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Opel Astra - SA launch 2004

Broadcast 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 orange lenses.

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 2005.

Immediately apparent is the new crispness to the Astra and this applies to all models in range, including the entry-level 1.6 model.

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 engine internals.

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 price level.

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 swaying.

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 themselves.

The first demonstration was done with the system switched off to show how unstable the car could become in a simple lane change situation.

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 speed.

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 pass.

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, 1 796 cc
  • Power: 92 kW @ 5 600 rpm
  • Torque: 170 Nm @ 3 800 rpm
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel-drive
  • 0-100 km/h: 10,8 seconds
  • Top speed: 198 km/h
  • Fuel consumption: 7,8 litres/100 km (claimed)
  • Price: R193 720

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