Opel Astra GTC: A Future Classic visits Phillip Island.

Astra profileBruce Moxon, photographer and classic car racing buff, spent some time with the Opel Astra GTC 3 Sport Door. Here’s Bruce’s story: I fell a little bit in love with the car I soon named ‘Buttercup.’ Opel call the colour “Flaming Yellow”. A nice yellow, to be sure, but not all that subtle in today’s landscape of grey, silver, black and white.
Touted as a ‘small’ car, designed for city use, the Astra isn’t small at all – it looks it, sure, but it’s a more substantial car than you might think. The front seats are very comfy, sure, but the back seat looks at best claustrophobic. I’d had to spend a lot of time back there, or be 18 and trying to convince a girl to join me there (“I’d rather stay in the front with you…”) The rear windows don’t open, either, not making it any more welcoming.
Back to the point. It’s 4466mm long overall, with a 2605mm wheelbase. Weight is 1435kg – a lot for a ‘small’ hatch and a lot for a 1.6 litre four to lug around. But engineers have become better and better at getting more from less. The 1.6 litres does a nice job with help from variable valve timing and a turbocharger.
Astra noseI’ll admit I was expecting a car that was a bit ‘cranky’ as the engine produces 132kW at a high-ish 5500 rpm. Torque is 220 Nm at 2200 rpm. But with the cleverness of the variable valve timing, the car is really quite docile and drivable.
I messed around with the three settings – normal (which involves pressing no buttons), ‘Sport’ and ‘Cruise’. Sport was the most fun, of course – stiffer suspension, faster steering, faster throttle response. Cruise was pretty handy on the long sections of the Hume Highway I traversed.
But it’s a city car – why was I doing lots of driving on the Hume Highway?
Well, we decided that Australia’s newest brand could stand to be held up against the Phillip Island Classic car race meeting. Will the Opel ever be a classic? What is a classic? These days old Minis, XL Falcons, FJ Holdens and Ford Prefects are considered classics. But you’d lose your house if you placed a bet on their designers wanting a classic; they just wanted to make affordable, practical cars for a mass market.
If a 30-year-old Chrysler Galant or Datsun 120Y can be registered as ‘historic’ or ‘classic’, then maybe in 30 years there will be an Opel Owners Club in Australia, comparing notes on which options their car has and what is the most desirable variant of each.
Astra rearIt’s fair to say the Opel turned a few heads at Phillip Island – more than a few asked me ‘what is it’ and ‘what do you think of it’ questions.
Back to that Hume Highway. I struggled to operate the sat-nav (finally working out you have to push the ring around the ‘joystick’ button to ‘enter’ information. The blue-tooth connection to my phone defeated me.
For a city car, it had no trouble at all with highway and freeway driving. The cruise control works well – I just wound it up to about the speed limit, pushed the right button and left the car in sixth gear. The cruise control maintained the speed very smoothly, too; it engaged the throttle progressively and didn’t seem to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like some cruise controls seem to.Astra wheel
The leather-bound steering wheel has radio / phone / cruise / speed limiter controls. But it’s ugly. I think it looks like it’s got a goatee – like an Audi grille. And it has these chrome bits down near the bottom – to pick out its horribleness. Urk.
The centre console will keep an ADHD kid busy for hours – lots and lots of buttons, controls, switches and a very nice sound system, which has a CD player, USB, SD Card and I-pod / MP3 connections.
The boot swallowed all my gear for the race weekend with no trouble – camera gear, clothes, the lot. I reckon it would have no trouble with a week’s shopping or with luggage for a couple of people for a few days away.
Driving at night is no drama – the lights are fantastic. They’re bi-xenon jobs and produce a good long, wide beam that’s quite bright. Only criticism is that they seem to be a wee bit slow to dip – much to the disgust of some oncoming cars as I started my drive at night.
HVAC is very effective, although the ‘H’ for heating has to be assumed, as I spent the week with the car in the midst of a Victorian heat-wave. But the cool air was most welcome.
Astra dashThe car has an electronic handbrake. This is good and bad. The old, stodgy, conservative engineer in me says this is just one more thing to go wrong. The big kid that’s still in me somewhere laments the inability to do handbrake turns, ‘cause they’re just fun.
But the electronic handbrake has a couple of clever features. You don’t need to remember to turn it off – start driving and it clicks off on its own. And the car uses it for hill-start assistance – a very nice feature. Going to make driving testers pull their hair out, though, as surely the ability to do a hill-start with a handbrake is surely still part of a driving test.
After a week with Buttercup I handed back the keys with some reluctance. I’m far from the most economical of drivers, but still (according to the car’s computer) returned 8.0 litres per 100km after 2200 km or so.
It’s a fun little car – would be great on your favourite twisty road – say some of those secondary roads away from the main drag. The OPC version would no doubt be even better.
The base price for the car was $34,990, but this one had premium paint which adds $695, the Flexride Pack for $2000 and the good lights another $2k. So the price as tested was $39,685.Astra

(Picture credits: Alana Moxon)
http://www.opel-australia.com.au/vehicles/opel-range/cars/astra-gtc/index.html

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