Astra - SA launch 2004
dates : 24th October 2004
28th October 2004
|The new Opel Astra is like
a breath of fresh air from a company that had seemed to
have lost its way.
Those that had remained faithful to the Opel marque since
the glory days of Superboss motorsport success in the late
1980s and early 1980s had become accustomed to Opels
enjoying improved build quality but rather indifferent
styling and dynamics.
In the styling stakes, the new Astra is a winner. It has
distinctive edgy looks with strong frontal features and an
even more dramatic rear view.
The chrome embellishment across the lower tailgate adds
distinction and there is admirable cohesiveness to the
rear light cluster design and bumper.
One criticism of the rear end was the opaque rear
indicator lenses, which seem to be a concession to style
rather than function, as they are not as visible as bright
A shift from high performance to
low fuel emissions was good for the environment but resulted in
rather so-so performance from many engines in the Opel range.
Now the Boss is back, or at least in spirit throughout the
range. Our feature car for the recent range launch in Cape Town
was the Astra 1.8 Sport, which sells for R193 720.
At the moment it is the top model in the range, although at the
launch there were a few of the potent 2.0 Turbo models on hand
for journalists to sample. This model will be available early in
Immediately apparent is the new crispness to the Astra and this
applies to all models in range, including the entry-level 1.6
The engine is strong on torque at low revs but shows a
willingness to rev cleanly to the 6 500 rev red-line. And it
does so with admirable refinement thanks to a re-design of many
The 1,8-litre engine develops 92 kiloWatts at 5 600 rpm and 170
Newton metres of torque at 3 800 rpm. It’s a nice even spread
of power coupled to a pleasantly vocal exhaust note and fuel
economy and emissions are also claimed to be impressive.
There wasn’t to much time to tests these aspects, as the press
contingent arrived at Killarney race track outside Cape Town to
put the Astra through its paces.
The Astra range is fitted with a sophisticated package of
electronic driver aids that sets new standards in cars of this
These are grouped under a term coined by Opel management as IDS,
or Interactive Driving System.
They include skid control devices which brake individual wheels
to sort out understeer and oversteer as well as traction control
and a special trailer-assist function which stabilises trailer
And in the top 2.0 Turbo model due here next year there is also
active damping control which works in conjunction with the skid
and traction control, automatically stiffening the damping to
the relevant wheels when the car approaches a loss of adhesion.
This system is known as IDS-Plus
To illustrate the systems workings first hand Opel had famous
racing drivers on hand such as Deon Joubert and Philip Kekana to
demonstrate systems before the journo’s took to the track
The first demonstration was done with the system switched off to
show how unstable the car could become in a simple lane change
With IDS in operation, the new Astra could be taken through the
full lane change manoeuvre with ease.
Also part of the IDS system is Brake Assist. This detects when a
driver suddenly slams on the brakes and then automatically
applies maximum braking pressure without locking up the wheels.
Tests have shown that in an emergency the average driver would
apply the brakes hard initially and then back off on the brake
pedal to well below the maxim pressure. The system can mean the
difference between avoiding an object and hitting it at some
Differences between the various models in the range are not
vast. The 1,6-litre base model is distinguished by having
different wheels and black strips on the bumpers.
On the top 1,8-litre Sport and the still-to-be-released Turbo,
the bumpers are colour-coded and the cars are fitted with
17-inch alloy wheels, the Turbo having a slightly different
wheel design to the Sport.
The launch route took the new Opels through the Swartland region
of the Western Cape up towards the mountainous passes in Ceres.
Then it was back to Stellenbosch over the old Du Toit’s Kloof
Weather was generally rainy throughout and the traction control
was a comforting factor under these conditions, as were the
other components of the IDS system.
All in all, it was thumbs up for the new Opel Astra range. On
initial sampling at least, it‘s a worthy challenger to the
likes of Volkswagen Golf, Toyota’s RunX and some of the new
French offerings in the hatchback class.
Opel Astra 1.8 Sport
Engine: Four cylinder, 1
Power: 92 kW @ 5 600 rpm
Torque: 170 Nm @ 3 800 rpm
0-100 km/h: 10,8 seconds
Top speed: 198 km/h
Fuel consumption: 7,8
litres/100 km (claimed)
Price: R193 720
Car Torque is