The Opel Astra has long been regarded as one of those safe bets when it comes to buying a hatchback. Having sold more 14 million of them (between the Astra and its former Kadett moniker), Opel isn't inclined to mess with its formula. New engines and improved automatic transmissions boost its performance and lower emissions for the 2020 model year.
In the Metal:
You will need to be something of an Opel Astra aficionado to spot the exterior changes to this mildly facelifted version. To give you a head start there is a new grille that carries the wing design seen on other models like the Insignia. This chrome accent continues into the headlight, becoming part of its design. Minor styling changes to the lower section of the front bumper give a slightly more sporting look with additional chrome strips spanning the fog light area. If the chrome isn't to your taste, Opel will also offer a high gloss black pack instead.
Behind that grille and bumper is where the Astra's greater efficiency begins. Ventilation shutters for the radiators can close when not required, reducing the car's aerodynamic drag and allowing it to pass through the air more cleanly. They also help retain engine heat to improve start-up and reduce pollutants. With these shutters closed the reduction in drag in this area can apparently reduce CO2 emissions by 2g/km. Additionally, a new underbody cover for the engine and transmission, in conjunction with a larger heat shield on the fuel tank and aero-optimised control arms on the rear suspension, contributes to improving airflow underneath the car significantly. As an owner, you're unlikely ever to see it bar climbing underneath, but you might see its benefits in the frequency of trips to the fuel pump.
Opel has also thrown some new exterior colours at the Astra, which look smart. But up against some of the C-segment hatchback competition, its design may be just too conservative for buyers who prefer to make more of a visual statement with their car. The interior has received several changes, though they're all so minor it still appears mostly the same. Like the exterior, the cabin of the Astra won't dazzle you with head-turning contemporary design, though it does all seem well put together.
A new partly digital instrument cluster uses an eight-inch display. It's an improvement on its predecessor, though with an increasing number of rivals starting to offer fully digital instrument displays, the Astra does feel a bit left behind in this regard. It's not all bad though, as beneath the updated infotainment system is a bank of physical buttons. Yes, actual buttons for controlling things like cabin temperature, all within easy reach and intuitive to use without looking away from the road.
We're willing to forgive Opel for making so few visual changes to the Astra as it now gets an entire range of new engines. Every single one is new, and there are just as many changes on the transmission side of things, too. The five-speed manual gearbox of old is gone, replaced by six-speed manuals. The larger capacity 1.4-litre petrol engine driven here comes exclusively with a new 'stepless' automatic transmission, which Opel has developed and builds in-house.
It refers to it as stepless rather than CVT, due to the often-negative feedback such transmissions tend to receive. However, that is not the case here. It simulates seven gear ratios and, unlike many CVT units, it doesn't have the engine revving its head off with seemingly zero correlation to forward momentum in the process. Its performance is much more like a conventional automatic transmission's and proves exceptionally smooth when you're at a crawl in slow traffic. Other than a minor bump when you reapply the throttle following a short period of coasting, the stepless automatic is an excellent addition to the range. The engine itself has plenty of power for a car of this size and is both smooth and refined in how it performs. Part of that is down to the addition of a balance shaft within the engine to help cancel out vibrations.
Mechanical updates for the Opel Astra don't stop there. The suspension has come in for a total overhaul, with bushes, dampers and springs all coming in for renewal in favour of better-performing items. These are all designed to improve how it rides bumps and handles in the bends. We had already rated the Astra quite highly in this regard, and the improvements build on this resulting in what is still one of the sweetest hatchbacks to drive. It compares favourably with one of the best all-rounders in the segment, the Volkswagen Golf.
What you get for your Money:
As the updated Opel Astra is not due to arrive in Ireland before January 2020, the full range pricing has yet to be confirmed. However, it is expected to have a starting price of approximately €24,000 when it goes on sale. Opel is unlikely to adjust the existing range offering that comprises SC, SRi, Elite and Ultimate trim lines. The cars will get a slight bump in equipment, though, with items like LED headlights becoming standard across the range, as part of its push to enhance efficiency.
It may not be the most exciting car to look at from a design perspective, but the Opel Astra remains one of the very best to drive. This updated version also makes impressive gains in terms of fuel economy and emissions. Between its more economical engines and the solid build quality throughout the interior, the Opel Astra makes for a smart buy in this competitive segment.