Monday 19 February 2018

The Opel Astra is getting better with age but fails to excite

Bob Flavin

Bob Flavin

The Astra has a very long history in Ireland and now Opel has refreshed the range but have they done enough to trouble the top of the charts?

I’m not sure why I can’t think of Opel as a German brand, it might be down to Vauxhall being a UK brand. More probable it’s down to Opel’s sponsorship of the Irish football team when Jack Charlton brought us glory and pride.

Still, they are German and apart from the odd glitch they have been solid in the kind of cars they turn out. The new Corsa is very good and I drove one all the way back from Germany to Ireland over three days, so I know the car well.

The Astra is a very different car, it’s pitched into the five door hatch market and that’s the toughest segment at the moment. You need to have your best kit and prices out there, that isn’t enough, you need have the best all-round offer.

Sure enough Opel have put the best foot forward with the Astra, on paper it looks like a very decent offer. Starting at €19,495 ex-works it gets air-conditioning and height adjustable drivers’ seat, it isn’t until you reach SRi version that you get the good kit and that’s €23,995.

My test car has the new 1.6ltr diesel that Opel will be pushing out alongside the 2.0ltr diesel. The 1.6 is quick enough, there’s a nice bit of torque and it’s quiet enough while cruising. The fuel economy isn’t brilliant with my real world driving coming in at 6.3ltrs or about 45mpg, I would usually expect a diesel to get in around the 60mpg.

The real problem I had with the Astra is the interface in the cabin. There’s a large screen along with an array of buttons to press that makes the screen do its job, this may sound normal enough but there are so many small buttons that you have to look every time you want to change the radio station or turn it down. You can’t set an address into the sat nav while the car is moving, Opel will tell you it’s a safety feature but what if your passenger is setting the nav on the move? Granted, the sat-nav is a standard feature on my model which is good.

The stereo in my test car had Bluetooth for making phone calls but would play my Spotify music or any other music from my phone. I had to plug it into the USB port to play music, that started the Windows based system which began to index my phone. I drove for nearly an hour in silence because it never finished indexing, there are over 2,000 songs on my phone and no other car that I’ve driven had to index them to play. I’m told there’s an optional stereo that plays by Bluetooth and doesn’t index the songs; this should be standard.

The Astra does a good job at being a hatchback, there’s a good boot with shopping bag hooks, a reasonable back seat and the cabin is nice to be in. If you can get over the dash interface and spec the optional stereo you’d have a car that you could live with. Its better priced than most of the competition, nearly two grand cheaper than a Golf, and has more standard features so there’s the value to look at.

Considering the price pointing of the Astra it should be on the shopping list when looking for a new car, it’s not quite up there with Volkswagen or Ford offerings but it’s near enough and priced right to start troubling them.

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