Opel Astra 2015 International first drive review

Opel Astra launch, Vienna by Leah Carroll_24

At the beginning of October we had the chance of driving the new Opel Astra from Vienna to Bratislava on some of Europe’s undiscovered (by most Irish I would hazard) roads. Our destination, Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, set along the Danube River. The architecture of the two cities is very different and distinct, the countryside in between spotted with wind farms which are eerily beautiful, in a The Day of the Triffids kind of way. Enjoyably the weather held out for most of the two-day visit and was a real bonus at a balmy 18 degrees.

Opel Astra launch, Bratislava by Leah Carroll_17

We started out in the car park of the friendly and efficient NH Wien Airport Hotel where we were met with a full array of the new Astra range. As myself and Bob settled into our 1.0 ECOTEC® Direct Injection Turbo ecoFLEX, we set about engaging the Astra’s OnStar. This is Opel’s all encompassing safety system; for example if an airbag deploys, Opel OnStar agents will be alerted automatically and can contact emergency services if needed. Other OnStar services include, vehicle diagnostics and destination download.

While we didn’t try to deploy the air bag, we did play about with the destination download for the Satnav. Unfortunately the team in Luton, England weren’t answering at the time. We decided to get started and used the back-up planned routes in the sat-nav for the journey ahead. The mystery of the Carpathian Mountains awaited us.

Opel Astra launch, Bratislava by Leah Carroll_8

I always love checking out the toys in new cars and the Astra didn’t disappoint. The latest generation IntelliLink infotainment system in our Astra let you connect your smartphone to the car via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Each system mirrors the features most used in your smartphone. From there you can make calls, send and receive messages and listen to music right from the touchscreen or by voice via Siri. Apple CarPlay supported apps include Phone, Messages, Maps, Music and a number of other compatible third party apps. A full list of apps can be found at www.Apple.com/ios/carplay. Android Auto is built around Google Maps, Google Now as well as many messaging apps including WhatsApp, there’s also Skype, Google Play Music, Spotify, and podcast players. A full list of supported apps is available here: www.Android.com/auto.

Opel have finally cleaned up the ergonomics of the facia. There are now less buttons surrounding the screen but I think they’ve moved them onto the steering wheel. No mind, it’s an improvement and makes it easier to navigate quickly without detracting from the driving bit.

Opel Astra launch, Bratislava by Leah Carroll_16

Space in the Astra is recommendable for its class. There was enough room for all of our equipment, luggage and four full sized adults in complete comfort. The intricate design engineering, which Astras lead design engineer spoke to us extensively about, has given way to compact external dimensions but increased internal space. Basically it’s physically smaller than the last model but it’s bigger on the inside. Bonus.

The roads around this region of Slovakia are reminiscent of 1980’s Ireland. The sights are visually stunning, but the pock marked tarmac dips and weaves. This was a testament to the Astra’s comfort in that we never once felt uncomfortable twinges on the undulating surfaces. The 1.0 EcotecAstra is (depending on the model and trim level) up to 200kgs lighter than its predecessor. Unsurprisingly if you take a bend a bit over-keenly you will meet some body roll.

Later in the evening we are driven to the wonderful Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum. I would highly recommend a visit if you ever find yourself along this part of the Danube. The purpose of this visit is to show off Opel’s patented IntelliLux system along the cities motorway and countryside routes which have varying degrees of lighting at night (from full to non-existant). The IntelliLux system enables driving with glare-free high beam lights by constantly adapting the length and distribution of the light beam in rapidly changing driving environments. We asked the designer if the system would be complex to replace when (as is a hazard of driving on Irish roads) a bulb blows when you hit a pot hole or through general maintenance. Due to the way the InteliliLux system is designed, the bulb is still conventional in it’s operation, it’s the clever ‘blinds’ in front of it which operate intelligently. Therefore making the replacement of the bulb no more tricky than current cars, so we’re told. As with all new systems, it remains to be tested in the real world.

While day one was spent in the 1.0-litre ECOTEC version (also available in the Adam and Corsa models) pushing the Astra to it’s city limits on motorways and backroads. Day two was spent on the return leg back to Vienna courtesy of the 1.6-litre 134bhp ‘whisper’ diesel. There’s a lovely bassy rumble from the diesel and the response is enjoyably swift with 0-62 mph reached in a class competing 9.0 seconds. Most of this gain is from the clever engineering coming into play.

This latest gen Astra is clever and commendable. There’s been a lot of thought put into it and I’ve a healthy respect regarding the clever use of space. Car models are constantly getting bigger on the outside while there’s not much to gain inside. The Astra flips this convention and I love it for it. The 1.0-litre is a great city car but if you’re going to be mixing town and country, I’d recommend the 1.6 diesel, it’s extra oomph on motorway journeys will be economically as well as mechanically pleasing.

Opel Astra launch, Bratislava by Leah Carroll_12
Opel Astra launch, Bratislava by Leah Carroll_15

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