Car reviews - Opel - Astra - 1.4L hatch
Smooth turbo-petrol engine, spacious boot, comfortable ride, classy styling, outsider charm, rear headroom
Room for improvement
Uninspiring interior design, vague steering, road and wind noise, borderline value, touchy brakes
23 Nov 2012
SMALL cars are big business in Australia, and GM’s European brand Opel has thrown its hat into the ring with the Astra hatch and GTC coupe.
To many Australians, the Opel-badged Astra will be a bit of an enigma – a familiar model name once adopted by local hero (and fellow GM brand) Holden, but now sporting a strange lightning-shaped emblem at the nose.
Opel is clearly planning to change that, however, with the Astra hatch targeted at volume players such as the Ford Focus and Hyundai i30, as well as the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf.
We tested the base 1.4-litre turbo-petrol variant with six-speed automatic transmission, priced from $25,990.
For your money you get standard features such Bluetooth and USB connectivity, steering wheel audio controls, cruise control and daytime running lights.
Add an extra $2750 for the Luxury Pack as fitted to our test car and you get 17-inch wheels, chrome highlights, leather steering wheel, front and rear park assist, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
At this pricing, you don’t get the number of standard features for your bucks as, say, a Hyundai i30 which offers touchscreen satellite navigation, but the Astra is much more closely aligned with the Golf – its main rival.
We would like the see the $1250 Navigation package at least offered on the base variant tested here, though. Opel sells it only on higher-specified versions.
The 1.4 engine will be familiar to fans of the Australian-made Holden Cruze, in which it produces the same output of 103kW from 4900rpm and a healthy 200Nm of torque from 1850rpm.
It’s no firecracker and lacks the punch of the less-powerful 90kW/200Nm 1.4 engine found in the Golf 90 TSI, but it exhibits the low-down pulling power and refinement typical of a small turbo, and feels muscular through to around 5000rpm.
A further benefit was the fuel economy – we managed a weekly average of 7.6 litres per 100km with an even mix of city and country driving, which is thoroughly class-competitive.
The six-speed automatic transmission lacks the slickness of a dual-clutch – VW’s DSG and Ford’s Powershift come to mind – and occasionally refused to play ball by holding on to a low gear for too long. However, it also lacks the low-speed jerkiness of a DSG, so swings and roundabouts.
We have no complaints about the ride, which felt compliant across a panoply of surfaces, although there was a surplus of wind and tyre noise that grew tiresome.
The steering is relatively quick, but is also quite vague off-centre and lacking in feel and feedback. As a result it requires constant correction via the slightly cumbersome steering wheel. Still, the handling is quite composed and turn-in, once you’ve acclimatised, is acceptably brisk.
The overly sensitive brakes required some getting used to, since they had an unfortunate propensity to let the car ‘creep’ at idle if the pedal wasn’t mashed right into the floor.
As a driving experience, the Astra breaks no new ground. It lags behind the ageing – and soon to be replaced – current Golf, and while the Ford Focus also has overly light steering, the Blue Oval-badged contender is still the better drive.
However, it’s also far from disgraced, and there are several other areas where the Astra has a lot to like.
Take the space in the cabin, for instance. The 370-litre boot is wide and deep (albeit aided by the space-saving spare underneath), and the folding rear seats free up more space than average.
Likewise, in the rear seat row things feel roomier than normal for the small-car class – although the Astra falls short of its Cruze cousin, which is arguably the class-leader in this department.
At first, the driving position felt a touch awkward, but we grew accustomed rather quickly, and while the busy and button-heavy dash looks a little drab, everything is intuitive. The front seats are also well-bolstered and comfortable.
Interior quality again feels short of the Golf, with a bit of a hodge-podge of plastic surfaces, but most contact points are covered in soft-touch surfacing and there were no noticeable squeaks and rattles.
The sound system sounds great and the USB and Bluetooth integration is a cinch, although the lack of storage options – no closed centre console, for instance – grated somewhat.
So, to summarise, the Astra isn’t quite a match for the Golf or Focus, and doesn’t offer the feature-packed razzle-dazzle of the i30.
But then, neither is it disgraced among the small-car luminaries, and what it does offer is a dash of exclusivity that more mainstream rivals just can’t.
So we reckon it’s worth a look. Just don’t expect too much.
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