The renewal of the Opel range continues: After the Mokka and Corsa, it’s the Astra’s turn to abandon its GM platform and join the Stellantis portfolio. The five-door version has just been joined by a station wagon called « Sports Tourer ». Of course, the latest Astra features the new in-house ‘Vizor’ front end with Intellilux LED lighting, as well as the fully digital ‘Pure Panel’ dashboard. A few days ago we drove the five-door Astra in Portugal.
The current Astra is the eleventh generation of Opel’s C-segment car. It took over from the famous Kadett. So far, more than fifteen million units left the factory. In the past, the Astra was crowned « Car of the Year » twice, in 2005 and again in 2016. Over the years, Opel has been constantly bringing high tech equipment downmarket. Invariably, these were first only available on costlier and larger vehicles. These days, Opel offers the matrix LED lighting called « IntelliLux » on the Astra, as well as « IntelliDrive » technologies that combine adaptive cruise control with lane- keeping assistance, for example. Aesthetically, the new car works pretty well, featuring many historical references. The front end is directly inspired by the Manta A from the 1970s while the rear pillar is a replica of the one featured on the first front-wheel drive Kadett from the early 1980s. The Astra was designed in Germany and is exclusively assembled at the Rüsselsheim plant. Opel emphasizes a design that is both bold and clean, appealing to young-minded buyers who are attracted by its « made in Germany » tag. This is essential to appeal to a potential audience that is increasingly defecting to SUVs.
The Astra 5-door and Sport Tourer share a common architecture, using the Stellantis Group’s EMP2 platform, in V3 version. Compared to the V2 version, no less than fifty percent of the parts are new. In addition, the emphasis was placed on comfort and noise reduction, as well as on road contact and cornering behaviour. The steering is more precise and direct, with fewer turns from lock to lock. The body torsional rigidity is improved by 14%. Even though the wheelbase is longer, rear passengers cannot help but find the space a little cramped, especially behind a tall driver. The ergonomic seats are bulky! The roof rake also reduces headroom for taller people in the back. Interior materials as well as their fit and finish are also very attractive, even on the cheapest version. From the leather steering wheel to the door panels with soft plastic elements, the quality leap is undeniable. The steering wheel controls are not too numerous, rather easy and intuitive to use, reducing the need to touch the central interactive screen. For us, it’s a really positive thing.
The new Astra offers a choice of petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and, soon, electric engines. There are two petrol, three-cylinder 1200 cc engines available with power ratings of 110 or 130 hp. Torque values are 205 and 230 Nm, respectively. There is only one diesel engine in the range, a 1500 cc four-cylinder with 130 hp and 300 Nm. All are available with a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission. The 110 hp version requires 9.7 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h, while the 130 hp versions require 10.5 seconds (petrol) or 10.6 seconds (diesel). Top speeds are 199 km/h for the 110 hp, 209 km/h for the diesel and 210 km/h for the 130 hp petrol. C02 emissions are rated between 123 and 133 gr/km for the petrol versions and between 113 and 124 gr for the diesel-engined Astra. Engineers reworked the management system : the response to accelerator pedal inputs is now quicker and power is available in a more linear way. On the hybrid side, it’s the same combination as the one featured on the recently revamped Grandland : a 1600cc four-cylinder petrol engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and electric motor developing 110hp. For the moment, only the 180 hp version is available, the 225 hp version will follow in the coming weeks. The torque reaches 360 Nm in both cases. Battery capacity is 12.4 kWh and provides a range of around 60 km. They accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.5 and 7.6 seconds, while top speed is 225 km/h for the 180 hp version and 235 km/h for the most powerful one.
Behind the wheel
While the Astra does not shine in any particular aspect, it is very consistent, which underlines the excellent work of the brand’s engineers and designers. The new Astra is very pleasant and safe, both in its reactions and handling. Compared to the previous generations, progress is real. The switch from a GM platform to the EMP one reduced the car’s overall height while widening it and increasing the wheelbase by 13 mm. However, this doesn’t imply the new car is significantly longer than the one it replaces. Front suspension use MacPherson struts, while the rear one is based on a classic semi-rigid axle. Access to the car is easy, even if some people will lament about the front seats as they are quite low, but we like it! The front seats are AGW-certified, their ergonomic qualities being second to none. Even the cheapest version features an adjustable cushion to support the knees and a lumbar support is standard. Both mid-range and top spec versions feature electrically adjustable front seats. The switches are easily accessible on the side of the seats. In front of the driver, there is a clear display that brings this new Astra up to the top, using electronics and digital features. Opel calls the new dashboard « Pure Panel » and the term obviously makes most sense on the Ultimate version.
The whole thing is partly configurable and we like the fun aspect of the different user avatars available, many reminding the brand’s history (Manta and Corsa A, for example). The hierarchy of displays and information could be a little clearer but one gets used to it quite quickly. The lighting also adapts according to the selected driving mode: « hybrid », « electric » or « sport ». The centre console is ergonomically sound. Its well- positioned controls make it easy to navigate through the various menus or switching between navigation and music streaming, for example. The climate controls remain mechanical and we appreciate that. Opel claims to have streamlined the Astra’s interior and eliminated unnecessary secondary controls, but those that remain are ergonomic and easy to use. We tested the four-cylinder diesel version as well as the 185 hp plug-in hybrid car. Both can muster excellent driving qualities. In both cases, the gearing and operation of the automatic transmission was smooth and quiet. The diesel version in Elegance trim is less well equipped, but its pricing puts it more within the reach of a private buyer. The plug-in hybrid Ultimate version is perfectly suited as a company car. On the small winding roads of the Serra de Sintra, west of Lisbon, the Astra showed its roadholding qualities: defects are well filtered, roll resistance is high. Long gone are the days of Opel’s suspensions fit only for German highways while they were way too soft and rubbery everywhere else!
Here, it’s an excellent compromise between comfort and stiffness. Even at higher speeds, in a succession of tight corners, the Astra stays on course, does not wallow and its driving lines are tight and clean. It’s an easy and confidence- inspirng car. The steering is perhaps a little too light at times, but overall it proves to be precise, even if it doesn’t urges you to become a rally driver. Nevertheless, the progress is noticeable compared to the previous generation, steering precision being much more accurate here. Braking power is easily adjused and progressive, except in electric mode on the hybrid version: like many of its competitors, the car dives a little before starting to brake. At first, it can be a little confusing but it’s easy to get on with it, hopefully. The hybrid version offers a good 40 km emission free range and its intelligent use of driving modes makes the Astra Hybrid quite convincing in daily use. It switches between electric and petrol mode very smoothly.
The diesel car range is close to 700 km on a full tank and our average fuel consumption was 4.9-5.0 l/ 100 km. In daily use, its 300 Nm torque works wonders and it accelerates swiflty. Soundproofing is excellent and driving the Astra induces a well-being and relaxed- feeling. The plug-in hybrid version range is good under normal conditions. In “sport” mode, the engine becomes more audible but it’s still easy on the ears. In “electric” mode, the car accelerates quickly to 50 km/h without the need to start up the petrol engine. The Astra plug-in hybrid should prove to be very enjoyable for urban and short-distance travel.
Compared to the hatchback, the “Sports Tourer” estate is 27 cm longer (4.64 m vs. 4.37 m) and gets a 5 cm longer wheelbase (2.73 m vs. 2.68 m for the 5-door version). Obviously, the estate load space side is much bigger. the ICE hatchback’s boot ranges from 422 to 1339 l while the Sports Tourer is 598 with the rear seats up and 1635 l when they are down. The PHEV cars get slightly less boot space : between 352 and 1268 l for the hatchback and between 516 and 1554 l for the Tourer. The boot opening is one metre wide and the whole thing is usefully shaped.
Back in 2017, Opel launched its electrification plan. 2021 saw the launch of no less than nine electrified models, the creation of the Opel e- Rally Cup and the Vivaro fuel cell made it to the market. The brand’s ambition is to electrify its entire range by 2024 and to offer only electric vehicles in Europe, from 2028 onwards. It remains to be seen how things will evolve : raw materials supplies could become a problem, while the inevitable job cuts and higher prices of electric vehicles could delay things further than epected. There is no doubt that Carlos Tavares is following things very closely and, like his colleagues, is not going to let the European authorities impose their will so easily.
In conclusion, this new Astra is on a completely different level than the one it replaces. It’s pleasant to look at, with decent equipment levels and prices, and the overall finish is also on par with more premium brands. Its road manners are top notch. The Mokka and Corsa were nice surprises and the Astra is riding on the same wave. It may not be sporty, but its handling is excellent, very reassuring and it’s even possible to have fun behind the wheel on small winding roads. We were able to drive the diesel and hybrid versions at length. The latter is a bit slow because it seems heavier, less responsive and less inclined to take corners with the same alacrity on winding roads. The Astra segment is no longer market leader. Therefore, the new Astra must do much more to seduce buyers tempted by an SUV. It remains to be seen whether, despite all its qualities and the serious upgrade it has just undergone, it will be able to stand up to its eternal rival, the Golf, its 308 and DS4 cousins or the Focus, i30 and Leon.
The Belgian market offer starts with an ‘Astra’ version, followed by the ‘Edition’ version, then come the ‘Business Edition’, the ‘Elegance’, the ‘GS Line’, with a sporty flavour and, at the top of the range, the ‘Ultimate’ is the most lavishly equipped. Prices start at €24,150 and go up to €35,850 for petrol engines. The diesel engine is only available from the ‘Edition’ trim level, starting at €28,650, and prices range up to €38,250 for a top of the range car. The 180 hp hybrid versions start at €36,150 and peaks at €43,850. The 225 bhp version will only be available in “Ultimate” trim, from €44,850. The Sport Tourer version should cost about a thousand euros more than the 5 door hatch with the same engine and equipment level. (Text: Dimitri Urbain @Cascais)