Good: looks like a range-topper, sweet chassis
Not so good: cabin feels dated already
We are often guilty of judging books by their covers - especially in the automotive world. I'm not going to lie, when I first looked through the spec of this Astra SRi I was fully preparing myself for an underwhelming experience. On paper, it could be argued, that I would have been somewhat justified in this prejudice. It looks very much like a conventional Astra with a sporty body kit. Thankfully, there's a little more to it than that.
The aesthetics are absolutely spot on really; the sportier treatment given to the front and rear ends doesn't try to be over the top but it's enough to arouse a second glance from those who appreciate a tasteful looking car. Completing the image are the optional alloy wheels, which look far smarter than the standard split spoke wheels and cost a reasonable €595 extra, money well spent we think.
Inside it gets a little less interesting; mainly due to the array of buttons that cover the centre console. Opel has been moving away from this layout in models like the Insignia and Adam, but so far, the Astra hasn't been updated. Moving on from that, the cabin is not too bad, feeling solid and well put together, while the quality of the plastics and other materials used throughout are better than similar offerings from the likes of Renault or Toyota.
The specification is pretty reasonable in this SRi model too: satellite navigation via a seven-inch screen, sportier seats, air conditioning and a nicely sized leather-clad multifunction steering wheel are all standard. There are other little touches, such as chrome window surrounds, that contribute, to the well-balanced look too.
Then we come to the potential elephant in the room - the engine. Opel hasn't always had the most enviable of reputations when it comes to refined diesel engines. That is changing and since late 2014 the German firm has been replacing it range of diesel engines with more efficient and refined units. At first glance, the mere 110hp output from this ecoFLEX four-cylinder engine might not pique much interest, but the more important figure here is the 300Nm of torque that it produces.
Turn the key and you'll know you're driving a diesel but there's less of a din than expected. The gear selector doesn't have an overly mechanical feel to it and first gear is long enough to be of use. Peak torque comes in at a slightly high 2,000rpm, but once it does, the sweetness of this engine starts to shine through. Its power band arrives subtly, something that goes some way to making you think the engine has more horsepower than it actually does.
One other key aspect of this Astra SRi is the chassis. I'm not talking Renaultsport Cup Chassis stuff here, but for what is a fairly middle of the road car, its chassis genuinely feels lovely. On winding roads, it develops a good sense of flow to it and it gives enough communication back through the steering wheel to be of use to the keener driver. Crucially, it isn't overly sprung either; yes it soaks up most of what is thrown at it but it doesn't roll in the corners - nor does it attempt to rattle out your fillings. Even with some spirited driving, that diesel engine barely seems to increase its fuel consumption either.
It really does just boil down to that now dated looking interior that blots the Astra SRi's otherwise clean copybook. When you consider that Opel has this specification of car pitched at €23,995 before you start ticking boxes (not that you'll need to tick a lot), many will choose to see past the cabin's aesthetics faster than I could.
Normally when we refer to a car as 'nice' it can be seen as some kind of veiled insult, but in this case it is the very definition of the word - giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive. The Astra SRi, as an overall package, is one that deserves a closer look beyond the headline figures.