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After only six months on Australian shores, German wunderkind Opel reckons its all-new Opel Astra OPC is primed to take a commanding slice of the nation’s fiercely competitive hot-hatch market.
It’s got its work cut out for it – priced at a bullish $42,990 plus on-road costs, the Astra OPC is already dearer than the coveted Renault Megane RS265 ($42,640), as well as much-loved rivals the Volkswagen Golf GTI ($38,990) and Ford Focus ST ($38,290).
Cost aside, the Opel Astra OPC has pulled out all stops in a bid to out-perform its opponents – basing itself on the Astra GTC, but with a complete performance makeover by Opel’s go-fast tuning division known as OPC (Opel Performance Centre).
Gone is the GTC’s 132kW/230Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and in its place sits a considerably more potent 2.0-litre turbo four with 206kW and 400Nm sent to the front wheels.
Drill down beyond the Astra OPC’s quick 0-100km/h sprint time of 6.0 seconds and you’ll also find a raft of bespoke modifications that promise world-class handling and ride.
There’s a proper motorsport-derived mechanical limited-slip differential from Drexler, which works on the front wheels.
The Astra OPC also uses HiPerStrut front suspension, which, like Ford’s RevoKnuckle or Renault’s PerfoHub, allows the front wheels to turn independently of the suspension strut, providing more grip and traction through corners.
The three-way adaptive dampers are by ZF Sachs, and the brakes come from the halt-maestros at Brembo.
Better still, the Astra OPC gains electro-hydraulic power steering over an all-electric system.
Clearly, the Opel Astra OPC isn’t short on credentials: it has more power, more torque and more performance-enhancing technology than all of its rivals – so the obvious question is, what’s it like to drive?
Well, it’s very, very good.
Accelerate hard (as you’ll be compelled to do often) and the Astra is capable of huge point-to-point speed, while mid-range thrust borders on brutal.
Just don’t expect the usual hot-hatch soundtrack from this blown 2.0-litre engine – at least not above 3500rpm when the induction note shifts from a snarl to a jet-like whoosh.
But for all this commotion the general noise level inside the Astra’s cabin is remarkably well subdued.
It’s not without turbo lag, despite the sizeable dollop of torque on offer between 2400-4800rpm, meaning you’ll need to work the gears through the slower corners if pace is to be maintained.
If there’s a significant chink in the OPC’s armour, it’s the relatively long-throw shifts required with the six-speed manual transmission. The more direct, short-throw ’box in the Megane RS265 offers a far more engaging driving experience in this regard.
But it’s on the fast, bendy sections where the Opel Astra OPC is most adept. The steering is nicely weighted and pinpoint accurate, encouraging quick directional changes.
There’s zero body roll, so the Astra sits dead flat through high-speed turns, urging you to keep on the power longer.
But give it too much, too soon, and the Astra OPC will respond with a fair degree of torque steer as the limited-slip diff struggles to keep up.
The four-pot Brembos are hugely capable, but require some right-foot recalibration due to their acute sensitivity at the top of the pedal travel.
Most impressive, though, is the ride quality. The Astra OPC soaks up depressions and busted bitumen far better than we expected from a hatch that delivers such explosive performance while riding on low-profile 19-inch rims
Credit goes to Opel’s FlexRide adaptive damping system. Drivers have a choice of three dynamic chassis settings – Normal, Sport and OPC. Each mode progressively dials up suspension stiffness, steering weight and throttle response.
What surprises most is that even in the track-biased OPC setting, the ride is generally compliant – back roads included.
Visually, the Opel Astra OPC is a treat, sitting closer to the extraverted Megane RS than the perpetually conservative styling of the iconic Golf GTI.
Inside, it’s largely a contemporary affair with plenty of high-gloss finishes and soft touch trim, lifting it well above most rivals.
The Opel-designed Nappa leather seats with electrically operated bolstering and lumbar adjustment are superb. So, too, is the flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is padded for extra grip and feel.
Satellite navigation is standard, as are rear parking sensors, but a rear-view camera isn’t available even as an option.
Sadly, intuitive switchgear isn’t an Astra strongpoint. Take the centre stack for example: there are far too many buttons and the entertainment system controller is a functional nightmare.
Part of the attraction of hot-hatch ownership has always been the space and practicality they offer above and beyond their performance credentials, and the Opel Astra OPC is no different in this regard.
Even with the split-fold rear seats in the upright position, the Astra’s boot will swallow 380 litres, expanding to 775 litres with the seatbacks lowered.
Rear-seat leg and headroom also proved sufficiently accommodating for largely framed six-foot-tall individuals to sit comfortably.
Another key draw card is the fuel efficiency that comes with using small, but powerful engines in lightweight hatches.
The Astra OPC consumes 8.1L/100km on the combined cycle and emits 189g/km of CO2, bettering the Megane RS by 0.1L/100km, but falling short of the Focus ST (7.4L/100km).
The Opel Astra OPC is an exceptionally well-rounded hot-hatch offering sledgehammer-like ‘go’ and a ride quality that should make it very easy to live with as a daily driver. But as an upstart to Australia’s hot-hatch hierarchy, the Astra OPC still has a way to go before it matches the overall focus of the Megane RS.