For many years the Opel Astra has been in the shadows of the Volkswagen Golf, until now.
Having won a European Car of The Year award and a few others, it has arrived on our shores with a justifiable smirk on its new face. What's it like? Well, let me enlighten you.
For starters the Opel Astra is all-new according to Opel South Africa. It features new technology, engines and a striking new design. Opel says this new Astra is now a contender for cars on the other end of the premium scale.
Truth be told, the styling is not a radical change from the previous model. Some features are more prominent, such as the front and rear bumpers. Other design features have been given a sharpening up, like the swept-back headlights, which are available as LED on the 1.6T Sport Plus model. The design lines along the side are also similar to before, still Astra, but better. The rear is curvy and the taillights are narrow, giving the car a sense of width.
Something I'm not a big fan of is the blacked-out C-pillar; it gives the illusion of a floating roof. The Range Rover has it and so does the Hyundai i20. Let's move on now…
The Astra is smaller on the outside yet bigger on the inside. Only the Germans can pull that off. The dashboard is so much neater than before. Gone are the endless buttons. Now we get a large touch screen and a few buttons and dials. More car - less Apollo spaceship.
The dashboard flows nicely and all the buttons and dials are easy to use and reach. The car also features a new steering wheel design. It's better looking than before and feels better to hold. There is also a colour display on the instrument cluster which displays the relevant information.
As for quality, apart from a few questionable plastic bits, (the centre cup-holder for example), the cabin is made up of pretty decent materials. Soft-touch door panels and dashboard add a sense of luxury feel to the car.
As mentioned before, space inside the car has been improved. Rear leg and head room is impressive, even when the front seats are in a rather far back position. What's more is, you will find two USB ports at the rear and one in the centre console. The MyLink system now supports Apple CarPlay, which is a winner in my book. The boot is also rather big and will easily store all your shopping.
Under the hood
Opel has introduced an array of new engines for the Astra. These include: a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder 77kW motor, a 1.4-litre turbocharged 110kW four-cylinder and a top-of-the-range 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, which develops a healthy 147kW and up to 300Nm of torque.
As for the transmissions, I drove a 1.4-litre automatic and a 1.6-litre six-speed manual. The 1.4T was punchy and the gearbox does a good job, especially when I was enjoying the twisty roads along the Eastern Cape coast line.
The 1.6T on the other hand is another story altogether. It has the heart of a hot hatch, feels sportier, tighter and is much faster. The six-speed manual gearbox is smooth and the changes are short. Push the Sport button and the car really comes alive.
Over and above the standard safety features such as ABS, EBD and many airbags, you can also expect features such as Lane Keep Assist and Blind Spot Assist as standard on the 1.6T, which are optional on other models such as the 1.4T. Things like collision mitigation also feature.
As for the LED headlights, they offer a safe and convenient function in that, at night, one would leave the high beam activated and the LED lights will adjust accordingly to oncoming traffic. Much like those found in other premium German brands.
Overall, the spec level is fairly high and the ride quality is compliant with our road surfaces. I had a good stint in the car over my 440km trip from East London to Port Elizabeth. Opel has definitely improved on the Astra brand and it’s easy to understand why it’s won over 21 awards globally. Throw in a competitive price and the new Opel Astra is sure to be a hit with those looking for something different.