There will be a rush to the forecourts tomorrow to register new models, with the industry predicting the best New Year sales figures in quite a while.
Fleet sales run in cycles and are more or less predictable, but this year there is expected to be a big bounce in private car sales, with customers availing of custom-made PCP arrangements and low-interest hire-purchase deals - some with zero per cent interest.
It has never been a better time to buy a new car, with wage increases expected this year and fuel prices expected to fall even further. But buyers are still very budget conscious and economy and emission levels, which are directly related to road tax charges, are still big topics on the forecourt.
Opel has been at work on these issues and has new engines and transmissions as well as new body designs for the Corsa and Astra which are grabbing attention. The result is more stylish and frugal models and the new technology will seep into all cars across the range, from the new Karl with a one-litre petrol engine to the flagship Insignia, which is to get an even more efficient two-litre diesel power plant.
The Astra, a long-time hatchback contender from the German firm, is now being offered as a saloon model as well. The decision will see a big benefit for Opel as Irish drivers, particularly in rural areas have an affinity with three-box designs models. It is a real good-looker and the new shape gives a much bigger stance on the road. The boot area is huge and visually it looks as if the Astra has jumped into a bigger segment of the market, just as the Corolla does for the Toyota badge when compared to the Auris.
Astra saloon prices start at €19,995 for the 1.4-litre petrol version, which is €500 more than the hatchback with the entry-grade diesel model with a 110bhp engine selling at €22,295. There are three trim levels to choose from and the diesel engine - which will be the big seller - comes with the option of a more powerful 136bhp output. Delivery charges add €700 for all models.
This is a new 1.6-litre engine which with 300Nm or torque has seven per cent more clout than the 1.7-litre unit it replaces. It is also whisper quiet and is best in class on noise and vibration levels. The engine is mated to a new slicker low-friction six-speed gearbox and combined they can return 3.7L/100km in mixed driving economy according to Opel figures. On a test an average of 4.5L/100km was returned, which was very good considering much of the driving was a mix of motorway and urban crawl. Co2 emissions at 97g/km attracts €180 road tax. Pushed hard, the new offering will sprint to 100kms in under 12 seconds and the top speed is 189km/h. At idle and high speeds diesel engine noise has been cut to very low levels, which adds to the driving pleasure. Overall a comfortable economical drive. Claudia Schiffer Opel's celebrity TV person sums it up: "It's German."
In SE specification the Astra comes in at €23,595 for the 110bhp engine and €24,095 for the more powerful 136bhp unit. At this level the trim includes heated door mirrors, graphic info display, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and speed limiter, air conditioning and auto rain-sensing wipers. Additions on the test car were daytime running lights at €354 and an IntelliLink navigation system at €1,250.