CarsMotormouth Reviews

Opel's new hatch is a major challenger to Golf's supremacy

Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra
Opel Astra

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, simply because I usually break them within a week. The amount of times I’ve joined a gym in January to see my monthly direct debit turn into a donation is sickening.

So this year I’m staying well away from resolutions and going with predictions instead. I predict that Ireland will take the Euros by storm – but that’s just the fans. Someone will win a reality TV show and never be heard off again, and finally, the new Opel Astra will break into the top three of family hatches by the end of the year.

The latter prediction is a big shout, given the dominance of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla in the compact family segment. In 2015, Volkswagen, despite the furore over the emissions scandal, sold 5,519 Golfs. Ford shifted 4,248 new Focus models and Toyota seen 3,474 Corollas leave the showroom.

Opel launched their new Astra in November last year, so the figure of 2,099 Astras sold last year would have included only a handful of the new models.

Buyers would have been waiting to dress their new car in a 161-plate, so I expect that figure to rise rapidly. It has some catching up to do to get near the mighty Golf, but I think it’s that good that it will crack the top three this year, and if you get the chance to get behind the wheel, you may very well agree.

Opel’s ‘new’ Astra is practically brand-spanking from the ground up, there may have been a few leftover screws uses from the previous model, but the latest technology, economical engines and safety features make it feel like a brand new model.

The design team at Opel has delivered a very nice car with a floating roofline and honeycomb-like grille, giving it a stylish finish. The biggest improvement for me is the interior, which has been modernised and now feels German in build quality with a premium look that wouldn’t look out of place in cars twice the price.

Thankfully, Opel has decided against using all the buttons they could find in the factory and given the new Astra a more minimalist look inside. A new sleek touchscreen infotainment system dominates the centre console and it’s one of the easier ones to use. And, the new Astra comes with the company’s new OnStar communications system, which is like having a guardian angel on board.

It is basically a call centre that caters for your every need – on your short trip to work, or long weekend away, even to Europe. With the touch of a button you can contact emergency services, get roadside assistance, and even get requested directions sent straight to your sat nav. Early this year, it will also come with high-speed wi-fi connection for up to seven devices. The IntelliLink infotainment systems can also connect smartphones to the car via Apple CarPlay and Android auto.

Another improvement made by Opel is the option of the new ergonomic seats. They took Opel five years to develop and I found them extremely comfortable.

The give real comfort for long journeys and can be adjusted in 18 different positions for perfect support. My test car was the Sri model which came with sports seats, but upgrading to the ergonomic version will cost you €500. It may seem a little pricey, but considering the amount of time you spend in the car, it might be worth stretching too.

What really propelled the Astra into reckoning for me is the way it drives. For years, the Golf and Focus have been the best driving cars in the class, but now, Opel’s Astra joins the party and may even be considered on par with the sublime handling of the Golf.

The previous Astra wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have the precision the top two have always excelled at. Now though, the Astra is dynamic and sharp with excellent grip and excellent feel through the steering. I tested the 1.4 turbo SRi petrol version and its 150 horses were of the thoroughbred kind.

It felt lively with a good burst of acceleration and had plenty of torque making it feel like a powerful diesel. It was highly refined as well and the noise in the cabin was minimal, very much in line with other, more premium German marques.

If you like your car to feel sporty in looks and performance, then the 1.4 turbo unit is perfect. It wasn’t that bad on petrol either – I managed a respectable 6.4-litres per 100kms on an average long journey – not far off the Opel’s claimed 5.5 litres.

There are other engines available. A new 1.0-litre petrol unit, which my fellow Motormouth tested at the launch, along with a 100bhp 1.4 petrol and two diesels, a 136bhp and 150bhp diesel are available. Of them all, he preferred the 150bhp diesel, as the little one-litre struggled with the size of the Astra. It’s perfect for the smaller Corsa and Adam models, but the Astra needs a bigger lump to get it moving.

The core seller in Ireland will probably come from the 1.6-litre CDTi diesel range, in 110 and 136bhp form, costing €180 a year in road tax and low running costs, it will be the one to add big numbers to the Astra sales chart.

So the Astra has looks, performance, handling and a stylish new interior. But is it really good enough to beak into the top three? I really think it is. It’s a vast improvement on the outgoing model and has taken huge steps towards the class leaders. I may not be Mystic Meg but I don’t there’s a better car to break the grip of the top three. This could be a sweet sixteen for Opel, and the Astra will be their ace in the pack.

Tech spec:

Model: Opel Astra SRi 1.4 turbo (150ps)
Price: from €19,995 (test car €29,170)
Road tax: Band B1 €270
0-100kph: 8.3s
Max speed: 215kph
Fuel economy: 5.5 litres per 100km
Luggage space: 370 litres