With Holden due to source more cars from Opel than ever before, they’re telling us via a solid marketing campaign. One of the nameplates we’ve had and that has returned in force is Astra. A Wheel Thing sampled the latest Astra VXR six speed manual, a model due to be completly revamped for late 2016 or early 2017.It’s a stylish looking beast, with the test vehicle clad in a flat, not metallic, red and riding on 20 inch alloys. The two doors, framed at the top in chrome, open wide and allow access to a surprisingly capacious rear seat and cargo section. In profile it’s amost a continuous curve, with the roof coppinga discrete spolier and the front a sharpish, almost rakish look.
Under the long bonnet lies Opel’s 2.0L turbo four, one with punch and verve, mated to a six speed manual, the car’s Achille’s heel. There’s a hefty 206 kilowatts on tap at 5300 revs but more impressive is the mesa flast torque delivery between 2450 to 5000. Besting most two litres by fifty torques, Sir will enjoy 400 of them across that range. It makes for immense mid range go and flexibility aplenty on the freeway.
Need to overtake? Depending on where you are, it’s either a measure of flexing the right foot just a bit more or dropping back a cog or two and launching the rocket. There’s a buzz from the front, not unpleasantly so, and a soul bending surge as the speedo does silly things. The seats (which have air powered bolsters, by the way), sigh gently as they support the driver’s mass being pushed into them.
Left leg goes in,, left leg goes out and in between the lever is moved, the revs drop and the turbo spins idly for a moment (turbo lag is noticeable only at low speeds and off boost) before huffing and puffing again. It’s flexible, usable, enjoyable to drive, but…
Downside? Always one, minimum. The tank is small, almost too small at 56 litres (with a preferred taste of 98 RON, ta very much) to provide a sense of true comfort. Although the VXR isn’t excessively thirsty, at around 9.0L/100 km average, in city use the figures rise well above 10.0L/100 km. Holden quotes a combined cyle of 8.0L/100 km, which in the most ideal of ideal worlds would provide 700 kilometres of travel….
Although the shift is light it also lacks precision. The gate movement is sloppy, loose (and yet only around 9000 kays on the odometer), at odds with the well weighted clutch pedal, the lightning fast response of the engine to throttle and the wondrous brakes. Fast changes are nigh impossible without repeat practice and the possibility of finding the slot you don’t want is high.
These are the brakes that should be standard in the Ford Everest and Ranger; sensitive enough to tell you when the pad is just nipping the disc, the progressive bite as they compress and the feel of the pedal as it latches on as soon as you touch it and tightens up in the travel. Superb. Or, in a word, Brembo.
What isn’t superb is the woefully out of date centre stack design. The updated version can’t come quick enough to dispatch those buttons and dials to the bin of history. See the picture to gauge for yourself. At least the surround looks nice.Apart from the console, there’s not much else to worry about; hugely confortable and supportive seats (three settings for heat, great for a cold day but no cooling on hot ones) with the front section of the squab adjustable for extra under thigh support, wide opening doors (remember, only two of ’em) to access the back seat and yes, there is leg room, rather than feeling as if one must be a contortionist by nature. Boot size is a decent 380L. There’s the General’s MyLink satnav infotainment system to play with, suitably aluminised trim on the centre console and subtle lighting at the base of the console stack.The audio system was beyond superb in such a small car. Complete with a sensitive DAB tuner, the clarity of the sound, the range and depth was simply brilliant and a real punch to the low end notes. It’s backed out by the hands free Bluetooth system, audio streaming and Apple’s Siri EyesFree. You’ll also get rain sensing wipers, Hill Start Assist, curtain airbags and tyre pressure monitoring at each corner.It’s nice to have a luxury feel inside but what if the ride is bad enough that it dulls the presentation? Thankfully the VXR’s ride is surprisingly compliant, even with the 20 inch alloys and licorice thin rubber (245/35 Michelin Pilot Super Sport) with a massive, for the size of the VXR, wheelbase of 2695 mm, helping to soak up the smaller ripples. Size is just 4466 mm overall, making both ride and internal space (rear legroom is 870 mm) so much more impressive.It’s a cozy ride on the flat and dispatches any minor irregularities to the bin. Go slow over shopping centre speedbumps and that’s where the sports suspension settings make themselves known, with spine and teeth receiving a belting. Point it at some corners and tightening radius turns, there’s barely a hint of roll and you can feel the chassis readying itself to be punted hard….the response? More please. It’s the auto equivalent of trim, taut, terrific as the initial give (and there’s enough to be surprisingly comfortable) turns up the harden up factor, keeping the VXR level all the way through. It also means dive and squat (acceleration and braking) is almost negligible. You can thank something Opel calls HiPerStrut technology.The Wrap.
It’s roomier than expected, handles as if it’s superglued to velcro and has a wonderful engine. But it’s undertanked and had a substandard gear change mechanism, possibly a couple of things people consider to be pretty damned important. It’s a delight to sit in, bar the dog’s breakfast console, looks pretty enough still (the new model looks sensational) and from $39990 driveaway (at the time of writing) is incredible value for the performance.
Check with your Holden dealer (or your Opel/Vauxhall etc dealer overseas) for warranty and service conditions. Online brochure available here: Astra brochure