Imagine the scenario. I’m lost on a sinuous section of the R26 somewhere outside Oudtshoorn. The air-conditioner is blowing hard to quell the arid daytime heat.
And the sound is offering respite from the awkward silence that ensues, when you find that you’ve made a directional mistake, in the presence of an Opel product manager.
Luckily Chris Cradock, being the laid-back fellow that he is saw the silver lining. At least I’d get more time to experience the new Astra Sedan, he said jokingly. It’s something he might have regretted uttering: a 650-kilometre trip via George, to Cape Town followed.
More junk in the trunk
Usually when a car that began life as a hatchback is moulded into a sedan, the results aren’t pretty.
Think Mazda 2 sedan, Ford Fiesta sedan, Fiat Linea, or even the booted Chevrolet Sonic. The opposite is true for something else from General Motors’ stable: the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback.
Things could have turned awry, but the lengthier Astra is undoubtedly easy on the eye from the rear angles. It looks like it should’ve been a saloon from the start. The boot section merges smoothly with the rest of the car. It doesn’t look like an afterthought.
Goes with grace
In hatchback format the Opel Astra is already a venerable handler. It can hold its own against the competition.
The extra length gives it the persona of a gentle, breezy cruiser over the more agile and nippy character of its smaller sibling.
The ride is compliant and supple; it wasn’t upset by the rippled and pocked road surfaces of the R26 even at fine-worthy speeds. There’s also an assuring fluidity about the way it tackles successions of twists.
We drove the top-tier 1.6-litre turbocharged derivative, good for 132kW and 230Nm. There’s ample kick for exuberant take-offs and the six-speed transmission didn’t demand much stirring to keep up the pace over elevations.
Also on offer is the 1.4-litre turbocharged mill (103kW and 200Nm), which you can have with an automatic gearbox. A normally aspirated 1.6-litre engine (85kW and 155Nm) serves as the entry-point into the sedan range.
You’ll pay R239 900 for the 1.6 Essentia, while the 1.4 T Essentia goes for R250 900. Add R10 400 if you want that with an automatic gearbox.
The range-topping 1.6 T Cosmo goes for R284 500; reasonable when you look at all the stuff you get.
It’s got full leather upholstery – even the doors are clad in leather, offering a really premium feel. There’s Bluetooth, satellite steering wheel controls, a good audio system, classy alloys on the outside, electric windows for all, heated front seats and rear parking sensors.
The lessor models have all these essentials too; but go without niceties like leather, heating for the driver and passenger’s buttocks and shiny exterior bits.
Included in the price is a five-year/120 000-kilometre warranty and five-year/90 000-kilometre service plan.
Right tool for revival
At the launch we heard about General Motors’ plans to breathe life into the Opel brand locally. For a while, the line-up was thin but models like this Astra sedan look set to bolster the marque’s reputation and welfare in South Africa.
Looks are subjective – but there’s certainly an air of grace and athleticism that the Astra has over blander counterparts like the Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla. That it drives superbly adds to its appeal.
And performance-hungry buyers could be in luck too. While nothing is confirmed at the moment, Opel executives did say that an OPC version would be looked into. So their tone might have been playful, but remember that many a true word is spoken in jest.