It’s not commonly understood by many that the Astra marque was in fact an imported Opel that is designed in Germany and assembled in GM’s Belgium plant, as such it comes with a feature set, all be it dumbed down for the Australian market, that is quite rich and technologically advanced, especially for it’s year model, which sits on the cusp of the information boom that saw all new cars come with 7″ LCD screens as standard equipment in dashboard consoles, however due to the global nature of the car aftermarket items from Europe and Asia are easy to come by and simple and cost effective to install which brings it to the level of features offered in today’s market. One of the most impressive features of the car is it’s active / adaptive chassis, which is usually something reserved for the more high end vehicles and certainly not something that was featured in any of the flagship models at the time of release in the Holden staple, it senses road conditions and driving style and adjusts the damper and rebound to give either a smoother driving experience or a stiffer tighter chassis for hard cornering, when in sport mode it also adjusts the steering sensitivity and throttle response (as well as the fuel economy) to offer a more exhilarating experience, paired with 18″ alloys the car handles exceptionally well with the only caveats being the typical problems associated with high powered front wheel drive cars, torque and under steer, however it is a predictable package and knowing it’s limits can offset this. The front discs are the same size as you would find on an SV6 Commodore so it stops very well, clearly owing to it’s German heritage and having to travel on their Autobahn’s where emergency stops could easily occur from speeds upwards of 160kph (which it will happily do in 6th gear)
The Z20LEH motor is a derivative of the family II engine line and has a good service life and reputation for reliability, and at least in my case this has turned out to be true, it’s always been serviced and the only issue so far at 93,000km is a broken window washer motor.
Parts for the Astra, as with any European sourced car are expensive if you go through the dealership networks, however, even with the shipping costs involved it’s cheaper to source parts from Vauxhall in the UK and have them delivered then pass them onto a trusted and competent mechanic for installation, in this manner servicing the Astra has been no more expensive or difficult than any other brand I have owned, domestically produced or otherwise.
It’s important to note these are still OEM parts, they just don’t have a price premium added onto them because in Europe these are the mainstay of their private transportation fleet, in much the same way a Commodore or a Falcon is here, as such parts are cheap and readily available in large quantities and a great deal of expertise is easily sourced online.
The weakest point in the drive line is the transmission, however it is a known issue with these vehicles and was fixed in the MY07.5 model with an up-rated unit more capable of handling the engine load, it’s an issue that only rears it’s head in harsh conditions or with modified engines so in regular city and freeway driving is not something the average owner is likely to be given grief over.
The best thing however is the “stealth” nature of the car, not many people know a turbocharged version of the Astra exists and to most people, including the police, it’s just another run of the mill common or garden 3 door hatchback, but it will go head on with comparable cars that attract much more notoriety, the flipside to this however is that you are not likely to get random offers of fellatio from the general public simply by driving past, or from parking it on king street on a Friday night.
That said, there are few things more satisfying than leaving someone in your rear view mirror at the lights who thought you had a bog stock 1.8 which you stupidly tacked 18’s onto.
Thankfully despite Opel returning to our shores and then leaving, Holden have brought back the Astra in it’s latest iteration and it’s more powerful, more aggressive and fixes the issues of torque and under steer, however it still has transmission issues which need to be fixed.