Opel Astra OPC (2004) Driving Impression

Opel Astra Opc 2004

Finally, there’s a truly hot Opel in town again. Following such iconic machines as the legendary Superboss and the ferocious 200tS models, Opel performance fans have had to wait what must have felt like an eternity for a hot version of the current Astra. It will not be easy to restore confidence lost. After all, Opel recently made matters worse by creating false hope with the 2,2-litre GSI model, which simply does not live up to its famous moniker. So now it is up to the new Opel Astra OPC to re-establish Opel as the “Boss” of the hot hatch segment.

Aggressive looks for Opel Astra OPC

The current Astra is nearing the end of its lifecycle, but in OPC form you’d never guess its age. Available only in three-door guise, it boasts completely different front and rear bumpers, sill extensions and a rather large rear wing, too. The wheelarches are comprehensively filled by stunning 17-inch alloy wheels, giving the Opel Astra OPC a really mean stance which gains extra muscle courtesy of the 20 mm lower suspension. Adding a touch of aggression are darkened head- as well as tail lamps. It’s a car that attracts a lot of attention, yet can’t be labelled as being OTT. In metallic blue, it’s a real beauty.

Unfortunately the Opel Astra OPC upgrade is less pronounced inside, where Opel hasn’t quite managed to hide the Astra’s age. The build quality is not bad, but the overall design is quite bland and the centre section, which houses an aftermarket-looking audio system and storage cubicle that is finished in hard, shiny, black plastic, falls well short of expectations at this level. On the other hand, the white-faced instrumentation is very neat, the steering wheel boasts a nice-to-grip thick rim and the seats are sporty Recaros finished in a classy leather/cloth combination.

Although the Opel Astra OPC is a three-door hatch, it is not an entirely unpractical proposition. Rear access requires a degree of flexibility from those passengers who didn’t say “shotgun” fast enough, but once seated the levels of space and comfort are actually remarkably good. The rear windows can’t open, though, so it can get a bit stuffy back there. The boot is quite large, almost matching the five-door Golf GTI’s in size. The rear seats can still fold down to increase utility space.

Opel Astra OPC has flexible power

Power comes from Opel’s impressive 2,0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that also does duty in the attractive Coupe model. It delivers 147 kW, but more importantly, a torque curve as flat as Table Mountain. 250 Nm of torque is available from just below 2 000 rpm all the way to 5 600 rpm. This indicates, of course, superb flexibility, which is particularly important for responsiveness and overtaking acceleration. The engine is mated with a five-speed manual transmission (surely, a hot hatch of this power level should have a six-speed, Opel?). It’s not an atrociously bad transmission, but it does lack the mechanical feel and precision of the best boxes out there. Then again, with such an amazingly tractable engine, changing gear is not something you’ll be doing very often.

Opel claims a 0-100 km/h time of 7,5 seconds, which places the Opel Astra OPC near the front of the class, as well as a top speed of around 240 km/h. It’s a seriously capable sprinter. But that’s only half the story. The claimed torque spread is not a lie – the OPC is incredibly responsive to throttle input, always reacting with a surge of power when demanded. Just as impressive is the linearity of the power delivery – the power comes in smoothly and strongly.

Not all show and no go…

In the handling department the Opel Astra OPC also has a few surprises up its sleeve. Opel has lowered and stiffened the suspension, but the basics remain pretty much the same. There are no trick bits, just some considered fine-tuning. And boy has it worked. Boasting superb body control and very high grip levels, the Opel Astra OPC remains a far more composed car when pushed to the limits compared with its siblings. And the better body control has not come at the expense of ride comfort. The Opel Astra OPC has fairly long-travel suspension (for a hot hatch) and consequently it never gets crashy. This is a hot hatch you could very well drive every day. If there’s one fly in the ointment, it’s the steering, so often the downfall of many a modern-day performance car. Firstly, the steering wheel’s diameter is too big. A sporty, small steering wheel with a similarly thick rim would’ve been far better. More worryingly, however, is the lack of feel through the helm. While it’s fairly accurate and the weighting is decent, there’s just little or no information about what the front wheels are doing, save for the occasional tug to indicate torque steer. The anodyne steering is highlighted because the rest of the car is so responsive, so immediate and engaging. Pity…

Opel Astra OPC - Verdict

At present the hot hatch segment is littered with fast but ultimately flawed competitors. The Opel Astra OPC is another. The design treads a fine line between being aggressive and upmarket, the interior is spacious, well-built, but aged, and the engine is a cracker. Dynamically, the Opel Astra OPC also impresses with an excellent ride/handling balance and strong brakes. The only let-down is the steering. However, all things considered, it is polished and good enough to take back the crown… for now.

We like:

  • Good looking
  • Engine flexibility
  • Fun to drive
  • Ride quality
  • Performance
We don’t like:
  • Numb steering
  • Rubbery gearshift
Fast facts

Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol

Power: 147 kW @ 5 700 rpm

Torque: 250 Nm @ 1 950 – 5 600 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 17-inch alloy

Top speed: 240 km/h

0-100 km/h: 7,84 seconds

Fuel economy: 9,77 litres/100 km

Source: www.um.co.za

Also consider:

  • Volkswagen Golf GTI: Nearing the end of its product life, and there’s also a slightly more expensive “R” version to consider, but the current Golf is more of a fast executive hatchback than a hot one. Short on power and handling finesse.
  • Toyota RunX RSI: Powered by a screaming 1,8-litre, naturally aspirated engine, this Toyota can’t quite match grunt of its German rivals, but nevertheless has established a strong following, partly also because it is a lot cheaper than all of them.
  • Ford Focus ST170: A very entertaining hatchback with superb agility and beautifully crisp responses. Significantly cheaper than the others listed here, the only real downside is that it’s not as powerful and therefore not as fast.