The camaraderie among hot hatchback owners is heartwarming. And although one sometimes sees drivers from different motoring brands jibing each other; I like to think it’s all in good spirit. They’re united by the same thing: a love for fast, compact cars that can give bigger brutes a run for their cash but are still easily in the realm of ownership.
In the week we spent with the Opel Astra OPC we caught many cheerful smiles, thumbs-up affirmations and questions aplenty. Interest came from drivers of this machine’s rivals. Even Volkswagen Golf GTI owners – a fiercely loyal bunch – gave kudos to our bright yellow tester.
Hitting the city
This wasn’t our first outing with the mightiest model in the Astra range. Shortly after its launch last year, we had a 1090-kilometre stint with the OPC. Our travels took us to Welkom, on a mission to exploit its abilities at the famed Phakisa Freeway circuit.
It was a day well spent and the Opel relished being chucked around exuberantly despite the hot weather. Sweet points included the effectiveness of its limited-slip differential, doing a good job to quell the waywardness that marred its predecessor. As well as its thrilling noise and planted feel. Of course, in its natural habitat, the Astra excelled. This time around we sought to see how it fared in real-world conditions.
Naughty and niche
One thing is unequivocal: the styling of the Astra is right on point. We still feel that it’s the meanest-looking machine in its class. With its streamlined shape, abundance of ducts, fat alloy wheels and aggressive accoutrements it seems as though it was spawned by something evil.
That loud yellow hue might not appeal to all tastes; but it does a stellar job of accentuating the sharp design cues endowed upon it. Parked alongside rivals like the Volkswagen Golf R, Audi S3 and BMW M135i the Opel is undoubtedly the most exciting to look at. And like an eager child in a candy store it would be the one you want to grab first.
Raring to race
Overall it feels destined to offer many hours of mirth in an unbridled environment like a racetrack. The OPC is properly engaging; the driver feels fully immersed in the entire process. That three-spoke steering wheel demands a little extra bicep effort, but it imparts a feeling of precision on the twisty stuff.
Its firm suspension and chunky wheels do little good for ride comfort. Our sentiment is still the same as it was when we initially tested it: the Astra can be a pain in the backside. Over our hole-ridden roads and bump-festooned shopping malls, it jars and makes one painfully aware of any winter flab they might be carrying. On a flat and vacant section of road, its planted cornering nature almost fosters some forgiveness for the discomfort on the daily commute.
There are some gripes General Motors desperately needs to sort out. First is the transmission; which mars what is otherwise an authentic tool for the serious driving enthusiast. Shifting cogs is a clunky affair and things simply don’t engage as fluidly as they do in, say, a Megane RenaultSport RB8 or even the manual BMW M135i. Hard shifts from first to second reveals a tendency to grate. Which is not only unnerving, but is also likely to bruise your ego.
Although it boasts a bunch of standard niceties; the cabin is beginning to look dated and doesn’t seem worthy of a car costing nearly R500 000. Compared to the digital systems employed in rivals, that button-loaded fascia seems old and user-unfriendly. Those racy leather-clad seats with its hugging lateral bolsters are fairly comfortable over average daily distances. And it exudes that typical sense of Opel solidity.
We’ll be frank. At R480 400 you’ll have to be a serious OPC fanatic to opt for the charms of this Opel.
There are many alternatives out there that are better-rounded; for similar money you can hop into the usual array from BMW, Audi or Volkswagen. But arguably, none have as much heritage as this – with its Superboss progenitor proudly etched in South Africa’s motoring books of recognition.
The potent Astra will inevitably become a sought-after future classic; given its exclusivity and heaps of charisma. We hope though that they sort out the gearbox on the next one.
The Technical Stuff:
Model: 2014 Opel Astra OPC
Price: R480 400
Engine: Two-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Power and Torque: 206kW and 400Nm
Fuel Consumption: 12l/100km
Test Mileage: 600 kilometres
Praises: Stunning looks, exciting performance, charismatic and exclusive.
Gripes: That transmission, priced close to serious German players with more badge appeal, interior starting to feel dated.