By on April 29, 2016

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Front 3/4, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

When the previous generation of Astra made it to American shores — dressed in leather, wood and Buick Verano badges — it wasn’t a foreign invasion. Instead, the Astra-cum-Verano was a good soldier coming home; the Astra J always felt like a Buick.

The brand-new Astra, now wearing the K designator, is lighter, more agile and stuffed with lots of new-fangled tech. Europeans love it, as shown by its European Car of the Year award. But will Americans love the next Verano, which is bound to be based on this European compact?

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Front, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

Opel is much more American than most people in Europe realize. Not only did it make almost-American cars in the past, but even Opel’s current offerings show more than a few traces of its American parent. Take the Astra J: A competitor to Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf, the J always felt at least half-a-size larger (though not in a good way). It was a bit cramped on the inside, yet felt massive from the driver’s seat — both in its maneuverability and on-road manners.

The new generation of the Astra is set to change that.

For starters, the new Astra rides on General Motors’ new D2XX platform, which the company says is “completely new” and — by managing to save 260-400 pounds (depending on engine, body style and trim level) — should do away with the tank-like ride of the previous Astra J. Opel’s claim of a completely new platform sounds a bit fishy, though. For one, GM is said to have spent $220 million on developing the new and supposedly modular D2XX platform. That’s facelift money in the car manufacturing world, not we-built-this-thing-from-scratch money. For context, Volkswagen allegedly spent north of $50 billion on its MQB platform.

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Taillight, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

I spent a week looking at the Astra quite closely. As someone with a well-developed visual memory, plenty of experience with the previous Astra, and access to Google Images, I don’t buy the notion that the Astra K is as new as Opel purports. Much like the Corsa, the car is made to look new enough thanks to superficial lines and details. But when you concentrate to the hard points — doors, windows or rear hatch opening — the general body lines and their relationships with the wheelbase make the Astra look like the old model hidden with new sheetmetal. Most owners won’t notice, though, as the design tweaks are real enough to make the new Astra look much more modern and visually lighter.

Unlike the exterior, which hints at the bones of an old Astra underneath, the cockpit feels properly new. Where last year’s Astra tried to drown you in a sea of grey plastic and a mind-numbing ocean of buttons, the current model offers flowing lines and a snazzy touchscreen infotainment system. Additionally, you no longer feel like you’re trapped in some dystopian armored car as exterior visibility is vastly improved.

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Center Console, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

The biggest difference comes to the Astra’s driving experience. The idea that this is a European’s interpretation of a Buick is mostly gone. The car feels light on its feet, its steering response is quick and agile, and its suspension is more supple than it used to be. It feels as if Opel removed the Astra’s concrete boots.

Don’t get me wrong. This still isn’t a Mazda3 or a Ford Focus. The Astra lacks the joyful engagement of those cars. And it doesn’t offer nearly the same driving precision as the Golf. Steering is nowhere near as tactile and linear as the Volkswagen. The Astra’s manual transmission can be a bit notchy, and its throws are certainly longer than one would expect from a premium product. It still can’t run with the best, but at least it’s nipping at the heels of its rivals now.

Being only slightly behind can be enough, so long as you have something to make up for it. In the case of the Astra, that something comes in the form of technology. Opel brags about being able to offer the luxury options of a premium car at an affordable price in its compact. And it is true. Kind of. If you consider the Golf or a Škoda to be a premium car.

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Interior, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

Another highlight — the ventilated, massaging seats — wasn’t equipped at the reviewed example, so we can’t compare it with premium brands. And with exception of Citroëns fake “massage seats” (lumbar support moving back and forth), no competitor offers massage seats, and I don’t know of any direct competitor with ventilated ones, either. The seats themselves are “Aktion Gesunder Rücken (Campaign for Healthier Backs) certified,” which supposedly means they are approved by the Association of Healthy Back—Better Living and the Federal Association of German Back Schools — whatever that means. The seats are super comfortable. Considering the importance the seats play in comfort, these are probably more than worth the extra cost as an option. Shame that it’s unlikely they’ll make it to the potential future Verano.

What will surely make it to North America is the comprehensive package of driving assists. You get the usual fare from today’s better-equipped cars — lane assist, front collision warning and traffic sign recognition — but despite the presence of the front radar, adaptive cruise control isn’t available, nor is it possible to order automatic parking. The systems also lag a bit behind competitors. Lane assist only reacts when you cross the line, unlike VW’s equivalent, which is able to keep inside the lane and basically drive itself — so long as you keep your hands on the wheel.

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Instrument Panel, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

And then there’s the Astra’s traffic sign recognition, which deserves its own paragraph, and its own place in hell. Unlike the system on the previous generation Astra — or, for that matter, on any competitor — it does not settle for showing tiny traffic signs somewhere in the instrument panel’s display. It feels obliged to inform you — no, warn you and alert you — each and every time you pass any speed limit sign, with a window that covers the display. Ran past another “50” sign? The window pops up. And then again. And again. Basically, the whole 4-inch-or-so display in the dash, otherwise useful for sat nav instructions or trip computer, becomes a place to display traffic signs — and it can’t be turned off.

Once again, it seems Opel’s knowledge of ergonomics is limited to the wonderful seats, as the Astra’s many controls for various in-car systems are decidedly lacking in their usability. While the touchscreen infotainment is surely a huge step forward compared to incomprehensible button hell of the previous generation, it’s still a bit behind competition when it comes to logic and ease of use. Some issues, like commands that are not immediately clear, may just be a matter of familiarity. Others, like the fact that you must go back to the “home” screen almost any time you switch between infotainment sections — such as media, phone or navigation — are maddening.

Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Front Closeup, Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars

Verdict

The earlier Astra was an also-ran in the segment. It wasn’t a bad car, but it had some annoying features, felt obese, and mostly lacked anything to really make you like it. In today’s market, that spells failure.

The new Astra still isn’t perfect. The ergonomics are often weird, the much-bragged-about tech gadgets lack the finesse of competitors, and — while the car drives pretty well — it can’t play with the best in class. The overall package, though, is now much more compelling than it ever was. Its unique selling point is now “affordable luxury.” You can have features like ventilated, massaging seats and heated steering wheel, lots of assists, LED headlights from larger cars in a compact package. A well-optioned Golf may be a better car, but it’s also so expensive that it ceases to be a real competitor. Against the aging Focus, or even the new offerings from France, the Astra is a formidable opponent.

Will it be a good Buick?

All the qualities that make Astra an interesting offering on European market are those traditionally connected with American cars. For the price, it’s bigger, better equipped, and comes with fairly powerful engines well suited for automatic transmissions. It has lots of features. It’s comfortable. Sure, it’s not made like a premium European car, and some of the features are not the best in business, but it will make a wonderful Buick with an added splash of European agility and flair.

To be a Verano, all it needs is a trunk, some beige leather, wood trim and an automatic transmission.

[Image: © 2016 Viola Procházková/The Truth About Cars]

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48 Comments on “Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Review – The Buick from Europe?...”


  • avatar

    I’m currently in the air enroute to Denver. Little did the airlines know that opening up the wifi to get the Gogo App from Appstore would allow me to use the Internet free.

    Just saved $50

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      “I’m currently in the air enroute to Denver. Little did the airlines know that opening up the wifi to get the Gogo App from Appstore would allow me to use the Internet free.

      Just saved $50”

      What on (or above) Earth does this have to do with the article? You might as well just have typed, “1st!!!111OMGWTFBBQ!!”

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Prepare for snow…bleacccch.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      You know, Vojta, Bigtrucks is right. I don’t know why you left this out of your review, but I expect better next time.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You’d think with all the $2,000 he makes every hour that he wouldn’t be concerned with saving $50.

        Then again, he is a Chrysler customer so he’s on form.

        Did you know you can make your toilet paper last twice as long if you pull the 2-ply apart?

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      I’m pretty sure if there’s an app that let’s you use airline wifi for free, they know about it, and are probably trying to do something about it.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      Awesome! Now what I suggest you do is take that 50 bucks, roll it up, AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR KIESTER!!! NOBODY CARES!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    A ‘Buick’ that competes with the Golf?
    Alfred P. Sloan and Harley Earl must be rolling over in their graves.

    And who in North America cross-shops a Buick with a Golf?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    This hatchback model looks GREAT. Why can’t we have it as a Chevy, GM?

    Pretty please?

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I have an affinity for Opel-based products, and this one is no different (but that gauge cluster is almost as bad as a 2002 era Kia).

      There’s something about German/European Opel vehicles that makes them clearly superior in terms of refinement to NA designed GM products.

    • 0 avatar
      kjb911

      We do get it as a Chevy. It’s called the 2016 Cruze and 2017 Cruze Hatch

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Does it have to be a Buick? I’d rather see it as a replacement for the Cruze.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Man that is one ugly instrument cluster , hope that stays on your side of the pond.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Don’t you like having Wall-E (Johnny-5?) staring back at you?

    • 0 avatar
      qfrog

      I had the same thought about the cluster. Is this really all they could think of? Seems to me that what the driver looks at most is where they spent the least amount of time designing an aesthetically pleasing yet efficient and functional display. The outside of the car, in particular the lamps, yes lavish them with design detail that isn’t needed and is only visible to people that aren’t driving the car.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, that needs to go. Not a bad looking car, though not distinctive. The sign-recognition feature would drive me crazy, how does stuff like that make it though testing?

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Because outside of the Autobahn, the euros are almost as obsessed with speed limits as in North America, the difference being that instead of visions of children’s blood and body parts in the streets if the populace is allowed to drive faster than a walk, they are worshipping at the altar of Mother Earth.

  • avatar
    319583076

    It looks like a Focus with a mildly modified front end.

  • avatar
    threeer

    We are getting a hatchback GM…in the form of the Hecho en Mexico Cruze…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Interesting review, Vojta. I noticed there was no discussion about the engine despite it being part of the article’s title. Is this the same 1.4T in the outgoing Cruze? That’s kind of a pokey engine here, but does it work better in the Opel especially compared to it’s competitor’s engines over there?

    The seats certainly look comfortable, much more GTI than Buick. Which means we’ll probably get a softer, shorter cushion if this does become the next Verano.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I’m confused.

    The Verano is an Opel, but the Cruze isn’t? Didn’t the Cruze [Daewoo Lacetti] begat the Verano?

    And now the next gen Verano will be this Opel, and not a Cruze (again)?

    • 0 avatar
      LIKE TTAC.COM ON FACEBOOK

      Buick is becoming the new Geo.

    • 0 avatar
      HEOJ

      The Cruze was briefly sold as the Daewoo Lacetti but it was unrelated to the Korean designed car that originally carried the name. The Cruze, Verano, and Astra J are all based on the Delta II platform,I believe the Cruze was the first to come out. The next gen GM compact reversed the order a new Verano is already available in China and it is built on the same D2XX platform that the Astra K and 2016 Cruze are now being built on. Sidenote the Verano in china should not be confused with Buick Excelle GT which is what the original Verano is sold as in china and was also recently updated. Buick China now has both an Excelle GT and a Verano as two separate cars.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        (Yep, the original Daewoo Lacetti was sold in the US as the Suzuki Verona. Yuck. And what interesting name similarity.)

        Thanks for the clarification.

        • 0 avatar
          scott25

          Don’t forget the Canada-only Chevrolet Optra, which is probably still the most common wagon on the road up here. Massively successful and surprisingly long lasting.

  • avatar
    someoneotherthanme

    Curious – VW spends 50 billion on a platform, GM spends 200 million. Kinda makes me wonder how much BMC might have spent for the original bugeye sprite “platform”……maybe 12p?

  • avatar
    TMA1

    That is a frumpy looking car. GM needs to start poaching the designers that Hyundai and Kia poached from Germany.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    GM has brought Opels over as Buicks and Saturns and whatever brand they feel like at the time. Why don’t they bring Opels over as Opels? They’d need to do some branding and some signage work at dealerships. But they can market it as a German car in a market where German cars command a premium price. It seems like an easier sell to the market than the relentless uphill battle to convince the public that Buick isn’t what we think it is.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I completely agree.
      The first new car I bought was a 1975 Opel Manta sold by Buick. Since then, I think that the reason they branded Opels as Buicks or other GM brands is to jack up the sticker price. I got a screaming good deal on my Opel when they were phasing out the real, German Opels for the Japanese dreck that they moved the badge to. When I bought my Manta for $3500, the salesman showed me how superior the paint on the Manta was compared to a full sized Buick that cost twice as much. The interior was rater austere compared to the high end Buicks , but was far better quality.
      Now with the US dollar approaching parity with the Euro would be a good time to sell Opels through GM without converting them to another marque.

      • 0 avatar
        Kenmore

        “Japanese dreck”

        Military intelligence, jumbo shrimp, hockey scholarship.

      • 0 avatar
        burnbomber

        I tried to buy one of the last 1975 Mantas (was a prior year model then) at a Buick dealership in Dallas. The sales guy tried to push me into the newer captive Buick, a 1976 “Opel by Isuzu” (aka Isuzu Gemini). It was unimpressive, and I didn’t push for the true Opel because it didn’t have air conditioning, which was essential in the true Texas summer heat.

    • 0 avatar
      mechaman

      Interesting point … just a few days ago I saw an Opel Astra, the one rebadged as a Saturn, in a Cicero, IL shopping mall parking lot. It was, to all appearances, an OPEL, not a SATURN. I was told that some people have sent over for the Euro badging for cars like this and installed it, but it seemed odd to do that on a car like this. Side note, I went to take a picture of the car, and the woman who was driving it, who’d just come out of a restaurant near the parking spot, got a little paranoid when she saw me taking a snap of the car, but calmed down a bit when I explained why I wanted to – but she took off before I could get more than one picture. Maybe it came through Canada? Mexico? I dunno.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I see this Opel has the same sort of extraneous interior design elements as most GM products. Deep chrome rimmed gauge bezels. Edges and lines for design elements, without any use. Just too busy for my tastes.

  • avatar
    THU.

    This is – The Lies about Cars.

    This person is totally ignorant.

    And one of the most stupid existences on the planet.

    These lies are very close to a crime against humanity.

    Deserves 174 years in prison.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I’d rather drive an Opel-branded car than an Opel branded as a Buick…a proper Buick should be a big, comfortable sedan.

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