Overall rating: 4/5
Opel launched the fourth-generation Astra in 2009 so now it's time for a refresh. At the same time a new four-door saloon variant is introduced, which seems ready made for the Irish market. This time around it's of just as high quality as the hatchback and also manages to bridge the gap to the Insignia.
In the Metal:
Looks are subjective, but to our eyes the Astra saloon isn't quite the 'mini Insignia' that Opel likes to say it is, though it really does depend where you're looking at it from. It's no different to the hatchback from the front, which means it benefits from the mild makeover that includes a restyled grille and bumper. The rear haunches and deck are unique and quite shapely. A subtle spoiler is integrated into the boot lid, which is in itself a little like the Insignia's. Our favourite view is the side profile, but the car looks best on large wheels - as is all too often the case.
There's little of note to report on from inside, as the driving environment is identical to the hatchback's and has not changed significantly - though buyers have more colours and trim materials to choose from. The new boot holds 460 litres (to the hatch's 370 litres) and of course split-fold seats are standard.
No shocks here either, as the saloon shares the hatchback's wheelbase and underpinnings, including the MacPherson strut front and compound crank/Watt's link rear suspension. It's a good all-rounder with great composure and stability at high speed, coupled with decent comfort and even decent agility and adequate steering feedback when the road turns twisty. The Focus saloon may be more enjoyable on an interesting route, but there really isn't much in it, and the Astra produces less road and wind noise.
However, the 1.7-litre CDTi diesel engine is loud - much louder than we'd like. Still, in 130hp guise it pulls lustily in all situations. The six-speed manual transmission is a perfectly good companion to this unit.
What you get for your Money:
Opel Ireland is still arm-wrestling with the manufacturer on pricing, but we suspect that the saloon will be about €500 more than the five-door hatchback. That would make the Astra saloon fractionally cheaper than the Ford Focus four-door and considerably lower priced than the Volkswagen Jetta - though a little more than the Toyota Corolla. Saying that, Toyota offers very limited options.
The Astra line-up will be a little less expansive than in the hatchback, but there's plenty of choice from a 95hp 1.3 CDTi diesel, to the 1.7-litre tested in 110- and 130hp tunes, a 140hp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol unit, a non-turbo 1.4 with 100hp and an automatic-only 1.6-litre petrol engine producing 115hp.
Though the specifications have not yet been announced, it's possible that Opel will not offer all the trim levels in four-door format. Buyers of the hatchback currently choose from S, SC, SRi, SE and Elite.
A host of new technology has been added to the Astra options list. Many of the new safety systems use the latest generation 'Opel Eye' front camera, including lane departure warning, 'traffic sign assistant', following distance indication and forward collision alert. Radar-based adaptive cruise control is on the way as well, with 'collision imminent braking' integrated.
One option fitted to all the test cars was the FlexRide chassis, allowing the driver to select from standard, Tour (i.e. comfort) and Sport modes, seemingly altering throttle response, power steering assistance and damping. If you enjoy driving it's well worth having.
Opel reckons that the Astra segment takes 34% of new car sales in Ireland - and that four-door saloons are the biggest sellers. Against that backdrop you'd expect that the new Astra saloon can't fail. First impressions suggest that it compares favourably with the class leaders in offering good quality, fuss-free family transport.