What is it?
A trusted model wearing a new brand

What’s in it?
A 121-kilowatt two-litre turbo diesel with a six-speed auto

Is it thirsty?
I used 9.2 litres per 100 km in the city, 6.3 in the country. The official combined figure is 5.9.

Thumbs up
Good equipment levels, perky performance and good handling, along with pleasing economy.

Thumbs down
Rear leg room is tight, the ride is firm and it gets a space-saver spare, but above all it’s expensive.

Fair dinkum, some car companies are so silly you just want to bite them. Look at Nissan. Back in 2007 it dropped the Pulsar badge, the most successful one it had, in favour of Tiida, a name hardly anyone could pronounce and even less could spell. Buyers were underwhelmed. Now Nissan is trying to re-start the Pulsar name.

Opel Astra picHolden threw away its hugely successful Astra moniker in 2009 and, just to confuse all those loyal Astra owners replaced it with Cruze, which had been attached to a small SUV. Now the Astra is back again, except it’s not on a Holden, it’s on an Opel.

Opel? This is the General Motors brand in Europe and is to Europe what Holden is here. Except Opel is now trying to establish a foothold locally and with Holden already here it wants to convince us that Opels, being German, are worth premium prices. So a base Astra costs $1500 more than the equivalent Corolla. It’s four grand up on a Mazda 3 and five on a Cruze.

And while the brand may be German the Astra is actually made in England. Thus Opels are less your premium German-built car, more like Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults. The Astra may not feel as solid as a Golf but it’s a definite step up from the Korean-built Cruze.

The front seats are comfortable although I did find myself squirming a bit after 90 minutes. The back seat is another matter. Leg room is tight, maybe the price you pay for a good boot. The interior is entirely pleasant but you wouldn’t call the surfaces or the finish luxurious. The equipment levels are good but there’s only a space-saver spare.

Soundproofing is also down on luxury cars so you’re constantly aware of the clatter of the diesel. It’s not particularly intrusive, it’s just there. The fuel economy is first rate anyway.

The engine and gearbox are nicely matched and the Astra can be quite peppy when you push it. It also handles nicely although the ride is certainly firm, firm enough that you’ll notice it around town as well as in the bush when the bitumen gets dodgy.

Opel has its work cut out convincing buyers it’s worth a premium, especially when it’s so reminiscent of a Holden.

Published January 2013