When the current Opel Astra landed here in 2009 it seemed like the closest thing to the evergreen Volkswagen Golf. Much has changed in the segment since then. Its direct rival received a total revamp and newer offerings have joined the fray with a determination to dethrone the perennial favourites.
In response to this Opel has focussed on diversifying the Astra portfolio with new derivatives, like the OPC and a sleek sedan variant. Their bread-and-butter hatchback iteration received minor sprucing too. But is that enough to keep it on par with its peers?
Familiarity breeds contempt they say. The Opel Astra is a pretty looker but its ubiquity means most do not notice or care. This updated model boasts subtle enhancements – not like much was broken with its predecessor anyway.
The front sports a new grille with a single chrome tier running across it. The headlamp and foglight clusters were also rejigged. New alloy wheel designs are part of the mix and the rear is largely the same, save for some new jewelry on the lower part of the bumper.
Our test unit wore a shade of white, affording it a degree of camouflage. This is the ideal chariot for a celebrity seeking anonymity. There are more striking shades on the colour chart which do a better job of accentuating the Astra’s lines and shape.
That adjective seems to take plenty of flak. But the feeling this scribe got hopping into the Astra was one of inoffensive niceness. On the traffic crawl to and from work and during freeway stints the cabin soothes.
We still like the wide chairs and the fairly simplistic layout, with sizable buttons and intuitive dials. Everything is where you would expect it to be. Most surfaces are good to touch – the plusher finishes are reserved for the places your hands often encounter. While the scratchy stuff is relegated to the lower sections of the fascia and door panels.
And you get everything you need. The 1.4 Turbo Essentia model on test here has cruise control, climate control, satellite audio controls on the steering wheel, which is clad in leather. All passengers get electric windows too.
When we tested the “old” model we slapped plaudits on the way it moved. The Astra remains one of the more engaging family-orientated hatchbacks out there. But the current generation Golf is undoubtedly more accomplished with its newer underpinnings.
Its force-fed four-cylinder source of power is a sweet point. And thankfully General Motors is using it across the board these days, on models like the Chevrolet Cruze and Sonic. The balance between punch and economy is superb. A gentle boost is spat out when the turbocharger does its thing. And the Astra has no struggle overtaking on the freeway.
The only thing marring the overall experience is a rubbery six-speed gearbox, which also showed some reticence on quick first to second upshifts. We enjoyed the Astra the most on the open road, with the cruise control set to 120km/h in the middle lane. It is an adept mile-muncher.
The next best thing
At R254 700 there is no doubting the Astra’s verity as a true value offering. It is priced in the same league as the Hyundai i30 1.6 Premium (R254 900), Ford Focus 1.6 Trend (R243 700) and Mazda3 1.6 Dynamic (R247 100). The Astra has an air of dynamism on its side and of course the Opel badge, which has a semi-premium image.
But its biggest threat comes from the Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Trendline which will cost a mere R11 600 more. And that won’t affect your repayments drastically. But if you want to save a really small amount of change, the Astra is the next best choice. Interestingly though, Opel charges the same amount for the more substantial sedan variant: and that would be our choice.
The Technical Stuff:
Model: 2014 Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Essentia
Price: R254 700
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power and Torque: 103kW and 200Nm
Fuel Consumption: 6.5l/100km (Achieved)
Test Mileage: 450 kilometres
Praises: Good standard kit, subtle but smart styling, well-built, Opel image.
Gripes: Rubbery shifts, Golf makes it seem a tad dated.