Car reviews - Opel - Astra - OPC
FlexRide dampers, turbo engine, racing-style seats, equipment levels, steering, styling, value
Room for improvement
Complicated instruments, gearshift not as precise as some, rear visibility, no Bluetooth audio
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24 Jun 2013
Price and equipment
It’s commendable, the amount of standard equipment Opel has squeezed in here for the $42,990 (plus on-roads) starting price.
It comes with cruise control and speed limiter, auto lights and wipers, leather trim, a, trip computer with G-force meter and lap timer, remote keyless entry and satellite navigation.
There's also front and rear parking sensors, seven-speaker audio with USB and aux, Bluetooth phone connectivity (but no audio streaming, oddly) 19-inch alloy wheels and the aggressive bodykit.
Options are limited to 20-inch wheels (20!) ($1000) and Active Xenon lights with DRLs ($2000), both of which were fitted to our tester. There’s a premium paint option too ($695).
We found it a bit complicated in here. Would that Opel’s interior designers had taken the lead of the counterparts who penned that sleek and simple exterior visage.
The standard equipment list is not missing much, that much is true, but the centre cluster is a mass of buttons that takes a not insubstantial time to master. Remember, this car has been kicking around for a few years in Europe, and the fascia feels its age in this regard.
The racing-style style seats, on the other hand, are nothing short of brilliant.
High, generous and well-bolstered leather numbers with plenty of adjustment. A well-spaced pedal box of ample steering column adjustment makes it easy to get a good driving position.
Fore-aft adjustment is manual, but there’s height and depth electric lumbar adjust, pneumatic bolsters for base and backrest, and the base length can be altered.
Because it’s a two-door coupe only, the OPC ought not be considered an out and out rival for conventional hot hatches, but rather slinky two-doors such as the Megane, and also the Volkswagen Scirocco.
That raked rear windowline and sloping roof makes it tight in the back row – a pair of kids would be fine – while cargo space is a competitive 380 litres (expanding to 1165L with the seats down). Over-shoulder visibility is restricted by the small glasshouse.
Engine and transmission
If choosing the best hot hatch was a simple numbers game, the Opel would be victorious.
It’s armed with an absolute firecracker of an engine, a particularly meaty 2.0-litre turbo with a wide torque band and mean exhaust note. The requisite lag hasn’t been erased completely, but keep that right foot planted, let it spool, and it doesn’t take long to engage warp drive.
That’s hardly surprising from a small car with 206kW at 5300rpm and 400Nm between 2400 and 4800 rpm at its disposal. Neither the 195kW/360Nm RS Megane or 188kW/330Nm Scirocco can compete here.
Opel claims a 0-100km sprint time of six seconds. It took us a few goes to get there, but get there we did.
But more impressive is the relative flexibility of the engine, its transformation from puppy dog to pitbull when needed. It also emits a macho exhaust note, the sort that sends reverberations through 1930s terrace house windows.
Like the Renault, but unlike the Volkswagen, Opel only offers a six-speed manual gearbox. But it lacks the mechanical precision of either rival, with a few notches and a bit of vagueness to its shift action.
The clutch is light with good take-up, and hill-start assist is standard to stop rollbacks.
Bringing that grunt to a halt are big 355mm front ventilated discs with Brembo calipers, and 315mm solid rear discs.
Ride and handling
Plant the foot on a wet day, and the front wheels struggle to put that power down. Axle tramp is a factor and there’s brief glimpses of wheelspin before the stability control takes charge.
That being said, we don’t mind that it’s a bit of a caged animal. Having rough edges, proverbial spittle-flecked fur around the muzzle, is a good trait at this end of the market.
In the past, only fools and lunatics would dream of putting 206kW through the front wheels. Since Opel decided it was neither, it instead developed new front suspension (called HiPerStrut), which operates in tandem with a mechanical LSD.
The engine sends torque to the outside front wheel while adding extra braking pressure to the inside one, thereby negating plough-on understeer. Imagine a giant pincer forcibly grabbing the nose of the car and wrenching it back into line and you’re half way there.
And while, as we said, those front hoops can struggle at take off, they stay on the desired line in the corners as though – pardon the cliché – they were on rails.
Body control is equally superb, thanks firstly to a stiff chassis and good suspension tune, but also another tricky GM Opel system called FlexRide – a fancy term for adjustable dampers.
Three modes are available – Normal, Sport and OPC – and unlike some similar such buttons in rival cars, it’s no token gesture. The difference is ride quality between Normal and OPC is marked.
In Normal, despite our car’s optional oversized wheels, the ride quality is more than acceptable. It neither jars or shudders like some hot hatches. But push the Sport button or – a step further, OPC – and the ride goes from firm to downright racey.
The third piece in the puzzle is the razor-sharp electro-hydraulic steering system – firmer and heavier than most with a good dose of feel. It almost matches the tactility of the Megane, long regarded as the class benchmark.
You can’t help but feel they’re quite different beasts, the French car and its German arch-rival. The Renault feels tip-toes around the twisties, the Opel muscles through them, but with equal gusto. .
You could say the Opel is the Megane’s slightly deranged younger brother. In fact, we ARE saying that.
Safety and servicing
Standard safety gear includes six airbags, all the mandatory acronyms (ESC, TCS, ABS), a pedal release system and active headrests. The Astra GTC, on which the OPC based, has a five-star Euro NCP rating.
Opel offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, and three years or 45,000km of capped-price servicing fixed at $349 per visit.
THE hot two-door hatch market just got a whole lot more interesting: the RS Megane re-wrote the book, then the Scirocco gave it a mighty push. The OPC sits comfortably beside them.
While it can’t quite match the purity of the Megane through the bends, and lacks the Scirocco’s cabin class, it’s got its own mad-hatter charm.
Furthermore, while you’d be hard-pressed to find a sexier triumvirate, we reckon the Opel is the pick of the punch, all smooth contours and scalloped lines. It’s got style to back up its substance.
In short, we’d blame nobody for making the OPC their pick. And that’s good for Opel, a fledgling company here that needs a leg-up.
RenaultSport Megane 265 Cup ($42,640 plus on-road costs).
Razor sharp steering, poise, balance, style – the works. This fiery French beast does precious little wrong.
Volkswagen Scirocco R ($47,990 plus ORC).
Low-slung style really stands out, and it mixes assured grip with a punchy 188kW/330Nm 2.0-litre turbo and a classy cabin.
Ford Focus ST ($38,290 plus ORC).
Excellent value and the added bonus of five seats, the 184kW Blue Oval contender has a similar sense of edge and playfulness to the Opel.
Make and model: Opel Astra ‘J’ OPC
, Engine type: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo four petrol
, Layout: FWD
, Power: 206kW @ 5300rpm
, Torque: 400Nm @ 2400-4800rpm
, Transmission: Six-speed manual
, 0-100km: 6.0s
, Fuel consumption: 8.1L/100km combined-cycle
, CO2 rating: 189g/km
, Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4466/2020 (with mirrors)/1489/2695mm
, Suspension: Independent HiPerStrut struts/compound crank with Watts link
, Steering: Electro-hydaulic rack and pinion
, Price: From $42,990 plus ORC
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