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Opel Astra

Broadcast dates : 22nd August 2004
26th August 2004

Razor Ėedged. Thatís the new face that the Opel Astra will be showing to South Africa when it arrives here sometime in October.

And what a change it will be from the two previous generations of Opelís family-sized hatchback.

The new car has shed its mid-life tweedy approach, and as Opel says, Astra is now all about "taut surfaces, crisp lines, technically-crafted details and distinctive graphic elements."

When you work your way past the jargon, the car has a wide-stance, a front view with a touch of aggro and a taller roofline that slopes towards the rear.

Large air intakes, clear lens light covers with projector-type lamps and distinct wheel arch flares give the car a real hint of purpose.

And from the side view, the kicked-back rear-window pillar, or C-pillar, is traditional Opel.

The overall look is clean and crisp, although Opel couldnít resist going big on the bright metal treatment - on the grille, and on trim defining a styling line between the two tail lamps.

The new car is wider, longer and taller than the out-going model and it has been selling well since its European introduction in March this year. And itís likely to create a big buzz here amongst Opel fans too.

In Europe the new Astra is available with a total of five petrol and three diesel engines. But initially the car will be launched here in petrol versions.

The engine range is still to be confirmed, but itís likely to consist of a 1,6-litre, 1,8-litre and a two-litre line-up, all being transversely-mounted four-cylinder units.

This last-mentioned engine is turbocharged. Car Torque was lucky enough to sample the new Astra in Europe a few months ago and we can confirm that the new two-litre engine is an absolute gem.

It has a zesty power delivery and crisp exhaust note reminiscent of the Opel performance models that gained the car such a cult following in the 1980s.

Rated at 125 kiloWatts, it produces its power low down in the rev range, with its torque peak of 250 Newton metres delivered between just under 2000 and 4000 rpm.

Performance claimed for then two-litre is zero to 100 in 8,9 seconds, a top speed of 217 km/h and an overall fuel consumption of 9,1 litres/100 km.

In fact there is an even more potent version in Europe, using the OPC 147 kilowatt engine that runs to 232 km/h with a 7,9 second 0-100 time.

Transmissions are likely to be five-speed manual for the 1,6-litre and 1,8-litre models, and a six-speed manual for the two-litre turbo. All models will, as usual, be front-wheel-drive.

The increase in size has brought real benefits to the cabin of the Astra. Shoulder room in the front and rear has been increased, as well as rear legroom. And despite the sloping roofline rear headroom is also more generous.

Opel has opted for a conservative but clean interior design with very few gimmicks. The contrasting dashboard colours are tasteful, plastics used are probably of the highest quality Opel has offered so far, and the centre console features large easy-to-use controls.

Overseas models are offered with an optional navigation system which is not likely to be available here on the initial launch models, but the steering wheel will include remote controls for audio and trip information.

Opel has been achieving very high rigidity ratings in its recent body designs and the Astra is no exception.

This has benefits in a superior ride and also in the all-important field of safety.

Compared with the previous Astra, Opel claim an increase in flex resistance of 52 per cent with the new model. And at the steering wheel mounting point, vibration has been cut by 34 per cent.

Much use has been made of aluminum and high-strength steel in the new car. This has had benefits in crash protection too.

In a frontal crash, the impact energy is absorbed along three load paths designed into the structure. In the upper path, the energy is diverted from the front through the wheel strut mountings to the windscreen, or "A" pillars.

The central load path makes use of side members which extend all the way to the "B" pillars and the side sills.

And the third load path consists of the very strong suspension sub-frame, bolstered by strong triangular fillets. This dissipates energy further back into the underbody of the car.

A similar system is sued for rear impacts, the energy being dissipated along channels, or load paths formed in the body construction.

As for side impacts, the "B" or central door pillars are made of high-strength steel, while special reinforcement has also been added to the doors, the seat cross-members on the floorpan, and the central tunnel.

At the front, aluminum cross members are used, bolted to crash boxes made of high-strength steel, and similar treatment is given to the rear of the car.

Large volume front airbags are used, as well as side airbags and roof airbags. These bags extend through the length of the cabin on both sides.

Like many manufacturers, Opel also has a severity system in place for airbag deployment, so that only the appropriate airbags are deployed in various types of impacts.

There is also occupancy detection for airbags, and ISOFIX child seat mountings.

In addition, active head restraints are provided for all five passengers. In the event of a rear-end shunt, these move forward slightly to minimize the risk of whiplash.

And for the driver, a pedal release system releases pressure on the pedals in the event of a severe impact, minimizing leg injury.

But itís in the ride and driving characteristics that perhaps the biggest advance has been made on the new Astra.

The rigid body shell has enabled good suspension geometry to be used which minimizes body roll but does not impact on ride comfort.

The overseas models also offer Opelís new Continuous Damping Control, systems of this type previously having only been offered on high-powered luxury and sports cars.

This system uses solenoid valves to control the dampers, or shock absorbers, to continuously adjust the ride characteristics to the road surface.

There is also a sporty system called IDS PLUS, standing for Interactive Driving System.

Using this, the driver can switch to a firmer, sportier setting, and there is also an Understeer Control Logic function which automatically closes the throttle and if needed brakes one or both front wheels alternatively.

When traction is regained on the outside front wheel, brake pressure is reduced on this wheel and increased on the inner rear wheel until the car is back on course.

An idea that will gain favour in South Africa is a trailer stability programme. This system monitors trailer yawing, or swaying. If a certain limit is reached, the car is automatically slowed as the throttle is closed and the brakes applied, until the swaying ceases.

Itís not known how many of these systems will be introduced on the new Astra, but quite apart from the all the options, itís the smoothness of the controls, the good feedback through the electro-hydraulic power steering and the crisp exhaust note that is going to impress.

And the styling. Once again there is an Opel with a very clear-cut identity and that has been missing for a long time now.

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