Opel Astra Coupe

Opel is not renowned for making the best coupes in the world, otherwise, more people would have known Opel GT and Manta. You may remember the Calibra of 1989, probably because of its beauty or its record-breaking drag coefficient, but never because of its chassis. The Calibra was built on the Cavalier (sedan, if you have forgotten) with little development. Although it could be ordered in turbocharged form, with no fewer than 204 horsepower running through the part-time 4-wheel-drive system, and a top speed of 150 mph, plus the ability to reach 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds, handling was still its biggest weakness. Therefore, while it won the top spot of European coupe sales chart, it won few hearts from car lovers. 

But the Astra coupe is another matter. As the badge reveals, it is based on the compact and rigid Astra platform, which is already renowned for remarkable handling. Moreover, like the Astra, the coupe was thoroughly tested and tuned by Lotus Engineering, mainly stiffened the suspensions’ springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and revised rubber bushings, without altering the basic suspension layout of front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam, nor there is any change in wheelbase or track width.  

The coupe is built in Turin by coachbuilder Bertone, which was also responsible for the Calibra and the old Astra Cabriolet. However, instead of Bertone, the styling was the work of Opel’s in-house studio, no wonder it lacks the beauty of Calibra. Is it ugly? for a coupe, I really think it is. Basically, it looks just like an Astra sedan with only 2 doors and a fastback. The all-important nose is especially dull - look at that family-resemblance grille ! it is the dullest I have ever seen in a coupe. Even the headlights are not very attractive, although they wrap around corners fashionably. Aerodynamic drag, however, is a remarkable 0.28, although still trails its predecessor by 2 points. 

What it lacks in beauty is compensated by the chassis. The coupe body is very rigid, thanks to the lack of rear doors and the strengthening in various locations, such as a cross member added to bulkhead, stiffer suspension turrets and strengthened sills. The result is a torsional rigidity 20% higher than the hatchback. 

Astra coupe has three choice of engines. Number one is a turbocharged 2-litre 16V developing (just) 190 horsepower and 184 lbft of torque. It was a development from the old Calibra turbo. Number 3 is the existing 1.8-litre Ecotec with 115 hp and 125 lbft. Sandwich between them and also expected to take the majority of sales is an all-new, all-alloy 2.2-litre 16V which has appeared in Saturn LS as GM’s global engine. It produces 147 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 150 lbft at 4,000 rpm, obviously more torquey than the 2-litre engine using by Astra SRi and even the special edition OPC. Inevitably, the long stroke unit incorporates a pair of counter-rotating balancer shafts to dampen the inherent vibration.  

Unlike Saturn LS, the Astra coupe has the 2.2-litre engine installed and mounted quite well, hence spins smoothly right from idle. Press the throttle pedal, it revs eagerly all the way to mid-rev, then becomes really strong, accompany with crisp exhaust note. Despite of tall gearing which benefit high speed cruising, the torquey engine is highly flexible at low speed acceleration. Opel claims it can sprint from zero to 60 in 8.5 seconds, roughly equals to the 100 kg lighter SRi hatchback, but in reality it always feels more accelerative. 

Now come the strongest aspect of the coupe - handling. Benefited from the stiffer suspension setup and stronger chassis, not only body control is improved, but the electro-hydraulic steering also deliver quicker response and greater feedback. Nevertheless, it’s not in the league of Celica or Nissan Silvia in terms of feel and responsiveness, especially the 3.2-turns lock to lock is too modest for a coupe. Initial turn-in isn't very sharp. 

Ride demonstrates how the Astra coupe satisfying the requirements for excitement as well as comfort. It’s stiffer than the hatchback, but still absorb bumps well on a variety of surfaces, no matter in town, on back roads or highway. Then you’ll find the six-spokes alloy wheels wearing 205/50R16 tyres grip hard on the ground. Flick the shifter results in a slick and precise downshift that never experienced in any Astra other than OPC. Going too fast? press the brake pedal and discover a strong yet consistent braking. This kind of fluency in twisty road matches the best GTi and makes Ford Cougar feels bulky. On the other hand, the Astra coupe cruises in autobahn as stable as any well sorted German big guns.  

Like the exterior styling, the cabin looks cheap as well as dull. Opel didn’t invest much money into the packaging of cabin, just added optional leather seats and some trivial add-on, such as white-faced gauges with aluminium rims, a fake alloy instrument panel which looks more plasticky than metallic. A screen for trip computer recessed in an odd-looking plastic housing. All plastics are of very poor grade, no better is fit and finish. In contrast, space is not scarce of, especially considering it’s based on the Astra. The fastback and short wheelbase take little space out of the rear seats, thus enable 2 average size adults travelling in the rear with decent comfort. Although not as roomy as Peugeot 406 Coupe, it is a true 4-seater. 

As a conclusion, the Astra coupe is both fun to drive and practical to use. The biggest problem is poor packaging. Most people buy coupes for handsome appearance, or even a bit sense of occasion. In this respect, the Astra coupe may fall into the GTI category instead of Coupe, just like the late Rover 220 Coupe. 

The above report was last updated on 5 Apr 2000. All Rights Reserved.

Astra Coupe Turbo

Top of the range Astra Coupe is powered by a turbocharged 2.0 engine. It is based on the long-existing 2.0 Ecotec (now phased out in Astra) which pumps out 136 hp. A compact turbocharger, whose housing merges with exhaust manifold, raises power to 192 hp accompany with 184 lbft of torque peaking at a wide band from 1950 to 5300 rpm. Just like the weak power figure suggest, the turbo is small and the engine is unstressed, hence there is just minimum trace of turbo lag and it delivers linear and smooth power all the way to 6000 rpm. A refined but unexciting turbo. 

While many Japanese 2-litre turbo engines achieve 280 hp (yet some of them are already voluntary limited), the Astra Coupe Turbo trails them by a massive, unforgivable 90 hp. Even its spiritual predecessor, Calibra Turbo, produced 204 hp a decade ago. So what did Opel learn during this period ? when comes to performance, the company claimed 152 mph top speed which is political correct for a turbo but obviously too optimistic considering the combination of power and drag - Autocar measured just 144 mph. 0-60 mph is yet another disappointment - 7.2 seconds, even slower than the normally-aspirated Celica GTS. However, in reality the car always feels quicker than the Celica thanks to the abundance of flexible torque. It is especially quick in in-gear and mid-range acceleration.  

Let’s face it: the Astra Turbo will never be as fire-breathing or as exciting as Fiat Coupe Turbo 20V or Nissan Silvia Turbo. Instead, it is a refined autobahn cruiser with 4-adults accommodation. If you push it into corners, its front wheels will be upset by torque steer, understeer and lifeless steering. It’s a shame that its chassis is overwhelmed by power. Compare with the 2.2 version, it is installed with stiffer springs and dampers, dropped ride height by 20 mm and added 10 mm to both tracks. Brake discs are also enlarged to match the increase of power, accompany with 17-inch wheels. However, the basic front-wheel-drive transmission and MacPherson strut front suspensions are unaltered. Moreover, unlike the 2.2 version its iron-block turbo engine makes the car nose heavy, worsening steering feel, understeer and chassis balance. Besides, suspension setup is still bias towards comfort rather than body control, a thing understandable for the slower and user-friendly 2.2 but unforgivable for the Turbo. 

The above report was last updated on 24 Mar 2001. All Rights Reserved.


Astra Coupe 2.2
Astra Coupe Turbo
Front-engined, Fwd.
Front-engined, Fwd.
L / W / H / WB: 4267 / 1709 / 1390 / 2606 mm
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, 
balancer shafts.
Inline-4, dohc, 4v/cyl, turbo.
2198 c.c.
1998 c.c.
147 hp
192 hp
150 lbft
184 lbft
F: strut / R: torsion beam
205/50 R16
215/40 ZR17
1283 kg
1345 kg
Top speed
134 mph*
144 mph*
0-60 mph
8.3 sec*
7.2 sec*
0-100 mph
22.0 sec*
18.3 sec*
* Tested by Autocar

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