Opel Astra takes 2017 Coty

Opel astra

Taking the ultimate accolade as South Africa's Wesbank Car of the Year 2017, the Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy was the first mid-price range car to take the title since the Hyundai Elantra achieved this distinction in 2012.

Taking over from three Porsches and the Volvo XC90 (2013-2016) was no easy task and the Astra had to overcome the challenge of several pricier finalists such as the Jaguar F-Pace, Hyundai's Tucson and the Volkswagen Tiguan (my personal choice at the time). Yet, the unpretentious Opel Astra demonstrated what the Car of the Year competition is all about and that an astronomical price tag does not necessarily guarantee success.

Why the Opel Astra?

Apart from being the fourth Opel to take the title in the 33-year history of the competition, the 1.4T Enjoy came to the event as somewhat of an outsider, despite multiple other international awards, including the 2016 European Car or the Year.

All-round excellence and an essential requirement merely to make it onto the list of finalists, was right up the Astra's sleeve. Its outstanding strengths included aerodynamics, as well as segment-leading safety features, an infotainment system and driver aids usually found only on luxury vehicles.

The Coty Jury, all members of the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists, also heaped praise on the Astra for its superb roadholding and handling, and a free-revving 110 kW four-cylinder petrol unit which combined seamlessly with the super-smooth 6-speed manual gearbox.

Design and Looks

A sleek and slippery wedge design, impeccable build quality and huge luggage space also counted strongly in the Astra's favour, while interior comfort with legroom reminiscent of larger cars likewise counted in its favour. The sleek design enabled the Astra to cruise at high speeds without irritating wind noise intrusion - a vital advantage which rightly suggests that great care has been taken in producing a model which not only features desirable looks but goes about its business in a quiet and dignified manner - until the urge to use all 110 kW becomes irresistible.

The Power

Having been around for some time, the direct-injection Turbo ECOTEC engine is the very heart of the 2017 champion. It is one of the best engines developed by the company since 2014, a process that will continue until next year. Outstanding fuel economy (Opel claims 4.9 litres/100 km) together with 245 Nm of pulling power (torque) which is available from as low as 2 000 r/min, right up to 3,500 r/min played a major role in the Astra's victory.

Unlike some manufacturers who flaunt their power with aural enhancement (noise), Opel has gone the civilised route and prefer their engine to whisper, rather than shout from the rooftops how great it is. This they were able to do because the engine block was constructed with resonance reduction in mind, the cam cover is sound absorbing, and even the timing chain has been trimmed with the objective of projecting a sense of quiet quality.

Solid but not heavy

Apart from a 10 kg reduction in engine mass, with cast iron making way for aluminium, other weight-saving measures include a hollow-cast crankshaft and the use of special high-tensile steel in components such as boot lids and engine bonnets.

Last Word

Despite a new path for Opel (the company has been taken over by Peugeot) South Africans will continue to appreciate the brand's exterior design and styling, interior use of top quality materials, modern technology, affordability and value for money (R341,300), and steering and handling which has set the Astra apart from others in its class, and even more expensive rivals. In the last three years, Opel sales have increased by 9.5 % in a market that has declined by 15.5 % - a vote of confidence in Opel's German engineering.

The Opel Astra 1.4T Enjoy is a worthy winner, and with this title (four in total) slots in behind BMW which has won the competition six times.