General Motors South Africa’s Opel division held what is probably the biggest product launch the company will have this year. Introducing the all-new Opel Astra hatch to the media was always going to be a big deal for the local brand which saw its sales rise 74% in 2015, albeit from a relatively small base. The new Astra aims to repeat its European success where it was crowned 2015 Europe Car of the Year. It appears to have the credentials, but will the local sales leaders allow it space?

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I think about this as I take another cone on a small gymkhana track out at a GM facility down in Port Elizabeth. The car lunges forward with ease, turning easily through the slalom and braking confidently. The steering wheel is sharp enough and traction quite strong from the range-topping 1.6-litre turbo model. Those front McPherson Struts and the rear Compound crank with Watt’s Linkage (no Watt’s Linkage on lower models) help improve handling under all situations. It has been a while since I last felt so good driving an Astra, an ordinary one, not an OPC. That means the base is strong for performance models to be shaped on.

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Speaking of shapes, the design of the new Astra is typical Astra, with a wide smiling front grille accentuated by the Opel badge and complimented by large headlights. More on these later. A “floating” roof characterises the side profile, made so by a blackened C-pillar. The rear window is on the smaller side as a result of the sloping rear roofline. Rear lights are upside down L-shaped, while the boot line shapes into a V. Standard wheels are 17-inches in diameter and are completely surrounded by 225/45 R17 rubber. The other compound is a 225/40 R18 rubber.

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Eight models sporting three petrol engines are available immediately at launch, starting with a 1.0-litre turbo, then a 1.4-litre turbo and finally a 1.6-litre turbo. At 4.37 metres long, 1.8m wide, and 1.48m tall, the car actually stands smaller on the outside than its predecessor. By contrast the interior is bigger, with a wheelbase of 2.66m. Weight loss is at the centre of performance extraction of most car manufacturers these days, and the Astra is no different. Between 120kg and 200kg, depending on the model, has been shed through the use of lighter build materials throughout.

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A system of new technologies underpins the Astra’s market arsenal and the list is too long to mention here. But we can mention a few outstanding ones, starting with the Intellilux LED Matrix lights – part of the Opel Eye camera system – that consist of over 27 LEDs that automatically switch on and off to adapt to oncoming traffic and the darkness intensity when turned to high beam. No more hitting fellow drivers with your “brights” or having to manually turn them on and off all the time. This is also the first time we see Matrix LEDs in this segment.

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The Driver Assistance Pack includes such safety systems as Forward Collision Alert which beeps and flashes a red pack of lights on the head up display to warn driver of a possible head-on crash. Lane Keep Assist automatically nudges the car back into its own lane when it detects you are veering off unintentionally, and Traffic Sign Recognition displays the prevailing speed limit on that road for you, in case you missed it.

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IntelliLink is a familiar name to buyers of recent Opels. It is the brand’s infotainment system that comes standard with a 17.8cm touch screen. The higher models can be specified with a Navi 900 system bolted to a bigger 20.3cm screen and with added satellite navigation. Both systems offer 6 speakers, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, auxiliary port and all the rest of it.

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As stated above, three turbo petrol engines are on offer at the beginning. The baseline 3-cylinder, 1.0-litre ecoFLEX makes 77kW between 4 500rpm and 6 000rpm, torque of 170Nm between 1 800rpm and 4 300rpm, and is mated to an old-school 5-speed manual gearbox. Opel says it accelerates from 0 – 100km/h in 12.7 seconds and tops off at 200km/h. Average fuel consumption is said to be 4.4 litres per 100km from the 48 litre tank. If you think it sounds like a familiar motor then it is, because it’s the same as the one in the ADAM, albeit slightly detuned.

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Next up is the 1.4-litre ECOTEC Direct Injection Turbo. Maximum power is 110kW between 5 000rpm and 5 600rpm, and torque is 245Nm between 2 000rpm and 4 000rpm. It has a good deal of vuma, enough to have it take off from 0 – 100km/h in in 8.5 seconds for the 6-speed manual and 9 seconds for the 6-speed automatic. Top speed is 215km/h and it averages between 5.1 and 5.5 litres per 100km, depending on the model. Manuals seem to be more fuel efficient than their automatic counterparts.

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Lastly – for now at least – is the 1.6-litre Ecotec whose power figures include a 147kW at 5 500rpm and peak torque of 280Nm between 1 650rpm and 5 000rpm. An overboost occurs when overtaking, bringing torque to 300Nm during those short bursts of movement. As far as acceleration, Opel reckons it will cover 0 – 100km/h in 7 seconds flat, reaching a top end of 235km/h. Average fuel consumption is 6.1 litres per 100km.

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Astra is coming back into a rather busy segment of the market, one dominated by its fellow German in the form of the Volkswagen Golf. Others include the Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Peugeot 308 and Toyota Auris. Having been there before with Kadett for some years and more recently with different-shape Astras, the car has pedigree. More importantly it has all the required “stuff” to compete with contemporaries, and is even better than them in some aspects. Now it’s up to the GM SA marketing team to make sure the sales are just as good.



2016 Opel Astra hatch Prices

1.0T Essentia manual (R254 000)

1.0T Enjoy manual (R284 300)

1.4T Enjoy manual (R328 000)

1.4T Enjoy auto (R338 000)

1.4T Sport manual (R354 000)

1.4T Sport auto (R374 000)

1.6T Sport manual (R387 000)

1.6T Sport Plus manual (R407 000)

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