The opportunity for a test comes by when my car goes into its rare mode of ‘repair needed’. This time, it was a ‘long-term’ test as a part wasn’t to arrive until a month later and thankfully, they didn’t have the heart to take the substitute back! Now, it would be total injustice to their generosity and my good luck to let this opportunity pass without reviewing the car in detail. So more than 3000 km later, here is a fairly good picture of the Opel Astra Version 2015 – resplendent in red!
THE SPECS: 115 hp, 155 Nm torque, 1.6L engine, 6 speed Automatic, Front Wheel Drive
THE PERFORMANCE: 0-100 in 12.0 sec, 9.5km/L tested
THE PRICE: AED 72000 – 90,000 (sedan and hatchback)
WOW! Feature: Needle-tip light to spot the speed instantly, AC blower drops when phone rings
UPSIDE: Fun to drive, Practical cabin, Thoughtful touches
FLIPSIDE: Price not alluring, Nice car demands more power
It takes a couple of hours till you get used to the Astra seating. It is a transition from ‘this feels a bit uneven and weird’ to ‘this is the best wrap-over I received on a drive’. The shape adapts to yours as the track style flanks and pressing lumbar curve soon feels like a welcome squeeze that buckles you up nice and tight. The Astra OPC (Opel Performance Centre) edition has Recaro seats in case you would like the whole track.
The Astra’s 1.6 L engine is not particularly powerful, especially in the mid rpm. However, it is persistent and delivers the power you need via the 6-speed automatic, no matter what. The sport mode helps somewhat. 115 hp and 155 Nm of torque is a good combination for a compact that weighs over 1400 kg – as much as a light-framed midsize sedan.
The Opel Astra swears allegiance to its fatherland by a display of accuracy and agility when it comes to weaving through traffic, slicing through corners and deadline induced dashes. Having said that, more occupants in the cabin with a somewhat full boot saw the car slog from signal to signal, before breathing easy again on the highway.
The Astra drive also stays true to its Front Wheel Drive definitions, with an almost textbook-like understeer that is a pleasure to observe, as you let the car drift into corners. The steering isn’t great for natural feedback but the measured output keeps you in tune. The braking complements the sure-footed drive – not too early and never obtrusive yet steady and strong in bracing to a stop.
Opel Astra, or the Vauxhall Astra as it is known in the continent, is a fine example of a fun car that has clear signs of a pedigree, and now I totally understand why it served a season as the reasonably priced car that Top Gear straps up celebrities in!
Cabin and controls
Some unique things about the Astra are in the details. The little green light at the tip of the speedometer needle that helps the driver spot the speed in a millisecond; the alarm that sounds when you forget to return the indicator; and best of all the way it drops the cooling fans helping you talk without the loud blow getting in the way.
The black fabric seats with their white dotted stitching is elegance and class that suits this segment in which leather would be seen as an impractical splurge. The boot too is practically sized, with enough for a couple of trolleys and a cabin bag, though the door pockets could have been larger. So is the audio system, where not a watt is wasted and you only have just enough! On that note, a car this sensible could have assigned a rear AC vent.
The gauge kept showing 9.4L per 100km (which is around 10.6 km/L) but often what I ended up with was more like 8.4 km/L, which is not too bad for a 1.6L compact that was being severely flogged.
The ride is not cushioned like shabby chic sofas but the long drives are made enjoyable by the firm yet comfortably contoured seats, and though the car feels stiff as the drive train gathers its pace, once it is settled it is a totally enjoyable ride.
This is one of those compact cars where the passenger feels safe inside, and the driver confident.
The essential Opel Astra 2015
Vastly popular in the continent and briefly introduced in India in the late eighties, Opel Astra is often fondly spoken of in this part of the world too, but I believe it hasn’t received what its duly deserves. While it could be a sporty office drive for the enthusiast or a strong and steady second car for the family, the price isn’t helping much to encourage trial or consideration. With a good warranty and maintenance deal thrown in, it still won’t hurt your wallet and can keep you happy with prowess rather than power!