Opel Astra

To be honest, before reading road test report about the new Opel Astra, I did not have any expectation on its handling. You know, since the last generation Vectra, we saw too many good-looking but bad-chassis Opels - Calibra, Corsa, Vectra and Tigra. Only the rear-wheel drive Omega can break this mould.  

However, General Motors finally understood that European requires good handling to match with other practicality concern, so it employed Lotus Engineering to fine-tune the new Astra. It is said that GME's top executives decided to hire Lotus after driving the final prototype with disappointment. As a result, Astra was delayed for 6 months.  

Nevertheless, these 6 months is worthy. Lotus has done a great job to transform the Astra into a very dynamical car. Benefited by the stiffest chassis in its class until now, and a stiffer suspension setup, Astra rolls very little in corner, and it always feel strong and secure to push hard. In some way it feels even more driver-biased than the superb Peugeot 306, partially because of slightly harder ride, partially because of less body roll, and also because of the stiffer chassis. Ride is quite effective for shock absorption, though not as supple as the French car. Steering has rich feel, just next to 306. NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) suppression is extremely good due to the sub-frame mounting for front suspensions.  

Astra still uses the full range of 16 valves engines that appeared early this decade. (They were also developed by Lotus) 1.2 litres 64hp, 1.4 litres 89hp, 1.6 litres 99hp, 1.8 litres 113hp and 2.0 litres 134hp are all carried over without change. Anyway, compare with other European rivals, these so-called "Ecotec" engines are still above average. They love to rev, and quite smoothly. Accompany with the 0.29 Cd, no wonder even the 1.4 version can hit 111mph and takes only 10.3 sec for 0-60mph acceleration. No more could be expected.  

Inside the cabin, you will find a mixture of sweet and bitter. Sweet is the near class-leading (on a par with Citroen Xsara and Alfa 146) space. Bitter is the poor finishing that uses plastic and textile with the quality standard of the 80's. This is the decisive reason I still pick Volkswagen Golf as my choice.  

It seems that GM always lack of resources to develop a complete good car. When it concentrated on packaging, it sacrificed dynamic. When it worked hard on dynamic, packaging was ignored. 

The above report was last updated in 1998. All Rights Reserved.

Astra OPC

Remember Astra OPC? 3 years ago I wrote about the original Astra OPC here. It was based on the current Astra, with a 2-litre 16-valve engine tuned to deliver 160 horsepower. Better still was its sharper and sportier chassis, tuned by Lotus, helped it to match the mighty Peugeot 306GTI. The negative side? Opel produced just a limited run of 3,000 cars and then we never heard the car again. 

Last year, Opel's UK arm Vauxhall made an even hotter Astra, the SRi Turbo. It seek power from the contemporary 192hp 2-litre turbo engine, boosting performance to higher level. It was the forerunner of the new OPC we are talking now. 

Having read about the SRi Turbo, you can understand the Astra OPC Mk2 easily. The OPC differs from SRi Turbo in just minor details. Firstly, its 2-litre turbo engine has been upgraded to 200hp just like other Opel models. That doesn't make big difference to the performance of the car, as the maximum torque of 184 lbft remains unchanged and is still delivered from as low as 1950rpm to as high as 5600rpm. As a result, OPC Mk2 still offers strong overtaking ability and mid-range acceleration. It could sprint from standstill to 60mph in 6.6 seconds, faster than most other hot hatches in the same price range. But it still suffers from the same criticism as before, namely, throttle response not as crisp as Honda VTEC's, engine noise is uninspiring and its power tail off quickly beyond 5600rpm. This is a well-manner and effective turbo engine, but it is uninspiring to the driver.  

With so much torque at any rev, you can avoid using the poor, sticky 5-speed gearbox much. In the suspension department, ride height at the front end is lowered by 20mm while all round setting is slightly stiffer than the SRi. Body control is fine. Ride is never harsh. The same 17-inch 215-section tyres generate strong grip. Accompany with traction control, the OPC Mk2 is almost fool proof. There is no torque steer, despite 200 horsepower running under the front wheels.  

Perhaps its road manner is too refined to please day-to-day running, it lacks the thrill that Civic Type R or Mini Cooper S can give you. Its steering is relatively slow and uninspiring. Its engine and gearbox never encourage you to use them to 100%. Its styling is much the same as the original OPC, fine then, outdated now. In the viewpoint of driving enthusiasts, we can even say the original OPC was better, thanks to its lighter nose and sharper response from its normally aspirated engine.  

The new Astra OPC is a mass production model offering the whole Europe with unlimited supply. However, if it were possible, I would have liked Opel to bring back the Mk1 instead. 

The above report was last updated on 1 Mar 2003. All Rights Reserved.

Astra 2.2 SRi

The not-so-hot 2.0 SRi has been replaced by 2.2 SRi which is powered by GM's global 2.2-litre aluminium engine already used in Astra Coupe. With 147 smooth horsepower and strong mid-range torque, it brings a sub-8-second performance (for 0-60) to match the previous limited edition OPC. In terms of drivability, it is even superior to the peaky OPC. In terms of chassis, there is no difference from the 2.0 SRi but that is already a capable chassis always asking for more power - now the 2.2 is the answer. However, it would be even better if a 2.2 OPC is developed in the future. 
The above report was last updated on 23 Mar 2001. All Rights Reserved.


Astra 1.8 CDX Saloon
Astra 2.2 SRi
Astra OPC
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd.
Front-engined, Fwd
Size (L / W / H / WB) mm
4250 / 1710 / 1430 / 2610
4111 / 1710 / 1430 / 2610
4110 / 1710 / 1425 / 2610
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl,
balancer shafts.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl,
1796 c.c.
2198 c.c.
1998 c.c.
113 hp
147 hp
200 hp
125 lbft
150 lbft
184 lbft
F: strut / R: torsion beam
215/40 ZR17
1200 kg
1210 kg
1250 kg
Top speed
122 mph*
133 mph (claimed)
138 mph*
0-60 mph
9.6 sec*
7.8 sec (est)
6.6 sec*
0-100 mph
28.7 sec*
17.3 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

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