Friday, February 25, 2011

2010 Opel Astra Roadster

2010 Opel Astra
2010 Opel Astra
2010 Opel Astra
2010 Opel Astra2010 Opel Astra

The old GM might have been a bad car company, but it was launching some seriously good cars, especially (but not limited to) the ones developed at Opel in Germany. The Opel Insignia is current European Car of the Year, which bodes well for the related Buick LaCrosse and Regal. Now Opel has done it again with the new Astra. Honestly it's one of the best compact hatchbacks made anywhere in the world, a car fit to take on the VW Golf for refinement and driving ability.

But for Americans, the meaning of all this is uncertain. The Astra was originally supposed to provide the basis for a Saturn and a Saab, but GM has jettisoned those brands, as well as Opel itself.

Of course, New GM might well have access to this platform. At this writing, an MOU has been signed with Russia's Sberbank and Magna that will give New GM a 35-percent stake in Opel. How it might use it is uncertain, and even the final signing of the Magna deal is not a foregone conclusion.

The 174-inch Astra has a three-inch-longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the car sold unsuccessfully here as the Saturn Astra. It also has a much more sweeping look. Distinctive elements include arrowhead jewelry in the light clusters, a sculpted blade in the bodyside, and strong shoulders. The photo car wears 19-inch wheels, though our tester has more reasonable 225/50 17 tires.
2010 Opel Astra Rear

The interior derives much of its upscale feel and design from the Insignia. The sweeping center stack has finger-friendly switchgear that manages to carry out a wide range of tasks without the need for an iDrive-type controller. Habitability is helped by an array of cabin storage, including a big console bin enabled by the presence of an electric park brake switch instead of a foot-long manual handle.

Ex-GM product czar Bob Lutz used to talk about producing vehicle architectures with the flexibility to use a set of different suspensions, depending on how premium the result needed to be. The Astra is an example. It's the same platform as the Chevy Cruze, but the suspension gets some notable refinements. At the front, it has the same lower control arms as the Cruze, but there are supplementary rebound springs in the suspension to take the load off the front anti-roll bar and reduce understeer. At the rear, the torsion beam axle is supplemented by a Watts linkage, which affords better axle articulation than the more typical (and cheaper) Panhard rod. This design allows the bushings that take the lateral loads to be separated from those that take the longitudinal. The former are stiff -- for handling finesse -- while the latter are soft for ride comfort.


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