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The Astra with extras
IF anyone is surprised at how the new Opel Astra has morphed from a commonplace compact into a sleek hatchback, he or she only has to thank the Volkswagen Golf for the dramatic transformation.
The Golf is the benchmark in Europe's compact hatch segment and to take it on, the 11th-generation of this compact Opel model has stepped up to the plate by shedding its dumpy design and raising its overall refinement level.
It seems to have worked too. The Astra was crowned 2016 European Car of the Year.
What is interesting in an era where new models keep growing in size, the new 4.37-metre-long Astra is actually 49 mm shorter with its wheelbase cut by 23 mm to 2,662 mm compared with its immediate predecessor.
But Opel claims that while the car has shrunk, the cabin has expanded. Plus the redesigned, soft-touch dashboard and door panels have made the interior more upmarket.
The new car is also lighter, weighing in at just 1,233 kg, or a whopping 222 kg less than the previous model. Depending on the company you keep, that's roughly equivalent to three men or five supermodels.
The impressive weight loss was collectively achieved with a new engine, body in white, chassis, electronics, transmission and even the seat structures. And the goal of maximising interior space while minimising size and weight? To optimise handling and agility, of course, and it shows.
The new Astra is a sharper drive, with the steering, suspension and engine combining fluidly to make it a more responsive experience than before. This is enhanced by the improved 60:40 front/rear weight distribution.
The suspension set-up still uses MacPherson struts in front and a rear torsion beam but the latter now has an anti-roll bar to match the one in front.
The new four-cylinder 1.4 Ecotec Direct Injection Turbo engine's aluminium engine block not only allows it to shed 10 kg from the old cast-iron block but it is also more powerful - maximum power is up eight hp and torque is 35 Nm more. Fuel efficiency is up but carbon dioxide emissions are down at 127 g/km from 157 before.
It still drives the front wheels with the same six-speed automatic transmission. There are no steering wheel-mounted shift paddles but the gear lever can be slotted to the side for manual changes.
But perhaps the most attractive aspect of the new Astra 1.4 is its attractive price given the high level of standard equipment.
In addition to Apple CarPlay and the usual keyless entry and ignition, cruise control and dual-zone aircon, the Astra 1.4 gets useful safety features - Traffic Sign Memory, Lane Keep Assist, Forward Collision Alert, Autonomous Emergency Braking and Side Blind Spot Alert.
For example, Traffic Sign Memory flashes the prevailing speed limit in the multi-function display, while Lane Keep Assist uses the electric power steering to gently tug the Astra back if it drifts across the lane markings. Forward Collision Warning signals if there is an obstacle ahead with a pop-up icon in the instrument cluster, and if the danger level escalates, sounds a warning beep and flashes a red light off the windscreen.
So can it out-accelerate the VW Golf up the sales stakes? Only time will tell. But it certainly is in a better position to now.
Opel Astra 1.4
Engine: 1,399 cc turbocharged
Gearbox: 6-speed automatic transmission
Max power: 148 hp @ 5,000-5,600 rpm
Max torque: 245 Nm @ 2,000- 4,000 rpm
0-100 kmh: 9.0 secs
Top speed: 210 kmh
CO2 emissions: 127 g/km
Average OMV: S$20,500
Price: S$114,888 (with COE)
Distributor: Auto Germany