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First drive: Opel sets loose sizzling Astra OPC

New contender: The 206kW Astra OPC hatch can race to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds, the same time as the Renault Megane RS 265.

Australia’s most powerful GTI rival surfaces with compelling value to boot

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Opel logo13 Feb 2013

OPEL has launched a second wave model offensive in Australia with its OPC (Opel Performance Centre) sub-brand, the Astra version expected to be by far the best-seller.

Priced from $42,990 plus on-roads, and only available in a single GTC three-door coupe body shape for now, the German small car has the Volkswagen’s Scirocco R and Golf GTI, Renault Megane RS 265 and Ford Focus ST squarely in its crosshairs.

Yet the newcomer comprehensively outshines the lot for power output and standard equipment levels, and costs less once most opponents are optioned up to the OPC’s level.

This gives Opel good reason to expect the fastest Astra in history to account for up to 30 per cent of total series volume – despite the lack of an automatic transmission option.

“We look at it more of an opportunity frankly,” said Opel Australia managing director Bill Mott.

“We think there is big demand from customers looking for a sporty driving connection and a manual gearbox.

“If you look at Volkswagen, for instance, between the Polo and the Golf GTI and R they do about 20 per cent of the total mix, a Megane RS is about 30 per cent of (Renault’s) mix… so where precisely we’ll land I don’t know, but those numbers suggest there is significant potential in the marketplace.

“Whether it is 10, 20 or 30 per cent of the mix, time will tell. But I think it will be somewhere in that range. It is our assumption that the Astra will be (the best-selling OPC vehicle).”

Based on the Astra GTC (currently available in 103kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo and 132kW/230Nm 1.6 turbo Sport guises, the OPC turns the wick up significantly with an uprated version the larger Insignia’s 1998cc 2.0-litre direct injection four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine, driving the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox.

Aided by a twin-scroll turbocharger and intercooler (with maximum charge pressure set 25 per cent higher than in the Insignia 2.0T at 1.5 bar), the result is 206kW of power at 5300rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2400 and 4800rpm, for a 6.0-second 0-100km/h sprint-time and 250km/h top speed.

The exhaust has been ‘engineered’ to appeal to enthusiasts, via parallelogram-shaped openings in the twin tailpipes.

For comparison, the existing 155kW/280Nm Golf GTI three-door manual hits the 100km/h mark in 7.2s (DSG: 6.9s), 188kW/330Nm Golf R AWD and Scirocco R in 5.9s/5.7s and 6.1s/6.0s respectively, 195kW/360Nm Megane RS 265 in 6.0s, and 184kW/360Nm Focus ST in 6.5s.

This 1494kg Astra consumes 98 RON premium unleaded petrol at an official combined average rate of 8.1 litres per 100km, for a 189 gram per kilometre carbon dioxide emissions and Euro V compliance.

But that is not even half the story, for OPC – builders of go-faster Astras since 1998’s G-series (Holden TS Astra in Australia) – has comprehensively modified the front-wheel drive chassis underneath to cope.

For starters, the addition of a Drexler-branded mechanical multi-plate limited slip differential that locks with a ramp angle of 45 degrees under acceleration and 90 degrees under deceleration.

Combined with a variation of Opel’s HiPerStrut (high performance strut) already found on the regular GTC – designed to cut torque steer and increase steering precision – the OPC improves lateral grip and traction through corners compared with normal Astras.

It is all backed up by a raft of retuned electronic driver aids (namely three-stage stability and traction control with an ‘all off’ function), a 30 per cent stiffer springs, a 5mm thicker front anti-roll bar and 10mm lower ride height set-up over the GTC Sport, a beefier Watt’s link rear end, stronger suspension bushes and revised suspension sub-frame mounts.

Opel fits a set of ZF Sachs dampers employing larger diameter pistons as part of its ‘Flex Ride’ adaptive damping system with three separate chassis settings – normal, Sport and ‘OPC’.

Along with firming up the dampers, the OPC mode has a ‘soft landing’ mode to take the edge off the ride and reduce tilt in corners for sharper steering, while throttle response is also boosted.

Bespoke Brembo brakes with piston callipers and harder compound brake pads clamp ‘floating’ cross-drilled and vented 355mm front discs that employ that combine cast iron and aluminium construction to reduce weight by 7.5kg at each front corner and prevent heat build-up.

Standard 19-inch alloy wheels come with 245/40 ZR rated tyres, though special lightweight 20-inch items that weigh 14 per cent less than equivalent-sized non-OPC alloys are optional.

Testing was undertaken at Germany’s Nurburgring and Contidrom tracks (totalling 10,000km, the equivalent of about 180,000km on normal roads, says Opel), on Scandinavian ice and snowfields, and in Spain for hot-weather endurance.

More than just a turbo and big-wheel installation, the Astra sports an edgier style thanks to a unique front and rear bumper design, side skirts, and roof spoiler, and offers an OPC-specific colour choice – Arden Blue – on top of the regular GTC black, red, yellow and white hue options.

Differences inside include a 10mm smaller (360mm diameter) flat-bottomed steering wheel, sportier pedals and gear lever, revised instrument dials and surrounds, black headlining and new leather front seats, with the latter being made of a lightweight polyamide/fibreglass composite, mounted 17mm lower down and with a tick of approval from the German AGR seat ergonomics authority.

Along with the raft of mechanical and body upgrades, the OPC scores a full suite of airbags, anti-lock brakes, active headrests, a pedal release system, satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, cruise control with speed limiter, automatic headlights and wipers, a unique instrument cluster, a seven-inch display monitor, and Nappa leather trim.

Options are limited to $2000 Premium Lighting Pack (Bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlights with LED daytime running lights, adaptive forward lighting and washers), $1000 20-inch alloys, and $695 premium paint (any colour other than white).

, , , 2013 Opel Astra OPC pricing*, , , , , ,
Astra OPC$42,990


*Plus on-road costs

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