers would’ve been good) and the sound system / trip computer’s insistence on resetting themselves to a previous item every time I started the car.
These issues were quickly forgotten once I glanced over the stylish centre console with its tiny chrome inserts between buttons, the ambient red lighting around the gear lever, the sporty steering wheel (with audio and cruise control satellite buttons) and the very Alfa’ish instruments. Beautiful.
A bigger cubby hole would’ve been nice, much like a central one with armrest, but yet again I forgot all about that once I fiddled with the crisp radio/CD/mp3/bluetooth sound system. There are plenty of airbags around you, clever seatbelts, folding seats, a big-ish boot with varying floor and visibility is good.
So it’s not perfect yet it completely won me over with its good quality, great looks and fantastic drive. You may also opt for other models including a 1.6 litre for N$218,000, another 1.4 litre turbo for N$263,400 and the range-topping 1.6 litre turbo Sport for N$280,300. All models include a 5 year 120,000km warranty, 15,000km service intervals and a 5 year 90,000km service plan. And in case you missed it… Opel is back.
0-100m: 6.8s / 82.2km/h
0-200m: 10.5s / 101.4km/h
0-300m: 13.7s / 118.7km/h
0-400m: 16.5s / 129.6km/h
0-500m: 19.2s / 136.6km/h
1/4mile: 16.6s @ 80.6mph (129.8km/h)
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/2