Photos by: Dario Duno
Australians are spoiled for choice when it comes to affordable performance. There are no less than 10 models to choose from, all costing less than fifty big ones, from the Toyota 86 to the benchmark of the current hot-hatch crop, the Renault Mégane RS265.
It also wasn’t that long ago that a sub 6.0 second century sprint was in the realms of expensive sports cars, like the 1999 Porsche Boxster, which takes 6.5 seconds.
Today, pick any of the top selling hot-hatches and chances are they will equal or beat that figure, like the latest Opel Astra OPC you see here. Officially, it takes just 6.0 seconds to reach 100km/h from a standstill before storming towards a top end of 250km/h.
If you are reading this review, chances are the Astra OPC is on your shortlist. So, to find out whether it’s worth your trouble trundling down to your friendly local Opel dealer, we have put the car to the test, all in the name of consumer advice.
OK, alright you’ve got us! We have been dying to get our hands on the sharp Astra OPC ever since we laid eyes on it at the 2012 Australian International Motor Show. However, being a popular model with motoring testers, it was only recently we’ve been supplied with a test car, after much pestering, by Opel Australia.
Outwardly, the wild Astra OPC seems excellent bang for your buck, asking just $42,990 in return for a 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder engine. And if you think that’s a lot to be pushing through its front wheels, you are not alone (we’ll come back to that later).
It is paired with a six-speed manual transmission that drives the front wheels via a standard mechanical limited slip differential.
You also get a pair of superbly supportive AGR-certified performance bucket seats that are adjustable in more ways than an IKEA shelf, 18 to be precise, including electronically inflatable bolsters. If you can’t find a comfortable position in the OPC’s perch, you may want Scottie to beam you back to where you came from, as you are unlikely to be human.
Then, there is a sporty height and reach adjustable flat-bottom steering that is 10mm smaller than the standard Astra’s, measuring just 360mm in diameter.
Compared to the $40,490 Mk6 Volkswagen Golf GTI and the $42,640 Renault Mégane RS265, the Opel Astra OPC is the bargain of the century.
A big round of applause should also go to Opel’s designers, as all of these are packaged in a beefed-up, athletic body that won’t go unnoticed at the local supermarket.
The flared wheel arches, sculpted front bumper with matt aluminium-finished triangular inlets, large rear roof-mounted spoiler and twin bumper-integrated tailpipes shout presence wherever you look. As if not enough, the Astra OPC also rolls on 19-inch alloys as standard, backed by sizable ventilated and cross-drilled Brembo discs with 4-piston callipers.
However, it is when you fire up the engine that most of your cynicisms start to melt away. The engine rumbles into life as if to prepare you for what is to come, before settling into a sporty burble. The deep bassy engine note, even at idle, tingles your spine to awaken all your senses.
Point the Astra’s nose at the nearest twisty back roads and a smile is plastered on your face instantly, like a child on Christmas Day. The well weighted and direct steering provides decent feedback and steers smoothly and accurately. Torque-steer is almost eliminated entirely – thanks to the OPC’s sophisticated HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut) front suspension and multi-plate mechanical LSD.
Throttle response, however, isn’t very sharp until you push the OPC button on the dash – if you can find it amongst the bewildering of confusing buttons. Once engaged, not only is the throttle scalpel sharp, the Flexride adaptive dampers and steering response firms up to orchestrate one of the best handling sports cars at this price point.
Body control is super tight and corners can be attacked with great confidence. It urges you on and in fast sweeping bends, it’s easy to pull 1G in lateral G-force (yes, it has a built-in G-meter). Such is the tenacious grip from the 245/40 Pirelli P Zero tyres, although mid corner bums can have a slight unsettling effect.
Its in-gear acceleration is certainly noteworthy too, although accompanied by too much turbo whoosh in an otherwise growling symphony.
At this point, it has to be said that the weakest link in the Astra’s drivetrain is its gearbox. It’s not the most precise, nor sleek, that we have come across. Its pedals placement also makes heel and toe harder to execute than picking up a grain of rice with chopsticks.
When the adrenalin has settled and you trundled away from B-roads, it’s striking how well the Astra OPC rides, even on our lumpy main roads – that’s if you remember to disengage OPC mode.
It’s an amazing car. And let’s not forget that behind the fat tyres, buckets seats and supermodel looks, the OPC is an everyday Astra with a decent sized boot, air conditioning and sat-nav that will point you to the nearest petrol station.
And that’s important, because a tank of 91RON won’t last you very long in the OPC. We managed 11.6L/100km, albeit with scant regards for economy but with the auto stop/start left on most of the time.
It’s hard not to drive fast in the OPC, and we still have that grin edged on our face.
The RS265 has finally met its match!
|Price (Excl. on-roads):||From $42,990. As tested: $42,990|
|Engine:||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged direct-injected petrol 206kW@5,300rpm, 400Nm@2,400-4,800rpm, Front-wheel drive with mechanical limited slip differential|
|Fuel consumption (manufacturer’s):||Claimed: 8.1L/100km. Tested: 11.6L/100km|
|0-100km/h (manufacturer’s):||6.0 seconds|
|Dimensions:||Length: 4,466mm, Width: 2,020 (incl. mirrors), Height: 1,489mm, Wheelbase: 2,695mm|
Competitors: Volkswagen Scirocco R, Volkswagen Golf GTI, RenaultSport Mégane RS265, Ford Focus ST, Mazda3 MPS