The Opel Astra OPC is anticipated to become the first Opel Performance Centre model to arrive in our showrooms, and if confirmed would be out to give the Volkswagen Scirocco R and Renault Megane RS a stir.
If you’re thinking that OPC must be like the German maker’s equivalent of HSV, then you’re dead right. It’s been building hot Opels since 1997. In fact, Australia was given a taste of the OPC when 17 (yes, 17) of the previous Astra model’s Nurburgring editions were imported and sold by HSV in 2008.
Yet this new generation – introduced in Europe in 2009 and recently facelifted – takes the concept of a hot Opel Astra to the next level. And CarAdvice has tested it in the UK.
Based on the Opel Astra GTC – that’s the coupe version of the popular hatchback – the Opel Astra OPC inherits the GTC’s overall visual balance and composed look, though, you can’t miss the Astra OPC’s sculptured front bumper, which is lower and chunkier than the lower-spec models.
The differences continue with a honeycomb grille, side skirts, a more aggressive rear bumper with a diffuser-like lower section, LED taillights and a set of trapezoidal exhaust pipes. A roof-mounted spoiler and ornate 19-inch wheels finish things off - though our test car was optioned with lighter forged 20-inch items. None of it looks added on either, with the design being cohesive and the changes well integrated.
Inside is a major step-up too. The Opel Astra OPC’s lightweight sports buckets not only look good, but Opel says they also save around 45 per cent in weight, being made of injection-molded fiberglass. They’re padded enough to be comfortable but bolstered enough to hold you in when the OPC’s moving rapidly. Covered in half-leather, they sit 17mm lower in the Astra OPC than in the regular Astra GTC, and there’s optional electrically adjustable bolsters – both for the vertical and the separate base bolsters – making the seat a perfect fit for almost any passenger.
From the excellent driving position, which has plenty of room (unlike the back seats), you are greeted with OPC dials and a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed sports steering wheel that’s 10mm smaller in diameter than those found in regular Astras. Under foot are drilled aluminium pedals, OPC floor mats, doorsills and smart stitching with piano black inserts on the door trims.
The surfaces are premium, with a soft-touch dash and black and silver trim highlighting the centre-console surround. The console itself is loaded with tech controls: heated seats; climate control; centre display with sat-nav; USB and Bluetooth connectivity; plus DAB audio - you know you’re not sitting in a standard Astra.
On the safety front, the Opel Astra OPC has six airbags, but while it’s yet to have been crash tested, the Astra GTC has and it received a five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Switch the Astra OPC on, and there’s a classic hot hatch exhaust note, but it’s particularly strong and bassy. The 206kW 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is loaded with technology, and has a unique alloy-head compared to the rest of the Astra range to go with its aluminium block and direct fuel injection.
It also has its own specific turbocharger for better response, running 1.5bar of boost. A unique intake and exhaust system, and remapped engine control unit (ECU) make the most of the improvements. The changes have also benefited fuel economy with figures of 8.1 litres per 100km matching that of the Volkswagen Scirocco R and bettering the Renault Megane RS’s 8.2L/100km.
Nail the throttle and there’s an instant roar – the OPC’s engine has a loud induction noise backed up by a classic, sweet turbo whistle. The timbre’s a treat even when you’re off-throttle, burbling on the overrun down hills.
The six-speed manual delivers smooth shifts, and while it’s not the slickest manual gearbox, the ratios are well spaced to make the most of the engine’s push from around 2500rpm. It’s here that the biggest slab of the available 400Nm of torque kicks in, and while there’s a little lag before this, it’s a reasonably smooth delivery. It’s quick too, cracking 100km/h in 5.9 seconds – fractionally faster than the Scirocco R and Megane RS.
The Astra OPC isn’t brutal, but rather progressive, making it comfortable even as a passenger on a winding road.
The electric steering is well weighted, with excellent turn-in to make the most of the high grip levels. It’s not as involving as say, the Megane RS, but it’s rewarding and addictive. With the recalibrated electronic stability program (ESP) and traction control systems barely noticeable when they are called upon, you can still enjoy a punt in the Astra OPC with the electronics still activated.
You can switch the ESP completely off – unlike in the VWs – meaning you can have the OPC screeching tyres but still feeling grippy, playful and predictable in its handling and road holding. The Brembo brakes and great traction combine to make you attack corners faster than you’d ever hoped for in a car with an Astra badge. It’s a massively capable motorcar.
This is because of the hard yards Opel and OPC have put in on the chassis tune that again prove the Astra OPC is more than a dressed up Astra. All Astra GTCs – OPC and otherwise – have a unique ‘HyPerStrut’. This, in simple terms, separates the front suspension’s up and down movement from the steering. This reduces torque steer, and combines with a mechanical LSD to make the OPC’s nose more composed than you’d expect when you’re pushing it. This is one impressive set-up.
There are also three suspension modes – what Opel calls ‘FlexRide’ – in its magnetic damper set-up. The default mode offers an impressive ride, especially for a car riding on 20-inch alloys, with the ZF Sachs dampers soaking up bumps well making for a comfortable ride. Select Sport on the dash, and it stiffens up the suspension and steering to deliver sharper turn in and poise. The ultimate mode is labeled ‘OPC’ and it’s here that the performance Astra is in full attack mode, providing drivers with the precision and sharpness lacking in some of today’s more expensive super sedans.
The ride remains acceptable – perhaps too stiff for some – but the ability and effectiveness of this car will win many over. The three settings make the OPC both livable on a day-to-day basis, but also perfect for the odd track day or mountain road.
On Australian roads, the Astra OPC may well prove too harsh for some tastes, but it’ll take on – and likely succeed – the Renault Megane RS for buyers looking at a quirky alternative.
The Opel Astra OPC is fast, well designed and built, and is a whole lot of fun to push hard down a winding road. It’s sophisticated, loaded with features and serene enough to be liveable on a day-to-day basis.
Opel hasn’t confirmed the OPC for Australian showrooms, but if it does make it here, pricing is likely to be in the $40,000-$45,000 ballpark.