For many years, big bang theorists and evolutionary believers have pondered and searched to find “the missing link”. Well for Opel, they’ve found it, or created it rather. It’s the Opel Astra sedan, back for the first time in nearly a decade! For a while, Opel were lulled into the European theme of hatchbacks, but South Africa felt neglected – after all, the Opel Astra Euro series sedans are some of the most popular old cars on our roads. But Opel has triumphantly stepped back into the saloon game without missing a beat, almost as if they’d never been gone.
The styling of the Astra Sedan looks as if it was moulded as the starting point for the Astra – the sleek roofline moulding into the boot in one fluid motion. Possibly the most attractive C-segment sedan available on the market, our test car was made up to look even better with a sexy red paintjob – everyone knows a car looks better in red. Inside, the design is much the same as the Astra hatchback, right down to the centre console radio which is in dire need of an upgrade. The boot is massive, boasting 370-litres of space that reaches beyond the depths of the outward appearance. There is a subconscious air of class about the sedan though, even when driving, you feel classier. Could the Astra have matured just a little?
The 1.4 Turbo Essentia model I was driving was the automatic. It featured the same 103kW, 200Nm 1.4-litre mill as the Astra hatchback we tested earlier in the year, but the 6-speed automatic gearbox replaced the stick-shift of the hatch. The drive, much like the hatch was smooth and refined. Comfort levels were excellent, but feedback through the suspension was always there to let you know where you are on the road. The longer Astra feels more secure on the road than its hatchback counterpart, again a little more mature with the addition of the boot.
The steering feel is well weighted, although at times feels a little distant and out of touch with the surface below. Feedback is excellent though, and the turn-in is direct, with a meaty feel to it, further adding to the classy appeal. There is the traditional turbo-lag we have come to expect from the Opel 1.4T, but after 3000 RPM the engine comes alive and seems to stretch its legs. Higher speeds feel better than sub-100km/h bouts, as the engine breathes better and becomes more agile and reactive to throttle inputs.
The automatic gearbox, something new to the Opel range, is a bit tricky though. Up-shifts are smooth and fairly quick, yet the down-shifts take a little time to process themselves. It also has a tendency to run into the rev limiter at full tilt, rather than changing beforehand, hindering smooth performance. At 40-60km/h, the gearbox has an indecisive nature and is constantly swapping gears at the slightest feather-light touch of the throttle, something which peeved me to no end in the daily highway traffic block-ups I encountered. I found it better to enable manual mode at these lower speeds, which was much more responsive than allowing the Astra to think for itself, and allowed quicker down-shifts without too much pre-emption on my part. It would be fair to say the Astra 1.4T Essentia automatic is better in manual mode than in auto mode, and indeed better than the manual version of the same spec car. The auto ‘box hinders good fuel consumption over the manual, and as such we were only able to yield consumption figures of 7.6l/100km.
I found most of my time in the Astra being used to manually work the gear lever – performance testing in particular and although not as engaging as a manual, the classy nature of the sedan and the prompt manual shifts were delightful. The longer sedan sits well on the road, offering more stability than the hatch. It is still prone to the nose-dipping antics of the hatch, followed by safety-orientated understeer, but is far more prone to recovering well and cornering with a smoother feel, more business-like in its approach. The grunty engine offers great power delivery in the upper echelons of the rev range, with predictable throttle response, enabling you to pinpoint exactly how much power you want and when you want it. It feels like a driver-based car, maintaining the fun-factor of the hatchback that we loved so much. Toe-ing the brakes yields prompt weight shift forwards, and often results in some oversteer around corners.
The 1.4T Essentia model, although the bottom spec of the turbo models, sits in the middle of the pricing range for the Astra Sedan, with the automatic model we tested pricing in at R261 300. The equipment list isn’t massive, but features halogen headlamps, front and rear fog lamps, daytime running lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels with 215/50 profile rubber, cruise control, steering mounted radio controls, air conditioning, electric front windows, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and a CD/Radio with auxiliary connector. The radio system is dated, probably the biggest clue to the age of the Astra design, and desperately needs an update, possibly a touch screen, but at least Bluetooth audio.
The Astra Sedan is a crucial model in the product line up for Opel, and promises great things for the years to come. It offers the fun factor of the Opel hatch we’ve come to know and love, but offers maturity, and class, with the ability to comfortably look after a family thanks to the added boot space. The Astra has not only been re-booted, but the Astra has matured. This is the Opel Astra all grown up, and we quite like it that way.
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103kW @ 4900RPM
200Nm @ 1850-4900RPM
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Author: Roger Biermann
Photography: Roger Biermann