As humans we are sometimes guilty of compartmentalising, or putting things in boxes so to speak, and this is often the case in our car conversations.
Take the hot hatch, for instance. The Golf GTI is often considered the benchmark in this ‘compartment’ and anything that remotely competes with it is expected to perform, steer and even sound similar.
The new Opel Astra 1.6T Sport auto does not want to fit into anyone’s box, however. Powered by a 1.6-litre turbopetrol engine that produces 147kW and 280Nm, it is far brawnier than any ‘regular’ C-segment hatch, even matching fifth-generation Golf GTI in power terms, but it’s not quite a hot hatch in the way it’s dressed or how it behaves on the road. And that might just be the best thing about this Astra - it’s a comfort hatch with the ability to excite.
And it now has a gearbox that’s much better suited to that demeanour with the introduction of a six-speed automatic, which replaces the manual unit that was previously the only option when you bought an Astra 1.6T.
The 2019 upgrade also brings ‘OPC Line’ exterior and interior packages, but before you get images of boisterous hot hatches with big spoilers, the kit is more about subtle elegance than anything else, adding chrome trim strips to the front bumper and upper window lines and a chrome exhaust tip, while alloy pedals and a sports steering wheel adorn the cabin. The 1.6T Sport already had distinctive 18-inch alloys so no need to reinvent that, er, wheel.
The Astra is an attractive car, but it’s not trying to show off or turn heads, and the driving experience of this specific model suits its personality to a tee - it’s simply effortless, comfortable and enjoyable.
The engine sounds mildly enticing, but there’s no vrrr-phaa. It won’t push you back in your seat but it still feels extremely potent. The gearbox does its job smoothly, even when you’re heavy on the throttle, while both become a bit sharper when you hit the Sport button, but even then, it’s not overbearing and it won’t hold the gears for too long either.
While the ride is acceptably comfortable the handling and steering are particularly impressive - it’s very agile and you can feel the sensation of the road through communicative steering, which is rare these days.
In keeping with the comfort hatch attitude, the 1.6T Sport is well appointed, with leather seats, IntelliLink touchscreen system with navigation, climate control, Advanced Park Assist and Side Blind-Zone Alert, among other goodies. The 1.6T also comes with LED Matrix headlights, which automatically adjust the light beam to situation and surroundings.
This is a highly appealing package that will suit those looking for a large chunk of the driving excitement that a hot hatch offers, but in a more comfortable and less showy package.
But the price is likely to be a turn-off for many. At R508 000, it is only R57 800 cheaper than the Golf GTI. But if the Opel dealer is offering a better discount then an Astra 1.6T could be very tempting.