It is sexier than a Scirocco and just as practical as a Golf. Yet it flies so low on the retail radar that few buyers think of it when they want a good-looking and well-built hatchback which drives well.
Introducing the Opel Astra, a car which has been nibbling at the heels of VW's iconic model for more than a decade. The new model, however, looks like it could take the leg off the Golf at the knee.
The car is pleasing on every front. Its design is progressive - not just a collection of fluid lines flowing aimlessly. Its aesthetically pleasing form has a solid and purposeful feel to it. It is a pretty face sparkling with intelligence.
It is dramatically sleek and wind-chiselled, so much so that a Golf looks bulbous next to it. Even the sporty Scirocco is no match.
Yet, it offers as much functionality as the Golf. All-round cabin space is fairly decent, despite a sloping roofline, a rear floor that is not completely flat and a wheelbase that is not the longest in its class.
SPECS / OPEL ASTRA 1.4 TURBO
Price: $108,888 with COE
Engine: 1,399cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual select
Power: 150bhp at 5,000rpm
Torque: 245Nm at 2,000-4,000rpm
0-100kmh: 9 seconds
Top speed: 210kmh
Fuel consumption: 5.5 litres/ 100km
Agent: Auto Germany
The boot is reasonably large for a compact hatchback, with 370 litres of stowage.
Inside, it is clear Opel has upped the ante. The cabin is as well put- together as the exterior, with practically all panels finished in soft plastics.
The cockpit is very premium, with a biggish infotainment touchscreen that offers complete connectivity to Android and Apple phones (allowing you to replicate your device on the dash), which means you get navigation, online music stores and hands-free calls.
Other modern amenities such as cruise control/speed limiter, electric parking brake with self-release, collision warning and dual-zone climate control are standard issue.
Features are ergonomically arranged and a piano black finish with metallic accents add a touch of class to this underrated German car.
The Astra is also fitted with electrically adjustable seats and a keyless system, which you can activate on every door and not just the front.
The cherry on the icing is the way it moves. The car is powered by a new 1.4-litre turbocharged engine paired with a smooth six-speeder.
It has a noticeably higher output than Opel's previous Astra 1.4 as well as VW's Golf 1.4.
That is not all. The new car is up to 200kg lighter than its predecessor, which makes for a breezy ride.
Torque is available across a wide rev range and is delivered seamlessly.
Compared to the previous Astra, this car is more driveable all round. It is also quicker, with a century sprint of 9 seconds (versus its predecessor's 10.2, and the Golf 1.4's 9.3).
While the previous Astra fell a tad below expectations in the driving department, this one ticks all the boxes. There are no complaints in the ride and handling department either.
The hatch absorbs bumps and humps better than some premium sedans. If not for road noise which starts to intrude as the car passes 90kmh, one would even say it is as refined as some premium sedans.
The Astra is sweet around curves and its steering is astonishingly responsive. Yet, its handling misses the bar set by the Golf by a whisker. It is somehow not as fun and its engine soundtrack is muted.
But if you do not relish chicanes, hairpins and histrionics, the Astra is the better car to be in because it is more comfortable all round. Last but not least, it is also less pricey than the Golf.
So, if you have never considered an Opel, now is the time to start.