Improved interior, driving dynamics and a better look, but roofline is low
I don’t suppose you remember Nicky Butt. Manchester United fans among you will, of course. As will the ABUs (anyone but United). Nicky was part of a great United side, from the famous class of 1992.
But he wasn’t given the status of superstar that was bestowed on the likes of David Beckham. Nicky was good; he had to be to make it into a team of extraordinary ability.
But he wasn’t that good, and wasn’t associated with outstanding goals or galacticos’ star turns.
Yet he was an important team player. I don’t mean to insult Nicky, in case by chance he comes across this review, but he was a workhorse; the one who grafted and slogged to win the ball and give it to someone who could do better things with it.
For that reason, I liked Nicky. He tried his best; it wasn’t always good enough but he always put in a shift. Without him, in some games, United would not have fared as well.
This week’s review car, the Opel Astra, was a bit like Nicky in previous generations; underrated and often outdone in prominence by rivals.
Several of its recently revised versions were solid.
It retained a good, strong and loyal base through tough times for the brand and the car itself.
And it should be said the car has been bought by 15 million motorists to date, so it must have been doing something right.
But not as right as it could be and needs to be in today’s competitive market. It was often criticised for being dull – and there is no room in today’s market for anything dull.
There are simply far too many star alternatives, not to mention the plethora of small crossovers and SUVs to attract buyers.
The new Astra has just gone on sale here. So how does it square up?
It looks a lot smarter, largely due to low-slung looks and a strong front where the new Opel Vizor face lifts its appearance.
It isn’t much longer than the old model and the wheelbase is up a mere 2,675mm but it is made in such a way that there is a greater sense of room.
With the rear seats folded flat there are 1,339 litres of luggage space (and there is a moveable load compartment floor).
That is good room for a five-door hatch. For anyone looking for even more space, I advise you to wait until next year for the Sports Tourer estate version.
The cabin is so much classier than in previous models with its jet black cloth and leather-effect Greta seat trim, black fascia with Isabella trim inserts and red matte instrument panel bar.
The Pure Panel cockpit also brings modernity and focus to the interior with its two integrated horizontal displays.
Luckily, you can still manually adjust key settings; climate control was particularly busy in the recent spell of hot weather.
My main criticism is that I would have liked the car to sit a bit taller because I had to stoop too much to get in.
Inside, headroom was not an issue, or at least it wasn’t for me, but the roofline was a factor. But I understand why it has to be a bit low; it is very much part of the look and stance of the car.
The driver’s seating was exceptional – I cannot praise it enough. It was AGR (experts) approved. The difference for your back and thighs between a good seat and a poor one can be remarkable even on a short journey.
Another area of real improvement came in the drive, where I got good road feel and a strong sense of balance.
The 1.2-litre petrol in my test car had a nice burble to it. I know, as I have written previously, that some critics didn’t like that, but I did and thought it added a bit of sportiness. The engine certainly provided loads of pep from its 130bhp base.
While the experts tell us most people don’t bother with entry-level models, the Astra’s might warrant a second look because I think there is a lot of stuff in there.
It includes the generation of the Pure Panel digital cockpit; a 10in touchscreen, 10in colour driver information cluster, cruise control, intelligent speed adaptation, single zone climate control, 16in alloys and more
I had driven the diesel previously and had been impressed with its dynamics too, so I had a good feel for the car.
But would I buy it? Yes. It is a big step forward on all fronts. It is by far the best-looking Opel has made
and has its fair smattering of dynamism.
Opel expects 1,000 people to buy one in a full year if supply holds up.
It’s no longer in Nicky Butt territory.
Opel Astra Sri 1.2 petrol
130hp six-speed manual, five-door.
Range from €27,995. Sri from €31,995, €200 tax.
Standard spec includes: heated, perforated leather, three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel controls, dual-zone air con, driver sports AGR seats, heated front seats, 10in touchscreen, 10in driver instrument cluster, 2 type C USBs, sports style bumpers, Vizor frame, 17in alloys, front, rear parking sensors, 360 degree panoramic camera, adaptive cruise control.