The last time the Astra name plate occupied Australian roads it was widely regarded as a creation of our very own Holden. Of course to the rest of world and in particular Europe it’s always been an Opel.
The German automobile manufacturer has been churning out cars since the turn of last century. Opel is the flagship brand for General Motors in Europe, and now in 2012 the Astra has once again returned to Australia via boat as a distinctive, semi-premium German made alternative in the smaller car market.
At this stage, there are only 17 stand alone Opel dealerships across the country and it’s somewhat surprising Opel has the capacity to offer 14 different Astra models. There’s 1.4 or 1.6 litre petrol turbo engines, a 2.0 turbo diesel, hatchback or Sports Tourer models, prestige packs and navigation upgrade options. Plus a 3 door GTC Astra with aggressive sports bodykit.
The Astra assigned to EFTM was the Select Hatch, a turbo petrol 1.6L, with 6 speed automatic transmission and a raft of options including premium paint, a prestige pack and navigation system. Impressive, but with the consequence being a $37,435 price tag. A $10,000 premium over the cheapest Astra quoted as $27,954 on the Opel Australia website.
On the inside
The first notable benefit of spending 37 big ones on a hatchback are its glorious seats, probably the best I’ve ever sat in. They should be as they’re AGR certified which means a bunch of German chiropractors have endorsed them. Google it like I did. Plus they’re heated too, which proved to be of zero use during Sydney’s recent heat wave, but might be fun in winter.
It’s immediately obvious from behind the wheel that the German’s typical exacting standards have created yet another fine piece of machinery. The Astra feels reassuringly dense and meticulously crafted. Dashboard plastics have that all important ‘soft-touch’ feel, and don’t annoyingly reflect the sun’s rays onto the windscreen or into your line of sight.
The two-tone imitation metal trim surrounding the centre stack looks and almost feels like real metal. There are numerous storage areas, although admittedly I’ve seen more in other cars. There’s a triple cup holder in the middle, although the first circular holder accommodated my Mt Franklin bottle but then held onto it like a vice. The glove box was constructed in such a way that some bulkier items won’t fit.
I initially found the the auto dimming rear view mirror to be tiny, but then realised that it matches the miniature back window. A reversing camera would have been helpful, although front and rear parking sensors are available. The legacy of right hand drive conversions include small things like not being able to see what gear is selected because it’s on the left side of the shifter, which obscures it.
The optional navigation system is presented via a 7-inch colour display and was able to issue clear, precise instructions when I hopelessly found myself lost in the myriad of one way back lanes at Potts Point recently. However don’t expect touch screen functionality here, instead operating the system relies on a centrally located push rotary dial and a surrounding bevy of buttons. It’s a little old hat these days but you quickly become familiar with it.
Oh and one more thing, if you choose to display the map as your default display there’s no clock or outside temperature display anywhere. It’s actually under another menu, which bugged me as for some reason I like to know the time and the temp at all times. You probably couldn’t care less.
The sound system on offer was more then adequate, although if you’re a doof doof man getting hectic with deep loud bass is not such a good idea.
Bluetooth and voice recognition is available but Bluetooth streaming is not. That’s a shame because merely touching your phone while driving has dire consequences these days. An AUX and USB port save the day somewhat.
On the road
On the road the Astra is a satisfying drive, it’s handling is sure footed but not razor sharp. The 1.6 petrol turbo pumps out 132 KW with 230 Nm of torque.
The 0-100km dash is hardly blistering at around 9-10 seconds but it gets along in traffic pretty well accompanied by a pleasing but slight turbo whistle. The 6 speed auto is smooth but is marginally slow to react at times and turbo lag is evident at lower speeds.
One of the coolest features of the prestige pack is the “Premium Forward Lighting Package”. This includes Bi-xenon headlamps with the increasingly not so exclusive LED daytime running lights. Adaptive forward lighting, a system which alters the focus of the beam based on steering inputs. Automatic high-beam assist which means a truckie will never again return the favour when you suffer high beam neglect on a long night time drive.
But my personal favourite yet probably most unnecessary feature is the high pressure headlamp washers. When used in conjunction with the window washer this system injects 2 massive torrents of water into the headlights, showering at least 10-20 cars that may be unfortunate enough to be trailing you.
As you’d expect there’s also rain sensing wipers, light sensing headlights, heated side mirrors and dual zone climate control.
As is almost the norm these days there’s also full raft of airbags and electronic safety features as standard.
My 600 km of travel over a week involved a combination of peak hour grid lock, lengthy free flowing 80 km/h zones and occasional spirited driving. However I was unable to have the millage dip under 10.4 L per 100 km’s. Opel claims 7.3 combined or 10.0 for urban driving.
I found the Astra to be a sculptured sophisticated looking chuck of metal, it’s probably not a massive head turner as its design is not all that ground breaking but it has a high degree of sleekness about it. I wouldn’t have a problem being seen in one and it’s certainly not going to attract one particular gender, ok so I mean it’s not a chick’s car!
At the heart of this particular vehicle, the Turbo Lag from standing still can be quite annoying, and the Stereo system is far too complex not to be touch screen. If you can get past those two things, this is a cracking hatch.
The Opel Astra deserves every success in Australia as it once did under Holden, time will tell if their marketing people can generate enough awareness of what is already a highly acclaimed and respected car across Europe.