The small hatchback is one of those mainstays of the European automotive industry that will always have to fight very hard for its share, and the Opel Astra is a fighter. GM is pinning a lot of hopes on the Astra. With Ford poised to launch the 2012 Focus as a global car, GM wants to compete with a cost-saving global platform, albeit with more badge swapping. That means the Astra has to be good, really good.
It first becomes obvious how well they've pulled this off as soon as you get into the car. Borrowing a good deal of the interior design from the more upscale Insignia, the interior of the Astra is a noticeably nicer place to be than the interior of much of the competition. The exterior styling is pleasant, perhaps not as distinctive and the European-spec Civic, but still better looking than the Golf. Quite a lot of attention has been paid to the suspension, as it was recognized that there would be a need to allow the suspension to be reconfigured for different applications.
Since this a priority, rather than an afterthought, the Astra has a very good ride. Good in the curves without compromising the long-distance comfort that the Astra needs in order to compete with the Golf. There is also an available adaptive dampening system, which can help even more in this department. Nine different engines are available for the Astra, and these range from sub-100 hp, almost painfully lacking in power, non-turbo gas and diesel engines to a fairly peppy 1.6-liter turbo.
None of these will be able to hold up to the Focus ST or Golf GTI, but we've been told that there is a much more powerful 2.0-liter turbo mill in the Astra's future. Hopefully this will be offered in time to compete with the 2012 Focus ST.