The new Opel Astra is one of the most eagerly anticipated new cars of the year and arrives here with ambitions to disrupt the compact class.
Scroll down to read a review or watch my Astra video review:
The Opel designers have gone for a lighter and more athletic look for the new Astra rather than a muscular one. It’s almost 5cm shorter than its predecessor, while the roof line has also been lowered. The front grille is similar to that of the Insignia while there are a number of neat design details like the divided C pillar at the rear – creating the impression of a floating roof – and stylish tail lamps that appear to wrap around the hindquarters of the car.
The Astra may be smaller on the outside, but it’s actually bigger on the inside. There’s now more legroom for rear seat passengers and boot space has been boosted to 370 litres.
The interior in the outgoing model was really starting to show its age but Opel has addressed the criticism in the new Astra and reduced the amount of control switches and buttons on the centre console. It’s a cleaner and more modern look, all with a high quality finish. The introduction of the Intellilink infotainment system and touchscreen on all but entry level S trim cars allows for easy integration with smartphones and access to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps.
The new Astra is lighter than the car it replaces by up to 200kgs and that’s not just some abstract figure that doesn’t really mean anything: on the road, right away, the car feels lighter and more agile. ‘Lightness’ seems to permeate the whole Astra driving experience and it’s a pleasant feeling. It’s got a lovely easy driving quality, well-modulated brakes and a satisfying feel to the gear shift. It feels sharp and tidy through the bends and will please the more enthusiastic driver, but it’s just as happy to slip quietly around town or head out on the motorway for a long cruise.
The steering is also on the lighter side of the spectrum when you compare it to other hatchbacks of this size, which could spell trouble. And yes you don’t quite get that same level of resistance from the tyres when you turn the wheel. But it adds to the easy driving feel and you can still really dart in and out of those corners with confidence.
My test car had Opel’s 1.6-litre CDTi ‘whisper diesel’ with 136bhp. It’s an engine transformed in the new Astra. In the old Astra, it was a bit grumbly around town but here it’s really quite subdued, which adds to the refined ambience. There’s plenty of power and torque to make speedy progress. It comes in two states of tune, 110bhp or 136bhp, with the lower powered version marginally more efficient returning up to 78mpg.
If it’s petrol you’re after, there’s a naturally aspirated 1.4-litre (100bhp) engine, but the most exciting are the brand new 1.0-litre (105bhp) and 1.4-litre (150bhp) turbo petrols, with the smaller of the two engines offering up to 66mpg.
The 1.6-litre CDTi 136bhp diesel returns up to 76.4mpg and with the 16” wheels on the test car, the emissions are just 99g CO2/km so motor tax will be €180 per year. 17 or 18” alloys push the same car up into the next tax band.
There are four trim levels: S, SC, SRi and Elite. Entry level S cars get air con and Bluetooth but step up to SC and you get additional 16” alloy wheels, cruise control, four electric windows, steering wheel mounted audio controls and Intellilink. SRi adds more equipment including 17” alloys, lane departure warning system, traffic sign recognition, Opel OnStar, auto lights and wipers, sat nav, sports front seats, sport switch and front fog lights. Elite equipment includes leather seat trim, heated steering wheel and seats, unique 17” alloy design, electric parking brake, electrically adjustable front seats and dual zone climate control.
Opel OnStar is a personal connectivity and service assistant that can be reached 24/7 and 365 days a year and it’s standard on SRi and Elite. It’s a bit like your guardian angel, so for example in the event of a crash, it can call the emergency services. There are other features like using the car as a WiFi hotspot (coming 2016), stolen vehicle assistance, vehicle diagnostics and can even provide you information on services in your area and automatically download the location to the sat nav. It’s a free service for the first year but you will pay about €100 per year thereafter for it, or you can opt out.
My test car had the IntelliLux LED matrix lights, a €1350 option. They are a first in this segment and are patented by Opel. Essentially, it’s like driving with glare-free high beams. Each cluster consists of 8 LEDs that automatically and constantly adapt the length and distribution of the light beam to every traffic situation for the best visibility.
When the covers were taken off the new Astra earlier this year, the elegant styling and new interior design were promising. A tighter look for the Astra on the outside and inside a cleaner, sleeker and more modern design with a touchscreen in the centre console replacing the plethora of buttons and complicated navigation that let the outgoing model down as it aged.
Yet aesthetics alone are not enough in the hatchback segment when you have the likes of the Golf and the Focus topping the charts month after month. It’s no wonder that the Astra was one of the most eagerly anticipated new cars of the year.
Driving the new Astra for the first time, the weight saving and new lightweight structure is immediately apparent. The light feeling filters through the whole driving experience but the new Astra can keep up with the best of them.
The portfolio of engines is very good too, from new turbo powered petrols, to the bread and butter 1.6 diesel. I’ve only sampled the diesel (136bhp) but if you’re looking for a diesel hatchback you need to check this one out.
The new Astra is clearly a real viable alternative to the class leaders for its good looks, well-finished, connected cabin, engaging drive and access to new efficient and powerful petrol and diesel engines. A full-scale disruption of the compact class might be ambitious, but the new Astra will certainly cause a ripple among its competitors!
Model Tested: Opel Astra SC
Price: €24,495 (Range starts €19,995)
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo diesel
0-100km/h: 9.6 seconds
CO2 Emissions: 99g/km
Motor Tax: €180 per year