Receiving an invite to a track day is met with various levels of excitement. These excitement levels increase when the track in question is the world famous, and recently upgraded Kyalami Grand Prix circuit.
The car I’d be driving is Opel’s latest Astra; not in OPC guise (that doesn’t exist yet), but in the slightly more sensible sounding Astra 1.4T ecoFLEX Automatic. While at first glance you wouldn’t immediately take this car for a track animal, it does handle itself well when grabbed by the scruff of its neck.
Pitching the Astra 1.4T into Kyalami’s first corner, Crowthorne, you’ll find that the Astra has an un-hot-hatch-like softness to it. Despite the softness, the Astra’s balance is superb, and the grip feels almost endless. It allows you to link together corners at an alarming rate, something that feels improbable in some of its rivals; an ability missing in a lot of today’s hotter hatches.
The new Astra sits on rapid-response dampers, which don’t work very hard on Kyalami’s recently re-tarred surface, but which cope well on our local pothole ridden roads.
Overall, the car’s handling sits in that sweet spot between comfort and performance, a trait many of this cars rivals fail to achieve.
Sitting in the engine bay of this Astra 1.4T is Opel’s all-new 1399cc turbocharged ecoFLEX engine. Power comes out at 110kW and 245Nm, the latter a 15Nm increase over the manual variant. Power delivery hits its peak at between 5000 and 5600 r/min and max torque is available from 2000 r/min all the way through to 4000 r/min.
You definitely won’t be winning any robot to robot scuffles, but it is enough to get you in front of that guy chilling in the fast lane, and enough to get those kids to school on time.
On track, power delivery is smooth and constant all the way to redline, and despite only having 110kw, it gathers speed quick enough to make things interesting. It feels as if there is less turbo-lag than in the bigger 1.6T, and flat spots in the rev range are almost non-existent.
Although the shot of torque from this new 1.4T feels impressive, it doesn’t necessarily translate into quick 0-100 km/h times, no doubt due to the gearing. 0-100 km/h is dealt with in a mild 8.9 seconds and you’ll find yourself running out of steam at 210 km/h.
Helping you get that power to the road is a 6-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are comfortably smooth and relatively quick but for the sake of fun, a manual transmission would be welcomed with open arms. Out on the circuit, this auto box is hesitant to let you go anywhere near redline and even in manual mode, it feels the need to step in constantly. That being said I’m sure it would be sublime in Joburg rush hour traffic.
Out on Kyalami’s pristine tarmac and legendary twists and turns the Astra 1.4T ecoFLEX is an enjoyable car to drive. A car that combines driving involvement and comfort in a way that’ll make Golf and Focus drivers green with envy, a car that, despite being more at home on your daily school run, handles itself with well-mannered poise and the ability to put a smile on your face despite only generating a mere 110kw.
The Astra 1.4T was never designed as a track animal, but when pushed shows character traits usually found in much more expensive, and less comfortable hot hatches. Opel promised to upset the premium hatch market with this new Astra and they’ve definitely accomplished that. So if you’re in the market for a fun, well equipped, great handling hatch then the Astra is the one to buy. It’s no wonder the Astra is a 2017 SA COTY finalist!
Read our full road test on the Opel Astra 1.6T Sport+ HERE
Words and images by: Roarke Bouffe