The Wheel Deal

Fixing you up with life in the fast lane.
Posted: February 15th, 2013 | By Thomas Falkiner

The new Opel Astra OPC just landed in SA. The Wheel Deal is left thunderstruck

What is it?

Watch your smug backs, Renault and Volkswagen. The latest Opel Astra OPC has arrived to stake its claim as most powerful front wheel-drive hot hatch on the South African market. Shipping fresh from the Nürburgring in Germany, the ace up this machine’s muscle-hugging sleeve lies in an all-new, all-aluminium two-litre engine. Thanks to go-faster bits like direct fuel injection, a revised intake manifold plus a lag-battling twin-scroll turbocharger, it pumps out 12-percent more power and 25-percent more torque than its predecessor did.

Now of course to help the rest of the car cope with all this planet-slowing grunt, Opel has equipped the new Astra OPC with a host of chassis enhancements. And one of the most noteworthy features has to be the fancy HiPerStrut suspension that helps limit torque-steer during bouts of hard acceleration. I put it to the test at our recent Kyalami track day launch and it seemed to work very well indeed.

Also worth mentioning is Opel’s FlexRide system that allows you – at a touch of a button – to tweak the firmness of the car’s dampers, weight of the hydraulic power steering as well as the immediacy of the throttle map. You will find three modes on offer namely Standard, Sport and the more track-orientated OPC. Now as if this wasn’t pub-worthy enough, Opel also decided to bolt in a proper mechanical limited-slip differential. Designed to prevent wheel spin and maximise traction, it gives the Astra tremendous bite through corners: something that boosts driver confidence and enables you to tackle your favourite back road curvature with vengeance.

How does it look?

Let’s just settle on quietly assertive. Riffing off the less powerful Astra GTC, the new OPC ups the visual ante with slightly more aggressive front and rear bumpers; wind-cheating side skirts; enormous 20-inch alloy wheels and a two-tier roof spoiler. Yet even once you’ve added those two trapezoidal exhaust tailpipes into the equation, this Opel still comes across as somewhat understated. Sure it’s menacing but not in an all-up-in-your-face, boy racer kind of a way. And I like that.

I also really enjoyed the interior that’s been perfectly designed for the business of driving. Fast. You get plenty of rake/reach steering wheel adjustment plus some sensationally supportive sports seats. 45-percent lighter than the standard chairs, they offer full pneumatic adjustment of both the thigh and shoulder squabs. Sure it sounds a bit gimmicky. But I can assure you that this sculptability gives the Astra OPC the best driving position in its class. And I should know because I struggle to get comfortable inside many cars. Other inter-cabin highlights come in the form of small diameter, flat-bottomed steering wheel and a special instrument binnacle that glows nightmare red when you click the FlexRide system into OPC mode. Yeah, KITT and The Hoff would definitely give a nod of approval.

What is it like to drive?

GMSA decided to launch their latest addition to the Opel family at Kyalami Raceway. Which, from a PR point of view, is always something of a brave move if you ask me.  Because this is one circuit that will quickly show up any vehicular shortcomings. Fortunately the Astra OPC proved to be one helluva good steer. I know the Renault Mégane RS is the current hot hatch king but I found that this Opel handled with comparable aplomb thanks to the considerable chassis development that’s gone into it. Stuck in OPC mode it feels incredibly nimble and responsive, changing direction without a hint of body roll. Understeer is very well controlled in tight corners, while through the quicker ones that mechanical LSD works its magic and allows you to power past your apex point with Stig-baiting accuracy.

There’s also plenty of adjustability to be had by manipulating the throttle. Tap off the gas mid corner and that rump will step out nicely, sharpening your line and heightening the driving experience in the process. Another highpoint was the power steering that, being of the old school hydraulic variety, feels satisfyingly meaty and telegraphs a smidge more feedback than the electronically assisted setup doing duty inside the Mégane RS.

Indeed, the one thing that you’ll never find lacking inside this Opel is a sense of connection. Ditto power. Some halo-spec hot hatchbacks don’t live up to their bold on-paper credentials (will the Mazda 3 MPS please stand up) but this German juggernaut feels good for every last one of those 206 kilowatts.

So far the Astra OPC may be able to match its French rival in terms of raw pace and handling prowess. But in terms of braking, well, the Opel seems to lag behind. At 1475 kilograms, it’s certainly no featherweight and after four hot laps with ex-Group N racing driver, Mike Briggs, riding shotgun, the Brembo brake system on my test car started to take serious strain. At first I noticed a considerable amount of fade and then the middle pedal suddenly went softer than an overripe banana. I doubt this would ever become a big issue out on public roads but if you’re something of a track day junkie, it might be of some concern.

Any special features?

One wicked feature unique to the Astra OPC is the new OPC PowerApp. Available to download from the Apple iStore, it basically turns your iPhone or iPod Touch into a mini dynameter. By syncing to your car’s ECU (an optional Wi-Fi control module must be installed by the dealer for it to work), you’re able to monitor everything from engine boost pressure, intake temperatures, lap times and vehicle raw rates. In realtime no less. Definitely worth getting if you’re into this sort of thing.

Should you buy one?

At R435 000 the Astra OPC certainly isn’t cheap. But it does offer up an incredibly focussed driving experience. Brutally quick in a straight line, it handles with a deftness that left me impressed. Raw performance aside, the Astra also seems to be an extremely liveable package. I didn’t get a chance to drive it on everyday roads but going on first impressions, I’d say that this Opel would be a more comfortable alternative to Mégane RS. This combined with the fact that it will, for the time being at least, be the less obvious choice, is the reason why it has shot to the top of my personal hot hatch hit parade. If you’re on the market go take it for a spin.

The Facts: Opel Astra OPC

Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder turbo

Power: 206kW at 5500rpm

Torque: 400Nm from 2500 to 4500rpm

0-100km/h: 6.0-seconds (claimed)

Top Speed: 250km/h (claimed)

Fuel Consumption: 8.1l/100km (claimed combined)

CO2: 189g/km (claimed)

Price: R435 000

We like:

Monster performance

Glossy and connected dynamics

Well packaged and nicely specced

We Don’t:

R65k short of the half million mark

Braking performance on the limit

Not the lightest of über-hatches

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