Overall rating: 4/5
The Opel Astra is an all-new model that not only looks significantly better inside and out, but now benefits from the company's latest CDTi diesel engine, which offers performance, efficiency and refinement.
In the metal 4/5
Even though the exterior of the new Opel Astra carries little over from its predecessor, the first sight of the Opel badge leaves you in no question that this is the German car maker's new Astra model. Proportionally the car looks much more athletic, even in its less sporty 'SC' trim.
Physically the car is now 49mm shorter and 25mm lower than before and in total some 200kg has been removed from the overall weight of the car. Despite this, the interior cabin space has actually been increased with driver headroom growing by 22mm and rear passenger legroom expanded by 35mm. With the car now sitting lower some people may find the reduced seat height a touch more difficult when getting into the car, though generous door apertures do help.
Inside is an all-new look and fresh approach to cabin design that is much more appealing to look at. Gone is the cluttered centre console of the previous generation and in its place, on SC-specification, is a seven-inch colour touchscreen that reduces button count and helps give the new Astra a more upmarket feel. Models above this trim grade get a slightly larger eight-inch touchscreen system, so choosing the cheaper SC grade won't feel like you're missing out on a lot of equipment.
Driving it 4/5
Even though Opel has equipped the new Astra with a very impressive 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol engine it is likely that the 1.6-litre CDTi diesel tested here will make up the bulk of sales in the Irish market. In the case of this latest 'whisper diesel' engine it represents an understandably compelling choice given its 110hp and useful 300Nm of torque. It's worth pointing out that there will also be a more powerful 136hp version of this engine available but for the majority of buyers this 110hp engine will prove more than adequate for the daily drive.
Should you decide to exercise most or all of the horsepower and performance on offer from the 1.6-litre DCTI engine you may be surprised by just how well setup the chassis is and the respective handling characteristics. That chunk of weight that has been engineered out of the car is noticeable, especially when driving through more free flowing sections of road. The steering is crisp and precise, if a little lacking in direct levels of feedback, even so there is almost no scope of criticism. The range-topping 'Elite' model comes equipped with 17-inch wheels as standard and although the ride is far from harsh, the 16-inch wheels offered on the 'SC' specification will provide that little bit more comfort from the thicker sidewalls without detracting from the overall appearance.
The new version of the 1.6-litre CDTi engine delivers its peak torque of 300Nm from 1,750rpm providing plenty of pulling power both around town and when overtaking on motorways. The number of occasions requiring a drop down in gear when making progress are seldom and even under load the four-cylinder engine remains quiet and smooth. With a judicious use of the throttle and carefully chosen gear changes, achieving Opel's claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 3.6 litres/100km is reasonably attainable. Even falling short of that, the diesel engine still offers very good levels of fuel economy while also keeping its emissions levels low resulting in affordable motor tax rates.
What you get for your money 4/5
Opel Ireland offers a total of four different specification grades for the new Opel Astra, starting with the entry-level 'S' version that will be priced from €21,995 with the 1.6-litre CDTi engine. Standard equipment at this level includes Bluetooth with audio streaming, USB and Aux-in ports, air conditioning, remote central locking, hill start assists and LED daytime running lights. Moving up to 'SC' grade, which adds the new seven-inch IntelliLink touchscreen infotainment system, multifunction steering wheel and 16-inch alloy wheels, will cost an additional €1,500 but this is really the minimum trim grade to consider when purchasing.
The sportier looking 'SRi' grade is priced from €25,495. For this the equipment levels grow to include 17-inch twin spoke alloy wheels although these will see fuel consumption increase slightly, by 0.1 litres/100km to be exact, and CO2 emissions also go up a few grams but not enough to impact on tax banding. Other equipment at this level include lane departure warning with lane assist, traffic sign recognition, a following distance indicator that highlights, in terms of seconds, the distance from the car in front. It also has forward collision alert with autonomous emergency braking, front fog lights, sports seats, rain sensitive wipers, automatic headlights and Opel's OnStar system.
The range-topping 'Elite' model is priced from €26,995 and over the 'SRi' specification buyers gain a leather interior with heated front and rear seats and an upgraded six-speaker audio system.
Any reservations as to the refinement of a diesel-engined family hatchback the Astra will do much to dispel. This new Opel Astra is set to be a surefire hit with Irish buyers and after driving it, it's clear to see why.