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The first impression
The Opel Astra range has a long and rich history; it began in 1991 when it replaced the Opel Kadett that dates back to pre WWII. South African roads have seen all four generations of the Astra, with 2009 being the international launch year for the current generation, but 2010 being the local date of release. It is arguably the best looking Astra and subjectively the best looking car in its class, the sedan certainly, from my personal perspective anyway.
The first generation’s flagship model was the 200iS. It quickly became a cult car and the desire of many yuppies. In its day it out performed its rival, the VW GTI. The success of that car lead on to the second and third generations, though improved over the cars they replaced, the brand lost its cult status. Being knocked off its pedestal was probably due to an onslaught of highly competent rivals and the fact that the Astra had lost some of its charismatic character.
I am happy to report that the character is back. More specifically, in its range topping OPC model. 2013 saw the introduction of this Olympic ready athlete, which boasts a whopping 206kW of power and an elephant shoving 400N.m of torque. To put this into context, it’s the most powerful front wheel drive car in its class, topped only by Mercedes-Benz’s A45 all-wheel drive AMG, though it’s about R125K more expensive, leaving you with enough change to buy a Hyundai i10 if you opted to purchase an OPC over the AMG.
The OPC has been designed for enthusiastic drivers, those who see driving as a way to express their inner racing champion, letting their alter egos reign. They’ve watched the Fast & Furious series several times; they dice from robot to robot and relish the opportunity to show a GTI its arse.
On the road
Looking at the OPC from any angle you notice its overtly pronounced sexual presence. Its angular shape is aggressive with a pronounced triangular look that points forward, with purpose. Much like a swim suit model scantily clad and sculpturally perfected. Proportions are exaggerated to enhance its prowess, much like the swim suit model.
Driving in the traffic yields stares from admiring motorists. In fact, the OPC insights repetitive behaviour from other drivers - initially a glace to notice, followed by a glare to ogle. Those driving competitive hot hatches appeared nervous, like someone who just noticed a shark swimming next to their boat – cautious.
Once on the go, the OPC immediately feels like a sports car. It is firm, solid and responsive. Its massive Recaro sport seats make you feel like a baseball in the firm grip of a baseball player’s mitt. Savouring this experience, elicits an exciting dynamic that causes your emotions to pendulate between being mischievous and responsible.
Darting forward in either of the car’s character/driver modes – Normal, Sport and OPC, ignites a marvellous swooshing sound from the OPC’s double exhausts. It sounds like a jet before take-off, which is bloody marvellous, though the actual engine is rather muted. The OPC in Normal mode offers a fairly comfortable ride for daily commuting, but once either the Sport or OPC modes are engaged, it’s like a cat that’s spotted its prey. Muscles tense, claws retract and adrenaline begins to flow. Excitement aside, comfort goes out the window and your spin plays Morse code with the seat.
Let it run and feedback through the steering wheel is accurate, no need for an interpreter; you understand everything that is happening under those front wheels.
It can be a wild child when compared to some of its competitors, but that’s its charm really. Fitted with large ventilated Brembo breaks, when you need to bring the red needle down from lofty speeds, these breaks do an outstanding job of landing this rocket.
The cabin is a black leather clad cockpit; far too many buttons illuminate the cabin with a sexy racy glow of red. Funnily enough the cabin never felt claustrophic but rather spacious, in the front or rear. The boot is a tad shallow but fairly deep for a hot hatch.
What I liked
What I wasn’t mad about
The extra stuff
The Astra OPC is covered by a 5 year/120 000km warranty with roadside assistance. Anti-corrosion warranty is valid for 5 years/unlimited km. A 5 year/90 000km Service Plan is included in the price of R482 400. It also scored a five star rating in the EuroNCAP crash test.
This is tough choice. We have five exhilarating drivers’ cars listed above. VW have two interesting cars on offer. The Golf R is technically the best car on offer; it is honed, polished and perfected. On the down side of all this brilliance, is its price. It like the saying goes, “You get what you pay for”. Even though the Golf R is fantastic, I believe a GTI is all the GOLF you would ever really need.
The Scirocco is based on the older Golf 6 and is now, in my opinion, showing its age.
The Ford ST3 offers exceptional value. In ST1 guise, offers even better value but lacks some of the niceties. It’s a car that I thoroughly enjoyed and feel is dynamically balanced for everyday use.
The Renault like the Opel is an aggressive boy racer’s vehicle. They are designed for the love of dicing and looking cool. The Renault is over R80 000 cheaper making it an attractive choice, albeit lacking some of the mechanical and technical advances that the OPC features, which obviously add to the OPC’s price.
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