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OPEL Astra Classic CD 1.6 16V

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OPEL Astra Classic CD 1.6 16VOdometer reading: 9km

Engine:
1598ccm fuel-injected inline 4 petrol,
72kW@6200rpm
142Nm@4000rpm
0-100km/h: 11.6 seconds
top speed: 193km/h

Welcome everyone, to our very first Opel review! It should have actually been a Corsa review, but once again I tricked myself into going for something more upmarket and expensive. As not to worsen the situation, I chose to drive the lowest-spec Astra I could find. It comes with a fuel-injected 1600 ECOTEC engine and a quite surprising number of standard features.

I must admit I always thought of Astras as being inferior to the likes of the VW Golf, until I got to drive an Astra a few years ago. The build quality and driving experience of the previous generation was very impressive, and somehow it seemed a worthy contender to the Golf III at the time. Having driven a few Golf and Jetta IV's already, I can safely say that the Astra does match most of the Golf criteria. Compare this car to a GolfIV 1.6 and the Golf might win your heart. Compare the initial prices and maintenance of the two, and I can forsee a change of mind. The Astra series is well assembled, properly engineered, reasonably cheap to maintain, and good value for money.

The white little Astra waiting for me didn't even have numberplates. It carried an advertisement for the 3 year motorplan on the front bumper and had garage plates in the front and rear windscreen. The interior still smelt new, and a turn of the key revealed a total milaege of 9. Yes, this car was nine kilometres old. Feeling very privaleged and a tad nervous, I carefully tried to manouvre out of the dealership. That careful tendency lead to the requirement of reverse gear, which didn't want to budge. Just as the salesperson came to assist, I realised that there was a special technique to it. Lift up the ring around the gearlever and engage. I also realised that it's for safety reasons, and although I don't approve of it, by the time I returned the car I had already gotten used to it.

Our "lovely" weather was getting the better of me again. Don't get me started on this plague of a season they call summer, but at least it prompted me to max out the Opel's aircon. Not even halfway around the block I was already cooler and had to turn it down again. That works well then, doesn't it?

The lunchtime traffic made for grindingly slow progress, but also allowed me to start playing with the creature comforts. This perticular model was fitted with very funky blue upholstery which positively lifted the aura of the car's cabin. Although the seats were well-contoured and very comfortable, the side and lumbar supports are a tad too soft. Perhaps these have more reinforcing in a higher spec model?

The steering wheel was also reach AND height adjustable, the driver's seat moves in all desired directions, so basically anybody can drive this car.
As for the controls and instruments, everything was clearly marked and I had no problems finding indicators, aircon, lights, and others. The instruments also came with electronic odometre and trip meter readouts, while the radio looked a bit odd without any form of display. In what seems to be an Opel tradition now, the radio displays all the vital info in the main digital display located in the centre of the dashboard. This display also gives time, date and outside temperature readings, as well as any error or warning messages from the car.

Safety is an important aspect of the car, and I was surprised to find speed-dependant, self-locking doors in this model - something which you only find in bigger, more expensive vehicles. As soon as you exceed a certain speed (say, 20km/h) ALL the doors lock. A perimeter alarm, immobiliser and auto-window-close locking mode all via the IR key make sure the Astra stays in your care. The front also featured dual airbags, while the doors are reinforced with side impact bars. The steering colomn is also engineered to collapse on impact and the pedals will move out of the footwell in the case of an accident. More safety features, anyone? The Astra comes with disc brakes all-round, and these feature 4 channel ABS when applied. Further more, EBD (electronic brake distribution) starts correcting and leveling out the car's projectory path under heavy braking, and the car will even audibly warn you of brake pad wear.

As I was still standing in traffic, I picked a radio station with good reception and youthful doef-doef music, pumped up the volume and was pleasantly surprised. Although the 1.6 CD only comes with 6 loudspeakers, the sound quality was crisp, clean and pretty well defined. I didn't want to torture the car's brand new system, so I never maxxed out anything and left the sound check at that.

Once I got going again, I turned off into a less busy road and managed to bring the revs up to 3500rpm in first and second. As can be expected of a 1600, the performance isn't rip-roaring, but it'll zip you through traffic quite comfortably, even with the aircon blasting away. High speed corners weren't part of my itiniary, but over a few uneven surfaces the Astra proved to be part of the blacktop. The salesperson later confirmed my belief that the Astra was a good long-distance traveller, and the Lotus-tuned suspension can only be advantageous in the cornering department. The previous generation Astra had already impressed me as a passenger, with its calm and unflustered nature at an indicated 180km/h, so I'll go out on a limb and believe that this generation will equal or better that feat. Speaking of speeds, although the 1600 mill may only have 72kW, it'll sprint up to 100km/h in just over 11 seconds and will only tire at a whisker short of 200km/h.
That's really not too shabby, considering that it's the entry model of the range.

You might have noticed that I didn't mention the steering, pedal and gearbox feel yet. Well, that's because they didn't give me any grief (except for reverse). The pedal movement was light and precise, as was the steering. A few bumps could be felt through the steering, the brakes were sharp, the clutch bites nicely across the pedal travel and the accelerator had no dead spots or surprises in store. Gears snick into place quickly and easily, and the engine pulled firmly from about 1400rpm onwards. Launching in second gear is possible, but not recommended. I never got to fifth, but I can confirm a nice torque band pulling you smoothly from 1500 to 3500rpm. Beyond that, YOU'RE SPEEDING!

I was running out of time though, and brought the Astra back to the dealership; having travelled just over 5km through the busy streets of Stellenbosch was a pleasurable and relaxing experience.

The seats could do with more (or harder) side/lumbar support, the 1600 is a little sluggish under 1400rpm with the aircon on (duh-huhhh...), and the reverse gear party trick isn't my favourite. Other than that, you'd be tremendously stupid not to check out the Astra at your local Opel Dealer PORT DELTA in Bird Street. The Astra offers good comfort, plenty safety, lots of toys and creature comforts at a reasonable price. Added to that, you get a 3 year or 100000 km motorplan, a 36 month anti-corrosion guarantee and roadside assistence as well.

For:
VALUE for money
Good standard safety & comfort features
Reputation & build quality
Ride and handling

Against:
Soft lumbar support
'Only' a 1600

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