Opel Astra 2013: Launch Review

words - Matt Brogan
Opel returns Astra to Australia with a choice of three engines and three body styles…

Opel Astra Hatch, Astra Sports Tourer and Astra GTC 

Local Launch
Hunter Valley, NSW

What we liked:
>> Well balanced dynamics
>> Strong turbodiesel variant
>> Surprisingly spacious Sports Tourer

Not so much:
>> Plastic rattles abound 
>> Lacklustre 1.4 turbo petrol
>> Steering feel lacks substance

OVERVIEW
>> Spoilt for choice
Astra is back Down Under. Now wearing its original Opel badge, rather than the local Holden lion, the Golf/Mazda3 class competitor will offer three body styles and the choice of three engines, when it goes on sale locally from September (2012).

It will join smaller Corsa hatch and larger Insignia sedan and wagon models as Opel's potential bestseller.

This time around Astra is offered in a mix of variants across the five-door hatch and wagon models aimed at catering to the widest possible blend of customers. The line-up is topped by a pair of sporty three-door variants dubbed Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo and Astra GTC Sport 1.6 Turbo.

Priced from $23,990 (MRLP Astra manual five-door hatch), the 13-strong Astra line-up is offered with a generous standard feature list topped by an extensive range of option packages. Highlights include Opel’s adjustable suspension system FlexRide, and adaptive headlamps.

Manual diesel variants (five-doors only) also arrive as standard with a fuel saving idle stop-start system.


PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
>> Wants for little
The entry-level model of Opel's new small car is dubbed, simply, Astra. Priced from $23,990, Astra is available in five-door hatch and Sports Tourer (wagon) body styles (add $2000, auto only).

Astra arrives as standard with 16-inch alloy wheels (space saver spare wheel), manual air-conditioning, Bluetooth telephony, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, trip computer, power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, and a single-CD tuner with USB and auxiliary input jacks.

Opel also reserves a $2750 Lux Pack for the base-grade Astra. This adds 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome window surrounds, front fog lamps, a leather-bound steering wheel, front and rear acoustic parking sensors, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror, auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers to the mix.

The mid-spec Astra Select models (from $28,990) add 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control, satellite navigation, daytime running lamps, front and rear fog lamps, a leather-bound steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, an electric park brake, front and rear park assist, auto headlamps and upgraded cloth and leatherette upholstery.

Select is offered optionally with: a Leather Sports Seat Pack including leather trimmed AGR-certified heated sports seats from $2500 (the pews score extremely high marks with German back and posture specialists Gepruft and Empfohlen); or Prestige Pack comprising the aforementioned Leather Sports Seat Pack and adaptive bi-xenon headlamps from $4500.

Stepping up to Astra Sport models we find 18-inch alloy wheels, lowered suspension, rear roof spoiler, AGR accredited seats and sports steering wheel as standard in addition to those features listed for Astra Select.

Sport models feature a solitary option pack, imaginatively dubbed: Premium Forward Lighting Pack. It comprises adaptive bi-xenon headlamps with high-pressure washers and daytime running lamps from $2000.

The top model is also available with Opel’s FlexRide adaptive chassis system from $2000 and 19-inch alloy wheels from $1000.

Three-door Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo models ride on 18-inch alloy wheels and feature manual air-conditioning but are otherwise specified similarly to Sport models. The entry end GTC variant (From $28,990) is also offered with the Leather Sports Seat Pack found on Astra Select models from $2500 and Navigation Pack from $1250.

Top-spec Astra GTC Sport 1.6 Turbo models (from $34,990) feature 19-inch alloy wheels, an aerodynamic body kit, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control and OPC-line leather steering wheel and gearshift knob in addition to those features listed for top-spec Astra Sport.

The range-topping three-door is available optionally with the Premium Forward Lighting Pack from $2000, FlexRide adaptive chassis system from $2000, and 20-inch alloy wheels from $1000.

2012 Opel Astra Hatch and Sports Tourer pricing:
Astra 1.4T Petrol 5dr Hatch / Wagon $23,990 (6MT) / $25,990 (6AT) / $27,990 (6AT Wagon)
Astra 2.0T Diesel 5dr Hatch / Wagon $27,990 (6MT) / $29,990 (6AT) / $31,990 (6AT Wagon)
Astra Select 1.6T Petrol 5dr Hatch / Wagon $28,990 (6MT) / $30,990 (6AT) / $32,990 (6AT Wagon)
Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo 3dr Hatch $28,990 (6MT) / $30,990 (6AT)
Astra Select 2.0T Diesel 5dr Hatch / Wagon $31,990 (6MT) / $33,990 (6AT) / $35,990 (6AT Wagon)
Astra Sport 1.6 Turbo Petrol 5dr Hatch $33,490 (6MT) / $35,490 (6AT)
Astra GTC Sport 1.6 Turbo 3dr Hatch $34,990 (6MT only)
Metallic Paint $695


MECHANICAL
>> Decisions, decisions...
Astra models are available with a choice of three turbocharged engines beginning with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol (1.4T Petrol).

Offered with a choice of six-speed manual (hatch variants only) and six-speed automatic transmissions, the 1.4T Petrol (also called 1.4T ECOTEC) outputs 103kW/220Nm and returns a fuel consumption average of 5.9L/100km (6.7L/100km auto) on the combined cycle, while emitting 139g/km of CO2 (156g/km auto).

It is available in base model Astra and Astra GTC models only. The 1.4T Petrol models accelerate from 0-100km/h in 9.9sec (10.2sec auto).

The next engine in the new flock of Astra models, and the solitary diesel offering, is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. It is offered in base model Astra and mid-spec Astra Select variants with the choice of a six-manual (hatch only) or six-automatic transmissions.

The 2.0T Diesel (also call 2.0 CDTI ECOTEC) engine outputs 121kW/350Nm and returns a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 4.7L/100km (5.9L/100km auto). CO2 emissions are rated at 124g/km (156g/km auto). Manual-equipped diesel models also receive idle stop-start as standard.

Astra 2.0T Diesel models accelerate from 0-100km/h in 9.0sec (9.2sec manual).

Mid-spec Astra Select models are also the first in the line-up to be offered with Opel’s new 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine (1.6T Petrol). Again, the variant is mated to a choice of six-speed manual (hatch only) and six-speed automatic transmissions.

Outputting 132kW and 230Nm, the engine (also called 1.6T ECOTEC) is also found in top-spec Astra Sport hatch and wagon variants -- the only engine option in this model. It consumes 7.0L/100km (7.3L/100km auto) of fuel on the combined cycle while emitting 164g/km (171g/km auto) of CO2.

Astra 1.6T Petrol models accelerate from 0-100km/h in 8.5sec (9.0 seconds auto). Astra GTC Sport 1.6 Turbo shaves this figure to 8.3sec.

The high output 1.6T Petrol is also found beneath the bonnet of the range-topping Astra GTC 1.6 Turbo mated exclusively to a six-speed manual transmission.

All Astra models are suspended by a McPherson strut (front) / Watt’s link (rear) arrangement which, depending on variant, is available in conjunction with Opel’s tri-mode adaptive chassis system, FlexRide. Combining electronically adjustable shock absorbers, various stages steering and (automatic) transmission adjustment and throttle mapping to present Astra with Normal, Sport (firmer) and Tour (softer) modes.
The rack and pinion steering system is electrically assisted, and features variable (speed sensitive) adjustment on FlexRide-equipped variants.

Braking duties are carried out by four-wheel discs behind 16-inch alloy wheels on Astra, 17-inch alloys on Astra Select and 18-inch wheels on Astra Sport and Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo.

Astra GTC Sport 1.6 Turbo models ride on larger 19-inch alloys. All model variants receive a space-saver spare wheel and tyre.


PACKAGING
>> The bigger small car
Compared to the last Astra version sold under the Holden nameplate, the new Opel Astra is longer in wheelbase (+71mm) and rides on a wider front (+56mm) and rear (+70mm) track. Opel says the larger footprint gives the model a more planted feel on road whilst also liberating greater interior space.

The five-door hatch is 4419mm long and rides on a 2685 wheelbase. Compared to cousin under the skin Cruze this is 99mm shorter but identical in wheelbase. The Opel is also slightly wider than the Holden (2013mm vs. 1797mm) but taller in height at 1510mm (vs. 1477mm).

The Astra Sports Tourer wagon is around 280mm longer (4698mm) than the hatch.

Turning circle is measured at 11.47m and fuel tank capacity 56 litres.

Astra GTC three-door hatch models are actually longer at 4466mm. Also wider (2020mm) and lower (1489mm), the GTCs ride on marginally longer 2695mm wheelbase. Its turning circle is 12.3 metres – worse than some of medium SUVs we tested recently.

The Astra tips the scale between 1412-1435kg, depending on variant.

Three-door variants also feature a 56-litre fuel tank and offer 380 litres of cargo space with the rear seats and parcel shelf in position. This is expended to a total figure of 1165 litres with the 60:40 splitfold pews flipped forward.

Up back, five-door Astra hatch variants offer slightly less luggage space than the three-door model at 370 litres, but liberate a considerable 1235 litres with the rear seats out of the way.

Finally, Astra Sports Tourer (wagon) variants are not surprisingly the largest of the locally available trio. It offers 500 litres of baggage hauling space in standard guise or a total of 1550 litres all told.

Depending on model, five-door Astra weighs in between 1394-1535kg (tare).

Astra models can tow up to 1500kg (braked) depending on variant and engine type.


SAFETY
>> Five-star safety across the line-up
All Astra models achieve a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating with stability control, traction control, antilock brakes and front, side and curtain airbags fitted as standard to every model in the range.

All variants are also equipped with active head restraints, three-point inertia reel seatbelts in all seating positions, as well as ISOFIX and top-tether child seat anchorage points.

For the front seats, pyrotechnic pretensioners are added while the driver benefits from a pedal release system in the event of a frontal collision.


COMPETITORS
>> Tougher than tough
The small car segment is one of the most fiercely contended and price sensitive in the Australian market. Mazda’s all-conquering Mazda3 has topped the local sales charts repeatedly in recent times with Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Golf, and Holden’s locally-built Cruze all not far behind.

Korean offerings Kia Cerato and the recently-renewed Hyundai i30 have also carved out a strong following in Australia for offering more equipment at a competitive price.

Astra, despite its extensive equipment list will play off against these rivals for not only bang-for-buck factor, but also length of warranty, which for the Koreans is now five years.

Opel Australia spokespersons said at launch that Astra’s European build quality will be enough to push buyers over the line when viewing the model against its Asian-sourced contemporaries. We’re not convinced.

The competition in this sector is tough for two reasons: quality and service. And at this point, with only 17 dedicated Opel dealerships nationally, Opel needs to match the latter before spruiking the benefits of the former.


ON THE ROAD
>> Diesel leads the pack
Opel's local launch provided limited opportunity to sample the Astra line-up. In the end we were only able to drive one wagon and one three-door variant. Far from ideal…

Sampling Astra Select Sport Tourer 2.0T Diesel and Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo we found two models that, in spite of sharing similar dynamic characteristics, were polar opposites where performance was concerned.... And not in the order in which you’d naturally assume.

The stronger of the pair, Astra Select Sport Tourer 2.0T Diesel performs remarkably well both dawdling through the smaller regional towns (and mile after mile of road works) encountered on our test loop, and on the shorter stints of open highway cruising. The engine is quiet, for a diesel, and works seamlessly with the six-speed automatic tested with little evidence of turbo lag, even in scenarios where you’d expect a dramatic pause -- such as rolling into a roundabout before jumping back on the throttle.

Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo, on the other hand, is much like its twin-under-the-skin Cruze 1.4 iTi offering very little in its lower revs and needing a heavy foot to summons even modest performance. Tried here in conjunction with a six-speed manual transmission, Astra cruised happily at highway speeds, but would need to be dropped to fourth, sometimes even third gear, to tackle hills we know would have barely provoked a nudge of the tacho in the diesel model.

Though Opel demands a hefty premium of up to $4000 to step up to a turbodiesel, the performance gap is palpable. The drivability of the diesel-powered Astra shows the 1.4T Petrol up as short of oomph for a car of this weight.

And that’s the majority of the bad news dealt with. The car in almost every other way is a comfortable and confident (not-so-) small car. Ride and handling is up there with the best in the segment, and the car’s body control mid-corner and reaction to steering input prompt and predictable. Even the larger wagon feels tight and controlled in demanding situations.

The steering, while light, has a slight edge over that sampled in Insignia with more weight at the wheel helping Astra to maintain course when confronted with mid-corner lumps and bumps.

Road noise is about what you’d expect in this segment and not helped by the larger diameter alloys fitted to the vehicles sampled. There’s a hint of wind noise, too, and annoyingly, a fair amount of plastic rattles from inside the front doors skins and outboard edges of the dashboard.

The interior is otherwise well presented and offers good outward visibility from the driver’s seat, which it has to be said feels well positioned ergonomically and comfortable, even on longer stretches at the wheel. Decor is perhaps not as sharp as that of the Insignia but still has a little more class than most of the segment’s mainstays, except perhaps for Volkswagen Golf.

All controls and switchgear feel on par or better than most sampled in the small car segment though the functionality of the trip computer and infotainment system took a little more time to become familiar with than, say, most Japanese or Korean contemporaries.

With little time to sample more than two Astras in the time allocated motoring.com.au will endeavour to test those variants not discussed here at length in the coming weeks. Opel Astra lands in local showrooms from September 1.

More photos of the Opel Astra at motoring.com.au

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Published : Wednesday, 1 August 2012
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