Driven - April 2016

Blind date with the new Opel Astra.

Blind dates aren’t always a bad thing: Driving the new Opel Astra

We’ve all been here before; “She’s great!”, “He’s wonderful”, “You’ll love her” are all the cliché phrases used when you’re being set up with the “perfect” person. Only this time for us, it wasn’t a person we were being set up with, but rather a car. The phrase used to get our attention was “European Car of the Year 2016”, a phrase that almost forced us to like the new Opel Astra. Well before we declared our undying love for the car based on a title, we needed to consider a few things. First of all, we’re not in Europe, we’re in South Africa, a country that has the a different motoring outlook to other parts of the world. We don’t have great public transport here, which means that for us, cars aren’t just about features and options. The way a car makes us feel and the way it makes us appeal to others is a big factor for our consumers. Hence why in the segment that the Astra operates in, Volkswagen has dominated for a very long time.

South Africa’s love affair with VW stems from the early days of the Citi Golf and it has grown stronger over the years, so much so that for many people, driving a Golf is an accomplishment, especially for a young buyer. So the new Astra is up against a car that is more than a car, but rather an item of aspiration. Okay, enough about Volkswagen, let’s talk about the reason why this article has being written, the new Opel Astra.

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Is it really that good?

The long and short of it is yes, the car is not only good, it’s great.  It does more than any other car in its segment from a technology point of view. For instance, where have you heard of a large hatchback that has lane keeping assist? The new Astra has it. Where have you seen a car in this segment that features Matrix headlights that can switch off specific sections of the lights, so as to not blind oncoming cars? The Astra has it. The car is even able to tell you your following distance in seconds between you and the car in front of you. It’s sheer brilliance. The rest of the stuff is pretty cool too but not completely new. Nowadays you can expect a touch screen infotainment system and Bluetooth in cars like these, fortunately the Intellilink system in the Astra has that too. What the new Astra does also have is the very cool Apple CarPlay system, which allows you to operate your cell phone apps via the infotainment system.

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What makes the new Astra good is that it’s new, completely new. As a result, the car is years ahead of its competitors in terms of technology and safety. This is an exciting car because it has birthed a new generation of smarter and more efficient hatchbacks. Speaking of efficiency, the new Astra uses a 1.0litre three-cylinder engine as its entry level model. This engine produces 77kW/170Nm but provides enough poke for city drivers who will spend most of their time stopping and starting again. Next up is a 1.4 turbocharged engine which produces 110kW/230Nm. We’ve sampled the same engine in the Adam S and Corsa Sport. In the Astra, it makes for a balanced power-train for a car of its size. The daddy for now is a new 1.6 turbocharged engine that makes 147kW/300Nm. This engine is great but we honestly think in the real world, the 1.4 is the one to go for as you get good poke at a good price, whereas the R407 000 price tag for the 1.6 turbo may be a bit rich for some.

Well, is it a keeper?

Driving the new Astra is what would determine if the hype is really true and we’re happy to report that the car really is good behind the wheel. A shaving of weight from the old car has helped  create a balanced car that can easily be driven eagerly by anyone whilst still maintaining a comfortable ride. A 400km trek from East London to Port Elizabeth was enjoyable and at times even exciting. Following a fleet of Astra’s for a long period of time was even a pleasing visual experience since the car has some fine lines on it.

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The question is do you take the new Astra to meet your parents? Well, as mentioned, if your folks wanted you to marry a smart, good looking person with a good family history, then the new Opel Astra would make for a good fit. Now it’s a matter of seeing how the competition will respond to this car, especially since consumers now expect more and more from smaller cars. All the best to the manufacturers, for us as consumers though, it’s a good time to be alive.

 

Model Price
1.0T Essentia R 254 000
1.0T Enjoy R 284 300
1.4T Enjoy MT R 328 000
1.4T Enjoy AT R 338 000
1.4T Sport MT R 354 000
1.4T Sport AT R 374 000
1.6T Sport MT R 387 000
1.6T Sport PLUS MT R 407 000