Wednesday 7 December 2016

Opel Astra: Sharper, stylish, smarter

Rivals will now have to watch out for the Opel Astra in their rear-view mirror, writes Geraldine Herbert

Published 30/11/2015 | 12:51

Sleek and stylish: Geraldine Herbert with the new Opel
Astra. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Sleek and stylish: Geraldine Herbert with the new Opel Astra. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

THE new-generation Astra is a key model for Opel, but despite the company’s best efforts through the three-decade lifespan of this car, the Astra has always been a contender but never quite class-leading. So is the fifth generation finally the car to steal sales away from the Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf?

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Visually, the Astra is particularly impressive and has been carefully crafted to give it a dynamic presence on the road. Everything from the sculptured lines along the car’s side sweeping upwards at the back, to the wider yet slimmer rear lights combine to give it a more athletic appearance.

It is also lighter and smaller than its predecessor, with the new car being 49mm shorter and 26mm lower than before; yet inside the cabin is actually bigger.

The improvements are instantly noticeable and the complicated dash with the myriad buttons of old is a distant memory. The sophisticated layout is much less cluttered and the controls are far more intuitive to use.

Much of this is due to the new 7 or 8 inch, depending on spec, touch screen that controls a host of key functions and is a huge improvement over the old car’s system.

The new-generation IntelliLink infotainment system, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a welcome addition.

Apple CarPlay puts key iPhone features on the vehicle’s display, allowing drivers to make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music, either from the touchscreen or by voice, via Siri.

The driver and front passenger seats are beautifully bolstered with an array of separate adjustments and memory functions, but if you want even more comfort as an optional extra “wellness seats” are available. These multi-adjustable ergonomic AGR front seats are leather with massage and ventilation and are designed to enhance your well-being.

There is more than enough room for five adults but luggage may be an issue. The boot, at 370 litres, almost matches the 380 litres you’ll find in Volkswagen’s Golf and far exceeds the 316 offered in the Ford Focus, but the load lip is high and it is not very well shaped.

On the road, one of this car’s key attributes is how light it is. Opel has reduced the weight by up to 200kg and it makes a huge difference. It is sharper to drive, smooth and controlled and every bit as good as rivals.

A choice of petrol and diesel engines is available. Fitted to our test car was Opel’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder, currently offered in both the Corsa and Adam, and this is the engine that low-mileage buyers should certainly consider. It is refined, with lots of power, and unlike many other small petrol engines it doesn’t require constant gear changing to get the very best out of it.

For diesel, you are looking at the 1.6 litre with 110bhp, which has impressive fuel economy and emissions figures.

It is capable of 3.7 l/100 or 76.3 mpg on the combined cycle, while emitting only 99g/km of CO2. But as always, these fuel figures are generated under ideal conditions and in contrast I actually found the fuel economy quite disappointing. Opel claims that our test car will return 4.4 litres per 100km but I found it particularly thirsty.

The new Opel Astra is brimming with safety features, including the new intelligent IntelliLux LED matrix lights, which enable driving with glare-free high beams outside urban areas. There is also a host of driver-assistance and comfort systems available in this segment for the first time, such as the Opel Eye front camera that integrates with other systems, including a Traffic Sign Assist that combines camera-based images and information from the embedded navigation system to deliver more accurate driving recommendations and a Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, that works by applying automatic steering correction in case a driver unintentionally veers out of lane.

Other safety aids include a Forward Collision Alert that warns the driver of potential dangers if their reaction to an alert is not sufficient. An Advanced Park Assist makes it possible to park the car automatically at the push of a button, while the Rear View Camera is activated once reverse gear is selected.

Opel’s new OnStar system also makes its Irish debut on the Astra; this is essentially a customer support and monitoring system, long available in the US, that offers a range of advantages, not least the ability to speak to an OnStar advisor 365 days a year for assistance. It is a subscription service but is provided free on the Astra for the first year.

The Astra is offered in four trim levels S, SC SRi and Elite specifications and all are well equipped. Priced at €19,995, the entry-level trim includes Bluetooth, audio streaming, Hill Start Assist, and LED daytime running lights.

Trade up to SC (€21,495) to add IntelliLink with 7-inch colour touch screen, steering-wheel-mounted controls and 16-inch alloys. The SRi trim on our test car starts at €24,495 and adds the OnStar system, automatic lights/wipers, an 8-inch touch screen, sports front seats, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, front fogs and 17-inch alloys.

The Opel Astra is a far better car than before. Matched to its direct rivals, the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus and Peugeot 308, as well as a host of others, it faces stiff competition but can more than hold its own.

Good looks make it stand out from the crowd but it’s the cutting-edge technology and the driving dynamics that will win over buyers.

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