End of an era for the General Motors Opel Astra

The Opel Astra, if you include the nameplate’s use by sister brand Vauxhall for the Kadett in the UK, has been around since 1979 and despite the obvious changes with each passing generation, one element that remained constant was that all were conceived under the ownership of General Motors (GM).

With the sale of both brands to the PSA Group 12 months ago, though, what the current generation Astra represents is the end of an era or, in terms of its name derived from the Greek word ‘astron’, meaning stars, the shooting star for GM-built models as future derivatives will use hardware from its new French parent company.

For its final encore then, Opel South Africa’s distributor, Unitrans Motors, announced a number of small revisions some two months ago to the now four-year old Astra. They included the culling of four models, leaving the exact same number within the local line-up and replacing the flagship Sport Plus with the enticing sounding Sport OPC-Line.

Much like the limited edition Corsa 120Y, it takes a keen eye to differentiate the OPC-Line from the Plus, which made for something of a disappointment when taking into account the immediate differences between non-and R-Line enhanced models of the Astra’s old adversary, the Volkswagen Golf.

While the rather bland white paint finish our test unit arrived in didn’t improve matters much, the inclusion of the subtly updated bumpers, side skirts, chrome detailing and sporty 18-inch alloy wheels does, at least, build on the slick profile the Astra has become known for.

The blacked-out C-pillar and tapering bonnet line result in what is still one the most striking and eye-catching offerings in this segment, though the latter rates as somewhat of a Catch 22 which will be explained later.

Inside, the OPC-infused touches consist of alloy pedals, a new leather-wrapped, flat-bottom heated multi-function steering wheel, a piano-key black strip underneath the infotainment display and a metal-effect finish around the gear lever.

As small as these changes are, the interior still feels expensive, despite the Astra’s age offering soft-touch materials and a distinct premium feel. That being said, while the leather, heated sport seats are both comfortable and supportive in addition to having electric side bolstering, the Intellilink system displayed on the aforementioned eight-inch display can be somewhat finicky to use, in spite of boasting satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

This foible aside, the OPC-Line continues where the Plus left off in that it comes with a feature-rich list of standard equipment, which includes the impressive Matrix IntelliLux headlights with auto-levelling adaptive LEDs and undoubtedly the most welcoming piece of tech for rear passengers, heated chairs.

Speaking of the rear, head and legroom is commendable, while the boot is capacious and can swallow 370-litres or 1 210-litres with the split rear bench folded down. An area also carried over from the Plus is the OPC-Line’s clutch of safety systems that includes Forward Collision Alert, Blind Spot Assist and Lane Departure Warning.

Whereas the transformation from Plus to OPC-Line has been relatively small aesthetically, the biggest change comes in the drivetrain department where Opel has replaced the six-speed manual gearbox with a six-speed automatic.

Paired to the existing 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that makes 147kW/280Nm, the box surprised with its smooth shifts and making the most of the engine’s available punch, which quelled inherent fears of the Astra having lost some of its appeal now that it does without a third pedal.

The engine itself, meanwhile, doesn’t disappoint and pulls relatively strong in everyday mode. As before, a Sport mode is provided, which improves throttle response and sharpens up the steering, though the lack of gear shift paddles came as a bit of a disappointment.

Equipped with torque vectoring, the OPC-Line’s dynamic prowess was clear in that the ride struck the ideal balance between comfortable and sporty, while the steering offered decent feedback without feeling too light.

As for fuel consumption, the week-long stint and 451km netted a best of 8.1l/100km, well off of Opel’s rather optimistic 6.1l/100km claim, but acceptable given the amount of twist available.

Sadly, though, the Astra has fallen too far away from the alternative to the Golf it once was, which, when combined with the nonsensical R508 000 price tag, means it will continue to rate as an eye-catching, left-field choice that delivers well on most fronts, but ultimately not enough to warrant more attention. Pity.

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