Car reviews - Opel - Astra - OPC
Styling, performance, precision handling, value, comfort, awesome stability and grip, noise
Room for improvement
No five-door option, flummoxing centre console layout, some road noise intrusion
13 Feb 2013
THE HOT HATCH nexus has just been nuked.
Until now, it was Megane Renaultsport 265 for visceral thrills, Golf GTI for great all-round enjoyment, and the Focus ST somewhere in between.
In its own logical and calming manner, then, such a hierarchy ensured everybody knew where everything belonged and the world could go on.
But now Opel, one of the world’s oldest carmakers that nobody in Australia has really heard of (yet), has wheeled out a firecracker of a competitor, with enough meaty steak to match the sizzle its sexy styling promises.
Enter, if you don’t mind RS, GTI and ST, the Astra OPC.
Astra. This badge has adorned Nissan-built Holdens, Opel-made Holdens, Vauxhall-named HSVs (remember the VXR?), and now Opel-badged Opels for nigh on 30 years.
We’ve seen versions like City, GL, SL/X, CDX, GTC, CDTi, Olympic Edition, and 60th Anniversary Special on its posterior… but we haven’t quite seen anything like this.
Yes, that HSV VXR from 2006 to 2009 – also by OPC – looked wild, but with 176kW and 320Nm of unadulterated oomph cascading through the front wheels, it turned Hulk on you the moment a wheel was turned or if the roads even only seemed a little wet. It was like riding a rabid rabbit on speed.
By contrast, the Astra OPC is as sophisticated as its GTC three-door hatch-based styling suggests – which, by the way, is one of the most striking for the money.
Sure, the Megane looks rugged and the Scirocco is distinctive, but the Opel is a downright stunner.
There’s so little not to like about the interior as well – modern, modular, and really well equipped, with the front occupants sat on special sports seats of exceptional comfort and support.
Yet it is the driving experience that seals the OPC’s fate as a GTI gatecrasher.
That 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo is one of the sweetest yet strongest installations we’ve encountered for a while in this class of car, sweeping through the rev range with forceful and focussed intent, but without sounding strained doing it.
Some people may find the engine’s high-pitched exhaust gargle a little tiresome after a while, but its turbo whoosh is massively addictive stuff.
Allied to a light short-throw six-speed gearbox, the driver does not have to work hard to extract the available power, for it’s there in beautiful abundance. From the outset, acceleration is sudden yet controlled, without the wheel trying to tear from your grip.
And exactly the same thing applies the first corner you encounter. Unlike before, the forces generated work with – rather than against – your commands, pulling the car through a turn cleanly and precisely, without the histrionics of hot Astras that have come before.
There’s no tugging, or power drop, or unexpected directional changes like in some other powerful front-drivers, just smooth tractability.
Speaking of track, we sampled the Astra OPC on a very tight Eastern Creek course, and marvelled at how balanced and fluid the car felt, despite your driver’s blundering ways.
Cornered fast or slow, Opel seems to have struck a happy balance between feel, agility, stability and grip.
The Astra talks to you, goes where directed, and does so with blistering confidence and impressive speed while remaining planted.
If there were any mid-corner accelerator lift-off antics, the rear would lighten up progressively, rather than in an oversteering mess. There was never any doubt that the OPC works with – rather than against – the person in control.
A flying lap with a professional racing driver confirmed all this with astonishing clarity – this car is an incredibly fast and agile device, and worthy of consideration against any similar style of vehicle.
So how would we sum the driving experience up in comparison to the Astra’s revered rivals?
For outright performance, there is a new king, for Opel puts its power down with impressive vigour and with little vice.
The steering isn’t as synaptic-sharp or interactive as we remember the Megane RS’ to be, and some might also like a bit more weight added as per the almost supernaturally talented Focus ST’s, but we think the Opel’s midway approach of alacrity with lightness is first class. We feel the Golf may simply not be as entertaining in comparison.
Ride comfort is another unexpected (and important) Astra plus point, by the way, putting the Renault and VW firmly in the shade (while matching the supple Focus) – thanks in part to the adaptive damper control as part of the OPC set-up.
Throw in great design and fantastic value for money, and it is clear the Astra – after literally decades of trying under a plethora of guises – has finally broken into the top hot hatch echelon.
We can’t imagine Renault, VW and Ford being very pleased with the Opel’s newfound status.
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