WHEN Opel’s engineers started work on the eleventh generation Astra, their brief was to make the new Astra among the most efficient, lightest, best connected, with advanced safety as well as top driver assistance technologies. That the Astra they built went on to become this year’s car of Europe proves the engineers got it right. Competing in this priceAfter driving all three engines, from the punchy 1-litre Enjoy to the 1,6 Turbo, I can only lament that the Euro and our import taxes make this fully-imported hatch relatively expensive. But compare what even the entry-level Astra offers for R254 000 against a Polo 1-litre TSI BlueMotion or 1,4 TDi Trendline; a Toyota Corolla 1,3 Esteem or a Ford Fiesta 1-litre and the value offer becomes clear.And while these R254k competitors are all excellent cars with their own merits, the Astra adds an extra lure for those whose company allowance covers a new car payment — exclusivity.Those who are willing to do the unusual and invest in the Astra will, as the advert promises, impress the luxury class. Driving precisionLoading the 1,6 Astra with five people and then taking it up to Ixopo showed the engine able to handle all the inclines, but it is around the corners that the suspension comes into its own.The usual strutts feature upfront, but instead of just a torsion beam at the back, there is a Watts linkage, as is the case under the Ford Everest and Mustang. A Watts linkage provides the dynamic advantages of an independent, multi-link layout without any of the traditional design penalties: added mass, greater complexity and inefficient packaging. Because the Watts link counters the side forces exerted against one wheel in a corner with an equal force on the opposite wheel, there is none of the bouncy, wheel-cocking associated with just a torsion bar. SteeringFor petite female drivers, the steering column features a 30 mm reach and 25 mm rake adjustment range that enables every driver to find the most comfortable steering wheel position.The power steering is electric, not hydraulic, which helps reduce fuel consumption and enable a few refinements like Smooth Road Shake (SRS) compensation. This helps reduce any steering wheel vibration which may be caused by a road wheel imbalance. A feature I do not like in the Astra is the Drift Pull Compensation (DPC), which automatically corrects any pull or drift tendency to keep the vehicle steering straight ahead. At speed, this sudden pull in the wheel takes a lot of getting used to, as do all other forms of lane departure assist in other models.EnginesOf the three turbo-charged engines to choose from, us coastal types need look no further than the all-aluminium 1-litre turbo.Drivers in the Highveld may be better served by the 1,4 turbo, while the 1,6 turbo Ecotec engine is almost overkill. The little one-litre has three cylinders that generate 77 kW at 4 500 rpm and 170 Nm from 1 800 rpm. A five-speed manual gearbox requires a lot of gear changes up the passes, or just cruising in second in the city. Opel claims a fuel consumption of just 4,3 litres/100 km and a top speed of 200 km/h. Knowing how the Department of Transport can pull up all the details past and present of a car from the average speed cameras on the N3, I chose to try and match the consumption, rather than the speed, and managed to equal this claim of 23 km per litre of petrol. The new 1,4 litre is not as effortlessly efficient when fitted to the automatic gearbox, but it delivers 110 kW at 5 000 and 230 Nm from 2 000 to 4 000 rpm for the manual and 245 Nm in the automatic, making for effortless city driving. Opel claims a zero to 100 km/h run in 8,5 seconds, and trying to get a run in under 10 seconds added to my poor consumption in the 1,4. For countrywide cruising, the 1,6 litre turbo’s 147 kW and 280 Nm with over-boost to 300 Nm will be hard to beat, but the power comes at the price of 6,1 litres per 100 km, when the more frugal one-litre goes up the same hills for less, and under the legal speeds indicated by the latest generation Opel Eye front camera. The Opel EyeThe Opel Eye does not miss a speed sign and constantly displays the current speed limit next to the speedometer. Like luxury cars that cost R100 000 or more, the Astras also come with Lane Departure Warning (LDW) with Lane Keep Assist (LKA); Following Distance Indication (FDI); Forward Collision Alert (FCA) with Low Speed Collision Mitigation Braking (LSCMB). The IntelliLux LED Matrix system is optional on the 1,6, and works like the lights on the Mercedes-Benz E-class where different diodes are switched off for the time it takes a cyclist or car to pass in order not to dazzle other road users. The Astra also has Forward Collision Alert that will warn if a vehicle directly ahead is approaching too quickly from speeds over 80 km/h. The system is an alert only and does not apply brakes. After the drive, advanced park assist and a rear view camera makes parking a doddle and the new generation Advanced Park Assist identifies suitable parking spaces and automatically parks the vehicle, without the driver touching the wheel. The driver just controls acceleration, deceleration and gear shifting.Connecting phonesTo connect, the new Astra features phone projection technology through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto using Opel’s next-generation R4.0 IntelliLink infotainment system, linking the touch screen in the centre console to your smartphone.