An icon reborn. That’s the slogan Opel has given the Astra for its 2020 facelift. Though the term “reborn” may be a bit of a stretch if I’m being totally honest.
But the changes, however mild they may be, do actually translate to real world improvements. But I’ll get to that in a bit. First off, a brief history lesson.
Opel launched the Astra back in 1991. And it has survived the test of time, with generation after generation of Astras’ rolling off the assembly line. And in the three decades or so since its introduction, Opel has sold over 8 million units of the Astra. Or to be more specific, about 8.17 million since 1997 (I couldn’t find any figures dating any further back).
This new Astra brings about a slew of new changes that are intended to keep this car fresh and updated for 2020. And for the most part, Opel has succeeded. Not in every aspect though. Allow me to delve further.
Visually, there aren’t many obvious differences between the pre-facelift model and this new 2020 Astra. The LED headlight units are brought over from the older model, as are hood and door panels, the rear bumper, down to the chrome strip along the roofline and C-pillar.
But this new Astra gets a redesigned front facia, with a cleaner grille design that incorporates less chrome. It also has a redesigned front bumper that melds the fog lights into the vents, and it now has 17-inch alloys. Overall, the silhouette of the car remains the same. It is still very much an Astra.
The interior has also been slightly redone, with a new infotainment system that has fewer physical buttons. Though the entire dashboard console looks rather similar to the older model, the ergonomics of the older model were already good, so I understand Opel’s decision to stick to the same formula. The new infotainment system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you have handsfree control of your navigation and music.
Rear legroom is generous, with ample space for two adults in the rear. Three’s a stretch but possible, although middle seat passengers may find it a tad cramped. As with the pre-facelift Astra, you get 370 litres of boot space. Fold down the rear seats and it expands to 1210 litres, giving it an edge over other cars in its class. The low boot sill makes loading and unloading baggage easier. And the plastic trim on the lip protects your paintwork.
Under the hood lies a GM sourced 1.4 litre turbocharged three-cylinder engine that generates a healthy 145 horsepower, putting it well above the Category A COE limit. Claimed combined fuel economy is rated at 5.2L/100km, or 19.2km per litre. But during our test our fuel economy averaged between 19-20km per litre, which is pretty damn near close to the spec sheet. Marginally better in fact. But of course, manufacturer specs do not always accurately reflect real-world statistics so take it with a grain of salt.
On the road, the Astra is composed and pliant. The suspension adequately soaks up bumps and divots in the road. It’s not butter smooth, but for a compact hatchback it’s pretty decent. The cabin is rather well insulated, and tyre or wind noise is not that apparent.
The pièce de résistance however, is the steering. Or rather, how sharp it is. Carving up narrow twisty roads, the car leans into corners with minimal body roll and very little understeer. When even you lean on the throttle a little, the Astra shows no signs of wavering or faltering. And its light. Very, very light.
However, there is a flaw. My biggest gripe with this car is the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Now as much as I dislike CVTs, I will agree that they really do wonders for your fuel economy. And this new gearbox improves the Astra’s fuel economy by a 10% margin over the older model. But all that comes at an expense of power delivery and throttle response. And though the Astra isn’t made for setting track records, the inconsistency of the gearbox may be an issue when performing overtakes or tackling steep roads.
Kicking the gear lever into manual mode doesn’t make much of a difference either, with just a marginal improvement in responsiveness. Still, the “manual-esque” gear ratios of the CVT are no match for a regular torque converter automatic or a dual clutch gearbox. But for regular city or highway cruising, it probably won’t be an issue for most drivers.
Safety systems are plentiful in the 2020 Astra, with tyre pressure monitors and following distance indicators. It also comes with lane keep assist, which tightens up the steering if you start weaving too far out of your lane, preventing you from careening into other drivers by accident. The cruise control takes a bit of getting used to but once you’ve got it right, it works rather well. And the Astra’s Advanced Park Assist system really does work, despite the fact that it cuts out rather easily while you’re looking for a lot. But once the car finds a suitable perpendicular or parallel spot, pop it in reverse and the car will do the work. Though it may take a while, depending on the size of the parking space.
In summary, the Opel Astra is a very daily driveable car. Spacious, light and compact enough to navigate Singapore’s many narrow roads. Despite the slightly dated styling, and the CVT gearbox, and the wonky park assist, it’s a viable option for those in the market for a family hatchback. And at this price point, it’s hard to find another car of this class that can do what the Astra does. And for the large majority of consumers, it’s more than enough.