Opel Astra 2.0 GSi (2005) Driving Impression

0 GSi

If you thought Volkswagen’s iconic GTI badge has been through some trying times of late, then spare a thought for Opel’s GSi moniker. Following a decade of near invincibility on South African racing circuits, Opel’s GSi-badged road cars became very desirable road burners, too, reaching its zenith with the immortal and South Africa-only Superboss.

Sadly, for Opel fans, the brand’s emphasis then turned to sophistication and economy, and the GSi badge appeared destined to gather dust in the trophy cabinet. A late attempt to revive it on the previous-generation Astra was seen to be half-hearted, and these days the OPC badge appears to have taken its place. What then, to make of this new Opel Astra 2.0 GSi model? Is it the start of a revival?

Attractive, but not hot

The current Astra remains an attractive hatchback, with chiselled lines and good attention to detail. In theory it would make a good starting point for a very hardcore hot hatch. Bizarrely, however, Opel has decided to keep the looks pretty much untouched. Save for the fitment of 17-inch alloy wheels and a GSi badge here and there, this Astra blends into the car park. Of course, some owners may prefer it that way, as the mainstream looks could theoretically turn the Opel into something of a Q-car, provided the performance and dynamics are up to scratch, of course.

Inside, the product planners have gone for a long specification sheet to boost the car’s on-paper appeal, but again there’s little to appeal to the emotional side of the petrolheaded hot hatch customer. There is leather upholstery, but the seats don’t look overtly sporty. At least there are metallic-look pedals.

For the typical hot hatch enthusiast, the driving position is key to unlocking the entertainment potential. Unfortunately the Astra doesn’t quite tick all the boxes in this regard. Yes, the steering wheel boasts sufficient rake and reach adjustability and the driver’s seat can adjust for height, too, but not by enough. Consequently one always feels somewhat “on top” of the Astra, rather than part of it. The seats, too, lack noticeable side bolstering, which is a problem in the corners, especially. And the gearlever isn’t well-placed for fast shifts, either.

Perhaps because of these deficiencies Opel has loaded the cabin with luxuries, including automatic headlamps, climate control, heated seats, rain-sensing wipers and even active headlamps that follow the direction of the steering. Build quality, by the way, is really very impressive, with the GSi not emitting even one faint rattle during the test term.

Active suspension, but where’s the fun?

As is the case with its arch-enemy, the Golf GTI, the powerplant of choice for the GSi is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit. It delivers exactly the same amount of power as the VW (147 kW), but slightly less torque (262 Nm). Transmitting the power to the front wheels is a six-speed manual transmission that is unfortunately not the slickest in the business. In fact, fast shifts are not easy, and this interrupts the flow of power, so after changing gear there is often a moment where it feels as if the Astra has lost momentum. It comes as no surprise then to find that the GSi can’t match its rivals for performance – the 0-100 km/h time of 8.2 seconds is nowhere near the best in class. In its defence, however, the flexibility is good. If you’re looking for a luxurious hatchback that delivers effortless overtaking power, then it’s certainly right up there.

Dynamically, too, the Opel Astra 2.0 GSi is somewhat of a disappointment if judged as a hot hatch. The advanced active suspension system that boasts continuous damping control (CDC) may keep the body relatively level during cornering, but can’t make up for the deficiencies of the torsion-beam rear set-up.

The latest Golf GTI has moved the benchmark significantly, mostly as a result of its new multi-link rear suspension design. When driven normally the Astra delivers ride comfort that’s pretty good for such a performance-oriented hatchback, but as soon as the speeds rise and the road becomes twisty, and the surface bumpier, it loses a big chunk of composure. It just doesn’t feel like a car that encourages this kind of behaviour, which means, unfortunately, that it is not a hot hatch.

Verdict

You may have read this report and now be under the impression that the Opel Astra 2.0 GSi is a bad car. That is not the case. It is exceptionally well-built, loaded with high-tech features, and a very fast, comfortable cruiser. It is even seemingly good value.

The problem is that that badge creates expectations that the car can’t live up to, because one senses that it was never intended to. This is a fast, luxurious, high-tech hatchback, not a hot hatch. GSi seems to mean something entirely different now, while OPC has taken its place in the Opel stable. This will take time to get used to.

We like:

Standard features

Overtaking performance

Build quality

We don’t like:

Rubbery suspension

Unsupportive front seats

Slow gearshift

Fast facts

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol

Power: 147 kW @ 5 400 rpm

Torque: 262 Nm @ 4 200 rpm

Transmission: six-speed manual

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: 230 km/h

0-100 km/h: 8.2 seconds

Fuel economy: 9.3 litres/100 km

Also consider:

Volkswagen Golf (5) GTi:

Brand new on the market and goes straight to the top of the charts. Beautifully balanced dynamics, an efficient, eager engine and a quality, comfortable cabin combine to set a new class benchmark.

Renault Megane II 2.0T Sport:

More powerful than the Germans and of higher specification than most. Not a bad effort at all, but there’s the sense that it is almost overpowered for its underpinnings, especially compared with the better-balanced Golf. Three-door body only.

Toyota RunX RSi: 

Not without its charms, the much more affordable RunX offers a very different type of driving enjoyment… that of a very high-revving naturally aspirated engine. Performance apart, however, it can’t match the other cars here for sophistication and balance.

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