THE ICONIC ASTRA HAS AN 80-YEAR HISTORY GOING BACK TO THE OPEL KADETT
As Holden NZ revamps its line-up with vehicles from Europe, one of the first all-new cars here will be the Astra hatchback.
On sale in Europe this month, the car lands in New Zealand late next year.
Holden production will cease in Australia in 2017, and the company has announced it will introduce 24 new models over the next five years, the bulk from its European arm, Opel.
Already we have the Insignia large sedan and the performance Astra VXR but now it’s time for more “formerly known as Opel” products to make it to our shores. The Astra hatchback will come here in two engine variants — a 1.4-litre direct injection turbo with 114kW of power and 240Nm of torque or a 1.6-litre (146kW/300Nm).
The new Astra has “gone to the gym”.
Holden NZ managing director Kristian Aquilina is excited about the hatch.
“The all-new Astra is a stunning vehicle, and will play an important role in Holden’s New Zealand lineup,” he said.
“Not only does it represent a very attractive option for our small-car customers, it is the lead act in Holden’s exciting future.
“Kiwis will love this car, and our local tuning efforts mean Astra will be right at home on Kiwi roads.”
The Astra is an iconic product for Opel — technically, the hatchback is 80 years old.
The first “Astra” was the Opel Kadett, launched in 1936. The German hatchback was rebadged Astra in 1991 with 24 million sold.
Last year 230,000 Astras were sold in Europe but Opel knew the popular hatchback needed revitalising for a new market and a more demanding customer.
Asian brands were making big headway into what the industry calls “the C-segment” with the likes of Mazda3, Honda Civic, Hyundai i30 and Toyota’s Corolla. BMW’s 1 Series, VW’s Golf and the Peugeot 308 are popular European vehicles in this category.
Officially revealed at the recent Frankfurt motor show by General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the Astra’s first media drives took place from Austria a few days later. The press briefing highlighted how the product had “gone to the gym”.
In some cases the Astra dropped up to 200kg off the previous model due in part to the use of high-strength, low-weight steels and a shorter car. The all-new Astra is 50mm shorter and 25mm lower. Rear legroom is improved by 35mm and the driver has 22mm more headroom.
Ergonomic seats will probably be an option in New Zealand. So are heated front and rear seats. There’s a massaging driver’s seat, but expect complaints from your front passenger about not having that option.
In Europe the car has Opel OnStar connectivity and service assistance you can call from inside your vehicle.
The Opel has wi-fi available in the car with seven devices connected and Intellilink to use Apple CarPlay in the car.
It also gains Opel Eye, a front camera with traffic sign assist (detecting the speed and displaying it in your dash), lane keep assist and forward collision alert — both functions found in such competitors in NZ as the Mazda3 and Ford Focus.
A commendable gloating point for Opel is matrix lighting — the Astra is first non-premium hatch to have it. The lights work tremendously as demonstrated during a night drive out of Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, to a modern private art gallery, Danubiana, 20km away.
If you keep the lights on full beam, they automatically deactivate some of the LED headlights so the car coming towards you doesn’t get the full glare. They also pick up road signs and illuminate so much that it’s like 10 spotlights hitting the sign.
The matrix lights also illuminate more of the side of the road than normal lights — ideal for roads with little to no lighting.
The car gets a new family of powertrains including a 1-litre petrol, our 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrols, and a 1.6-litre diesel.
The international launch fleet was paired with a five- or six-speed manual transmission; Kiwis will get the six-speed auto.
From Vienna airport, we crossed the Austrian border into Slovakia and took in a famous Carpathian mountain drive to highlight the car’s suspension and ride.
Heading out first in the 1.4-litre, I alternated between 130km/h autobahn speeds, 90km limits on county roads and down to 30km/h in villages.
Along the winding road there were continual works, plenty of potholes and long stretches where the tarmac was dug up. That gave the Astra’s chassis a workout — though it is a given that the car will be calibrated for our roads at GM Holden’s proving ground in Victoria.
I was impressed with the car’s tight steering and short turning circle, making it great for city driving. Before taking in the Penzinska Baba pass, I changed into the 1.6-litre. Increased power and torque showed it was a star of the lineup. It powered ahead on the autobahn, leaving behind a colleague in the 1.4-litre.
The hatchback performed in Europe but there’s a question mark whether admirable features such as Onstar and matrix headlights will be available here. Among the competitors in NZ, BMW has ConnectedDrive with a Philippines-based concierge, which offers similar service, while Ford’s Sync2 can set your climate and find a location on your satnav.