2013 OPEL ASTRA OPC REVIEW
What’s hot: Fantastic cornering grip and ride, sweet turbo engine, massive mid-range punch.
What’s not: Dashboard ergonomics, cheap switchgear.
X-Factor: Ride comfort with a thumping punch? OPC finds the elusive double.
Vehicle style: Hot hatch | Price: $42,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel consumption listed: 8.1 l/100km
Megane RS. It’s the yardstick by which all other hot hatches are measured, and surely now the target for every manufacturer who wishes to lay claim to the title of “world’s best performance hatchback”.
The Megane RS 265 finds grip where other FWD performance cars cannot, it conveys brilliant feedback to the driver’s fingertips, feet and rump, and it’s just plain fast. If you want to build a quick front-driver, the Megane RS 265 is the template to copy.
Or is it? Five months after the launch of the Opel brand into the Australian market, there’s a new challenger to the Megane RS. The Opel Astra OPC.
Like the Renault, it’s got a shapely three-door body and a sleek silhouette, as well as a turbocharged four-pot underhood and a circuit-tuned suspension.
But the Opel Astra OPC also has a fair whack of luxury to go with it. And, as we were pleasantly surprised to find, is a more comfortable machine to drive.
After a day of punting one along both road and track, we think the Megane RS may finally have a genuine rival.
If you’ve been inside an Astra GTC, you’ll notice there’s a lot of similarities between it and its OPC-badged big sister.
There’s an overwhelmingly black interior, red ambient lighting, chrome-effect trim highlights and one of the most confusing button layouts around.
But the true standout feature of the Astra OPC is its seats. The Nappa leather racing-style front seats feature a composite frame to reduce weight, and are mounted 17mm lower than the Astra GTC’s seats. They’re also 18-way adjustable.
Everything from the bolster width (both backrest and squab) lumbar support and squab length can be altered. Plainly put, if you don’t fit this perch, the odds are high that you are not, in fact, human.
The steering wheel is another highlight. with a 360mm diameter and a chunky rim, the wheel is comfortable to grip and fits in the palm of each hand quite nicely. We could do without the slippery silver plastic trimmings, though.
You get quite a lot of features for your spend. Standard equipment consists of dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and heated front seats.
There's also Bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, a speed limiter (handy in a car this quick), heated power mirrors, a trip computer and rear parking sensors.
There’s also an auto-dimming rear view mirror, dusk-sensing headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and automatic high beam.
It’s a reasonably practical interior too, with rear seats that aren’t overly cramped for adults and a boot that can swallow up to 380 litres of cargo - or up to 775 litres with the back seats folded.
ON THE ROAD
We started our drive smack-dab in the centre of Sydney. In the rain. In traffic.
Not the most desirable environment for testing a hot hatch, but in a way ideal: after all, crowded urban streets are where the majority of OPCs will spend their time.
And it was here that the Astra OPC delivered its first big surprise.
It turns out that despite being a highly-focused performance car with 206kW and 400Nm, this is no untameable beast in traffic: in fact, even your mother could drive it.
The clutch is light with a progressive take-up, the gear stick slips smoothly into the gate and in Normal mode the accelerator response isn’t razor-sharp.
The suspension proved supple over Sydney’s notoriously pockmarked streets too, which is a miracle considering the car we were driving was equipped with the optional 20-inch wheels.
Yeah, it’s firm, but unlike a certain popular German hot-hatch, the Astra OPC has good compliance over bumps and won’t leave you with a dislocated coccyx.
That compliance also plays into the Astra’s hand once the suburbs disappear and the road gets curvy.
Leave the dampers in Normal mode and there’s ample comfort and grip. Select either ‘Sport’ or ‘OPC’, and you get progressively more steering weight, higher damper rates and a sharper throttle, but it comes at the expense of ride comfort.
In OPC mode, the suspension is properly stiff. You’re a masochist if you use it on anything but glassy-smooth tarmac.
Whatever mode you select though, grip is astounding. The Astra OPC tips into corners with just a flick of the wrist, and the nose faithfully tracks in with an almost unbelievable resistance to understeer.
The HiPerStrut front suspension of the Astra OPC resembles the bastard lovechild of a double-wishbone setup and a conventional MacPherson Strut. But it works.
It allows the front wheels to maintain a more optimal camber angle throughout their travel, and also has the added benefit of reducing torque steer.
The Ford Focus RS had a similar system (dubbed Revoknuckle), and it worked wonders in that car too.
Like the Megane RS, the Astra OPC has a torsion beam rear axle. It’s a fairly unsophisticated set-up compared to the multi-link suspension under the Focus RS, but its simplicity doesn’t mean it’s not capable.
After all, it’s been heavily worked over by OPC and validated on that most punishing of proving grounds, the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
Compared the rear axle in the Astra GTC, the OPC’s torsion beam is made from thicker steel and has higher durometer rubber in its bushings. Springs are stiffer too, and the Watts linkage is also different.
The brake package is also specific to the OPC.
Up front there are four-piston Brembo calipers and two-piece 355mm cross drilled ventilated rotors (which, by the way, save a whopping 7.5 kilos of weight at each corner), while the rear gets 315mm cross-drilled solid rotors and a conventional sliding caliper.
The goodness continues under the bonnet.
A direct-injected turbocharged petrol four-pot, the Astra OPC’s engine produces 206kW at 5300rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2400rpm and 4800rpm.
It’s got fantastic mid-range pull, and although there’s a smidge of turbo lag, the twin-scroll turbine housing minimises the delay between putting your foot down and power coming on stream.
It’s happy to rev to 6200rpm, but with such a meaty power band there’s little point. Just use the mid-range torque to pull you out of corners instead.
Power is taken to the front wheels via a six-speed manual and a mechanical limited-slip differential, and traction in the dry is exceptional.
There’s hardly a hint of axle-tramp, wheel slip or torque steer, and a full-bore launch will see you hit 100km/h in six seconds flat.
ON THE TRACK
Opel Australia was kind enough to hire Sydney Motorsport Park for the day, and we were let loose over the track’s newly-minted (and very technical) layout.
In these tight corners, the Astra shone. The HiPerStrut front suspension reduces torque steer to manageable levels (even with the wheel at full lock), and in ‘OPC’ mode there’s virtually no body roll.
It’s a well-balanced chassis, and it rotates with a willingness that’s unusual for a front-driver. You really need to push exceptionally hard to make it understeer.
Get aggressive with the wheel, and you can even make the rear end step out (provided you’ve already deactivated the stability control, of course).
Lift-off oversteer is easily controlled and far easier to provoke than understeer, and it’s a delightfully playful chassis out on a racetrack.
The engine here is a delight. It delivers big squirts of power between apexes, and even though Opel’s PR people cordoned off the main straight, we were still able to see north of 150km/h on the speedometer.
Unfortunately, the brakes suffered from heat, with only a few laps being all it took to make the pedal travel both soft and long.
(But perhaps a squirt down the main straight at speed would have generated enough air-flow to cool the brakes properly.)
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
In a straight line, yes. Both cars clock the 0-100km/h sprint at 6.0 seconds. Around a corner, though? We’ll need to test both cars back-to-back to be sure, but we think the Renault has the edge in handling.
But where the Renault doesn’t have the edge, is in everything else. It’s more sparsely equipped than the Opel, has a smaller boot, a more cramped rear seat, less power (195kW) and less torque (360Nm).
The Astra OPC is ultimately more liveable than the Megane RS 265. While the Renault’s suspension is spine-shatteringly hard, the OPC is composed and compliant.
On the whole then, does that make the Astra OPC the better car?
Well, until we can get both cars together for a more exhaustive test, we’re inclined to say yes. Yes it is.
- Astra OPC - six-speed manual - $42,990
- 20-inch alloy wheels - $1000
- FlexRide - Standard
- Premium Paint - $695
- Leather Pack - Standard
- Navi Pack - Standard
- Premium Lighting Pack - $2000
Note: prices are RRP and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.