Road test: The new Opel Performance Center range reviewed
"NOT bad for a car zat you zet from a dealer," Volker Strycek said in his thick German accent while coming off the final turn at Sydney Motorsport Park.
The Opel Performance Center managing director was in Australia for the launch of a hot performance trio.
Strycek's rapid-fire stint on the track at Eastern Creek was in the latest hot hatch to hit the market, an Astra OPC.
The well-known nameplate is joined by the pint-size Corsa and mid-size Insignia sedan.
Together they form a united foray into the Australian performance market.
Opel was launched in Australia last August.
While Opel vehicles have been in Australia before, primarily wearing Holden badges, parent company General Motors believes there is a market here for "attainable" German engineering - with Volkswagen a prime target.
Over the past six months Opel has been attempting to build brand awareness, which includes sponsorship of the Sydney Roosters NRL side and Mebourne in the AFL.
Six new dealerships in Maroochydore, Cairns, Townsville, Toowoomba, Newcastle and Port Macquarie will soon be launched.
The Astra and Insignia hit showrooms this month and will be joined by the pocket-rocket Corsa in April. Prices start from $28,990 for the Corsa OPC, from $42,990 for the Astra OPC, while the Insignia OPC starts from $59,990.
Setting the sporting scene are leather trimmed Recaro sports seats, which are standard across the range but with varying figure-hugging abilities.
We spent the majority of our time in the Insignia and Astra, which differ in personality.
The Insignia sedan is more of a sports tourer, with a firm yet quiet and compliant ride with only coarse chip surfaces making noticeable cabin impact.
Astra models are far more athletic, feeling more bumps while hearing more of the "jet" exhaust note.
Both models offer good peripheral vision from cabins which have a predominantly black colour scheme.
Like previous Opels we've sampled, the dash is busy with an assortment of buttons which control everything from the sat nav and stereo through to the climate controlled air con. Regular use would make deciphering the controls easier, but it can be confusing on first introduction.
The driver, who has telescopic steering adjustment, has a clear and easy view of crisp and clear gauges.
On the road
Without doubt, Astra is the pick of the crop. Under its skin is a 206 kilowatt 2.0-litre turbocharged engine which hammers power through the front wheels.
But there's no torque steer or slipping, courtesy of a unique suspension set-up combined with a sophisticated limited slip differential.
Corners are the Astra's friend, boasting a lovely burst of power and beautiful balance. Direct steering delivers great feel and help provide a package which doesn't have any of the traditional front-wheel drive drawbacks.
The Insignia is a more relaxed drive, despite having more power from a turbocharged V6.
Its power delivery is linear and strong, but lacks some "wow" factor.
Both models have three driving modes, normal, Sport and OPC. Throttle response is quickened, suspension made firmer and steering made heavier depending on your selection, with OPC offering the greatest athleticism while accompanied by an angry red hue around the gauges.
During a hot lap with experienced race car driver Craig Baird, he rated it as the best front wheel car drive he's driven. Baird said he'd driven front-wheelers worth three times the Astra which didn't offer the grip, feel or steering feel generated by the OPC variant.
What do you get?
Astra and Insignia models are well specified, testament to the fact there are few options.
Everything you would expect is standard, like cruise control, sat nav, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic lights and wipers, leather trim, alloy wheels and body kits.
For those who want bigger alloys, $1000 enables to you up-size one-inch.
White is the standard colour, anything else will cost you $695 extra.
The Astra also has a cool Apple app available, which for 99 cents, provides a host of additional real-time technical information (like engine boost pressure, throttle position, lateral acceleration or engine torque) for the keenest of boy racers. A special phone cradle for this purpose is on the options list.
Both the hatch and sedan offer reasonable space for five adults. The Astra only has three doors, so getting into the back can be a challenge, but once there space is okay for adults.
Those about 180cm and under would find the Insignia offering good for leg and head room. Boot space is impressive (and quite deep in the hatch), while both vehicles offer 60-40 split-fold rear seats.
Insurance may need some shopping around. Premiums vary depending on the driver's age and history.
The official fuel consumption figure is thrifty for the Astra at 7.5 litres/100km, while the Insignia is above 10. Both are relatively thrifty given the performance, but expect higher than the certified numbers.
For those seeking understated, executive styling, then the Insignia is a good fit. Yet it's the Astra which is the show-stopper.
It looks quick standing still.
Brilliant alloys that show off the big Brembo brakes, and bullet-like proportions make this a stand-out in the hot hatch arena.
Opel can expect big things from the Astra OPC. Its lack of an automatic transmission will cross it off some lists, but the purists will love the slick shifting six-speed manual.
The Insignia borders on sports luxury with a more refined ride.
Performance may well be the niche Opel needs to find a foothold in the Australian market.
And OPC's Volker Strycek was spot on in his assessment of the Astra. It's impressive value for a car that can potter around town and then step onto the track and perform with aplomb.
What matters most
The good stuff: Remarkable grip and balance from the Astra OPC, refined Insignia OPC ride, supportive sports seats, Astra OPC styling.
What we'd like to see: Automatic option for the Astra, more punch from the V6, more simplistic interior.
Warranty and servicing: Backed by a three-ear 100,000km warranty. The first three years or 45,000km, services capped at $299 for the Corsa OPC, $349 for the Astra OPC and $399 for the Insignia OPC.
The writer was Opel's guest in Sydney.