European car of the year is Astranomical fun to drive

2016-11-23 06:00
< The new Astra is more compact than before. Its areodynamic improvements create a more athletic and agile look .  Photo: SUPPLIED

< The new Astra is more compact than before. Its areodynamic improvements create a more athletic and agile look . Photo: SUPPLIED

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FRIENDS often remark on what a great job I have, being able to test drive and experience so many of the magnificent cars on the market these days – big, small, expensive, exclusive, in fact, all shapes and sizes.

And yes, that is truly a treat indeed - even for someone like me who is not a petrolhead and only drives out of necessity rather than for the pleasure of it.

But every so often a vehicle comes along that makes it an even bigger treat; one that actually makes me excited to get behind the wheel and drive.

And Opel’s new Astra is exactly such a vehicle – one which made me look for excuses to drive around during my week with it – so I am not surprised at all that it won the coveted European Car of the Year award in 2016. And recently it has also been announced as one of the ten finalists in the prestige 2017 Wesbank SA Car of the Year competition.

South Africans got to meet the new Astra in April this year. And how does it differ from the previous model? It’s lighter in weight and fuel consumption and trimmer in shape while packed with smart technology, making it one of the hottest hatches on the market currently.

Exterior

The new Astra is more compact than before with a 5cm reduction in length and a small reduction in height. Some areodynamic improvements have been made to create a more athletic and agile look. It has a dynamic, athletic stance which definitely makes its presence felt in any parking lot. The LED lights not only offer clever technology, but they also add to the sporty look.

Interior:

Clever design has ensured that, despite its smaller exterior, the new Astra has more cabin space with improved rear legroom and front headroom. The fact that the test model’s roof was finished in black on the inside gave a feeling of spaciousness.

Sports models, such as the one test driven, are equipped with electrically adjusted, heated front and rear leather seats.

I also like the touches of glossy black finishes and the soft touch of the dashboard materials.

The 7-inch touchscreen, from where the user-friendly infotainment system can be controlled, adds to the high-tech, classy feel of the interior. An 8-inch screen, with navigation included, is optionally available.

Making its debut in the Astra is Opel’s next-generation R4.0 IntelliLink infotainment system. This brings smartphone connectivity and apps for compatible Android 5.0 Lollipop and Apple iOS 8 (or higher) smartphones.

All IntelliLink systems come with Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, audio streaming, aux-in, USB ports and Digital Audio Broadcast DAB+ as standard (for better radio selection and reception).

In addition, Navi 900 IntelliLink (an option on sports models) offers a high level of personalisation - the home screen can be tailored according to customer preferences

The Astra has an electronic hand brake which gives you more storage space between the front seats. The moveable armrest and storage console between the front seats are also very practical.

The boot space is ample, as well as the number of cup and bottle holders.

The back passengers can also enjoy the use of an armrest between them.

Ride:

The new Astra comes in a choice of three state-of-the-art turbo charged petrol engines. The Astra’s all-aluminium 1.0 turbo, 1.4 turbo, and 1.6 turbo ECOTEC engines are mated to automatic and manual gearboxes.

This week’s test model (the Astra’s 1.6 litre version with six speed manual gearbox) offers a spirited yet smooth ride and exhilarating acceleration. I especially enjoyed the promise of power that is heard in its soft roar. There is also little road noise.

Opel says the lightweight superstructure is stronger than before and more resistant to both twisting and bending - so it’s safer, and handles better. And I also found the ride to be exceptionally good – even on roads that are not in the best state.

The gear lever has a nice feel in the palm of your hand. I was at first a bit wary about the electronic handbrake, but soon realised how it in fact makes life much easier than the old-fashioned one I am used to.

To activate the electronic hand brake you have to pull the lever upwards. To deactivate it, you, however, do not need to push it down again – it deactivates automatically when you release the clutch and put your foot on the accelerator.

The new Astra’s rack-and-pinion steering system is electrically, rather than hydraulically, powered to help reduce fuel consumption. Opel says the Astra has also been made more fuel efficient, thanks to its turbocharged and direct injection ECOTEC engines and the use of features like Start/Stop across the range.

Opel states the fuel consumption as 6.1 litres per 100 km. During my week with the Astra, which was mostly on the peak traffic mom’s taxi route, except one or two excursions on the freeway, the fuel consumption was 8 litres per 100km. Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h takes 7 seconds and the top speed is 235 km/h.

Safety

There are so many active and safety features in cars these days – but during my test drive I got to experience a bit of this first hand. While driving past a school sports field, the windscreen got hit by a missile of a hockey ball, and while it sounded as if the car was struck by lightning, the window remained intact despite a spiderweb of cracks right in front of where my passenger was sitting.

The Astra features a host of smart features and driver-assistance technologies that have until now only been available in expensive luxury cars.

These include an Opel Eye front camera. The camera has a wide range of functions which include monitoring the IntelliLux LED Matrix System, Traffic Sign Assista; Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist; Following Distance Indication; Forward Collision Alert with Low Speed Collision Mitigation Braking.

In plain English this means it gives the car the ability to recognise traffic signs and display them on the car’s instrument display. It also warns when the following distance is too close, and has a lane-assist system that guides the vehicle back into the lane when it wanders over the line.

It also brakes automatically when it detects the driver’s not going to stop in time to avoid a collision.

Safety equipment includes ABS brakes, six airbags and park assist sensors.

One of the most impressive new features is the IntelliLux LED Matrix System, which is optional on the 1.6T Sport model.

The system consists of 8 LED light sections per headlight which makes driving at night a lot safer. It will automatically deactivate or activate some or all of the LEDs to illuminate around corners and allow one to get the maximum road illumination.

This means one will have the same effect as driving with headlights on without blinding approaching traffic.

These lights are controlled via the Opel Eye front camera, which registers the preceding and on-coming traffic, as well as recognising ambient light, for example street lighting in urban areas.

Astra drivers can make parking and reversing even easier by adding the Rear View Camera to Park Assist. Mounted above the rear licence plate, it shows the area behind the vehicle on the infotainment screen.

Pricing (As in April 2016):

1.0T Essentia R254 000

1.0T Enjoy R284 300

1.4T Enjoy MT R328 000

1.4T Enjoy AT R338 000

1.4T Sport MT R354 000

1.4T Sport AT R374 000

1.6T Sport MT R387 000

1.6T Sport PLUS MT R407 000

Option Packs:

1.Astra Hatch Enjoy Driver Assist Pack (Opel Eye Front Camera System) R6 300

2. Astra Hatch Essentia R 4.0 IntelliLink R4 000

3. Astra Hatch Sport Navi 900 IntelliLink R 10 700

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