Comparative Review: Opel Astra vs Volkswagen Golf 7

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The venerable Volkswagen Golf 7 is widely regarded as the best compact hatchback on the market thanks to its solid build quality and high levels of refinement. However, the recent arrival of the new Astra sees Opel taking the fight to Volkswagen's award-winner with a significantly improved product. Is the Volkswagen Golf 7 still the ruler of the roost or is the new Opel Astra the better car to buy? This comparative review will provide all the answers…

At a glance

 

Opel Astra 1.4T Sport Manual

VW Golf 7 1.4 TSI Comfortline Manual

Price (May 2016)

R354 000

R329 900

We Like:

Spacious cabin

Refinement

 

Willing engine

Quality interior

We Don’t Like:

Too many buttons on steering wheel

Options can be costly

What are we comparing?


The new Opel Astra is bigger than the Volkswagen Golf 7 and is arguably more stylish.  

The purpose of this comparison is to determine whether the 2016 European Car of the Year – the Opel Astra – eclipses the segment-leading Volkswagen Golf 7 with a particular focus on the level of specification offered. The vehicles on test here are the Opel Astra 1.4T Sport and Volkswagen Golf 7 1.4 TSI Comfortline (although the latter test unit was an automatic). Does the vastly improved Astra have the edge over its lauded competitor? Let’s find out...

Compare the Opel Astra 1.4T Sport with the Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline

How do they compare in terms of...

Performance & ride quality?


The Volkswagen Golf 7 is known for its solid build quality and exceptional refinement. 

Both cars in this comparative review are powered by 1.4-litre turbopetrol engines. The Golf's powerplant produces peak outputs of 92 kW and 200 Nm, while the Astra is more powerful with 110 kW and am extra 30 Nm of torque (230 N.m).

We took the Golf on a long-distance trip to the 2016 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb; the trip gave us an opportunity to thoroughly test the Volkswagen's capabilities on the road. The Golf has enough power on tap to execute swift overtaking manoeuvres and get a move on if required. It also happens to be an accomplished cruiser on the open road too. We found the Golf supremely comfortable to drive and the passengers were content with the level of occupant comfort. With its supple suspension, the Golf glides over imperfections in the road; it delivers a smooth, cosseting drive. Steering response is direct and predictable and the Golf is particularly good at maintaining its composure in sweeping corners, where the 1.4 TSI Comfortline holds its line with confidence. It’s not surprising then why the Golf is so highly regarded – it drives really well and displays a level of refinement that’s difficult to match.


The new Opel Astra is much improved over its predecessor and it's quite the looker. 

By contrast, the Opel Astra's performance is more than adequate. By virtue of offering more power and torque than the Golf, this new Astra feels more eager and the steering, which is also pleasingly direct, has a lighter feel to it too. The ride is a touch firmer compared with the Golf's and this is partly due to its larger, lower-profile 18-inch wheels (the Golf is shod with 16-inch alloys as standard). Nonetheless, the Astra's general ride quality is admirable given its sporty footwear: the suspension isn’t crashy or intrusive on rougher surfaces. Like the Golf, the Astra is more than capable in the twisties as it dives into corners with confidence and poise. The Astra is well-balanced and comfortable to drive, but its overall refinement doesn't quite match that of the Golf.

In terms of outright performance, we feel that the Astra has the edge over its Golf competitor. The Astra has a bit more grunt and it feels more willing than the Golf. However, the Golf still delivers marginally better ride quality and higher levels of refinement compared to the Astra, but not by a significant margin.

Fuel economy


The Volkswagen Golf 7 and Opel Astra are closely matched.

In the case of the Astra, Opel claims an average fuel consumption of 5.1 L/100 km for this manual 1.4T Sport (Automatic is 5.5 L/100 km) and it comes equipped with an automatic engine stop/start system fitted as standard. During its tenure, the Astra indicated a figure of around 7.9 L/100 km.

The DSG-equipped Golf test unit, on the other hand, came out on top in terms of fuel efficiency. It indicated an average of 6.5 L/100 km (Volkswagen claims 5.0 L/100 km for the automatic and 5.2 L/100 km for the manual version). Like the Astra, the Golf is also fitted with an engine stop/start system as standard.

Practicality

The Astra is bigger than the Golf in all dimensions and the Opel's marginally longer wheelbase translates into a particularly spacious cabin. Space for rear passengers in the Astra is generous with ample leg-, head- and shoulder room. The Golf is marginally tighter in this regard. In terms of boot space, the Golf has 380 litres of space and houses a full-sized spare wheel. In comparison, the Astra has the smaller boot (370 litres) with a space-saver spare wheel under the boot board. Both the Astra and the Golf feature a 60/40 split-folding rear bench that increases utility space to 1 210 litres and 1 270 litres respectively. Surprisingly, and despite the Golf's smaller dimensions, the numbers suggest that the Volkswagen would offer more space for transporting goods.


Despite its smaller dimensions, the Volkswagen Golf 7 offers marginally more space than the Opel Astra.

Both cars offer two cup holders with additional storage space in the door mouldings (front and rear), a central storage bin, glovebox and hidden stowage compartment. The Golf does feature additional storage space ahead of the gear lever, however. The multifunction leather steering wheel in the Astra and Golf are adjustable for rake and reach with the Astra’s tiller being the larger of the two.

In light of the above and given that measuring space is a contentious issue, we feel that the Golf and Astra are evenly matched in terms of practicality.

Interior quality


Build quality in the Volkswagen Golf 7 is excellent.

One of the Golf’s strongest attributes is its robust and well-built interior. The soft-touch dashboard is complemented by a brushed aluminium fascia that flows through to the doors, giving the Golf a premium look and feel. The switchgear in the Golf feels solid too and the general layout of the controls are within easy reach, thanks to the hangdown section that's slightly angled towards the driver. The seats in the Golf are arguably more comfortable to sit in than the seats in the Astra and they are upholstered in cloth. The fabric seats in the Astra do, however, offer more lateral support and extra lumbar support at the push of a button. While driving, very little engine, wind and road noise makes its way into the Golf’s cabin, which is indicative of its sound build quality.


The interior of the Opel Astra is both modern and comfortable.

Much of the same can be said for the Astra as it too boasts a well-built, quality interior. The Astra adopts glossy piano black panels to complement its soft-touch dashboard and the perceived quality of the buttons and overall finish is right up there with that of the Volkswagen. The Astra’s interior looks and feels more modern than the Golf's, but because a variety of types of plastic are employed, the Opel's interior may be perceived as the slightly less robust and/or upmarket of the two. Opel engineers have, however, done an excellent job in damping Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels in the cabin. Interior preference may very well come down to what type of look you prefer, but both interiors offer high levels of quality.

It’s a close call, but our test team came to the unanimous decision that the Golf offers the best interior quality, despite the Astra cabin's "more modern look".

Technology and features

This is where the Astra outshines its Golf competitor by a substantial margin. This particular (1.4T Sport) derivative is packed with technology and standard features that are offered as optional equipment on the Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline, or in some cases, not offered at all.

 

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Starting with the infotainment system, this Astra test unit features the optional Navi 900 IntelliLink system with an 8-inch touchscreen that’s Bluetooth/USB/ MP3 compatible and comes with integrated navigation (a 7-inch touchscreen Intellilink setup without built-in navigation is standard). The system is easy to navigate and is compatible with Apple (Apple CarPlay) and Android (Android Auto) devices.

The Golf, by comparison, is fitted with a simpler and smaller "Colour Composition" 5-inch touchscreen system that’s MP3 compatible while Bluetooth is offered as an option. This system is comparatively basic, but you can connect your own media using the (optional) USB port. No navigation is offered with this system either. The Astra, however, offers one USB port for the driver and front passenger while rear passengers are treated to two USB ports for charging/connecting devices from the rear bench, all fitted as standard on this Astra 1.4T Sport derivative.

The Astra is also generously equipped with standard safety equipment such as front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera (optional on the Golf Comfortline). Lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, following distance monitor, blind spot monitoring and hands-free parking assist (APA2), all of which are included in the Opel's standard Driver Assistant package, puts the Astra streets ahead of the Golf in this regard. 

The Golf is equipped with 7 airbags, whereas the Astra has 6 airbags. Anti-lock braking (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist, traction control and stability control are standard on both cars. Both cars are fitted with ISOfix child seat mounting points.

If you were to spec a standard Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline manual to a similar level as this Astra 1.4T Sport, your overall cost would look something like this...

Feature


VW Golf 1.4 Comfortline
(R329 900)

Opel Astra 1.4T Sport (R354 000)

Navigation

R20 199

R10 700

Climate control 

R4 650

Std

Park distance control with park assist

R6 700

Std

PDC, reverse-view camera

R3 149

Std

Total

R364 598

R364 700


Note that the Astra still beats the Golf with its Driver Assistant Package and a total of three USB ports. Also, bear in mind that this particular Golf test unit was also specced with metallic paint (R1 100), a panoramic sunroof (R10 000), bi-xenon headlights (R11 850) and light assist (R1 150), which pushed the asking price up further.

Service and warranty

The Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline comes with a 3-year/120 000 km warranty, 5-year/90 000 km service plan and 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals are at 15 000 km. The Opel Astra 1.4T Sport is sold with a 5-year/120 000 km warranty with Roadside Assistance, 5-year/90 000 km service plan and 5-year unlimited km anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals are also set at 15 000 km.

Verdict

The outcome of this comparative review was not easily decided – with two quality products going head-to-head, the decision over which is the better car to buy is a particularly difficult one to make. If looks and specification matter to you then the Astra, in our opinion, is the more stylish and better-equipped hatchback, and it’s slightly bigger than its rival. The Astra also offers better power and torque outputs, but it can’t quite match the high levels of refinement produced by the Golf.

This Astra 1.4T Sport’s true strength lies in its packaging, it simply trumps the Golf in terms of standard specification and if a full complement of onboard and safety features is what you’re after then this Astra represents excellent value. That said, the refinement and quality offered by the Golf is difficult to ignore. The truth is, neither of these cars will disappoint you.

If you consider Volkswagen's solid brand perception, dealer footprint in South Africa, quality of after sales service and resale values, the Golf is probably the wiser buy, but that doesn’t mean the Golf is the better car. Given the solid value proposition offered by the Astra 1.4T Sport, we feel that it's enough to give it the edge over its soberly-specced Wolfsburg competitor. Besides, Cars.co.za's Consumer Survey data suggests that Opel's level of customer satisfaction is on the way up. 

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