Attacking the track in Opel's new OPC
The late 1980s early 90s were the glory days of South Africa’s production car racing championship, and Opel was right at the sharp end with Mike Briggs and Grant McCleery in their Kadett Superbosses taking on the late, great Tony Viana in his BMW 325i Shadowline.
Back then Opel’s rapid hatch was the primo choice of boy-racers in the know, and two decades on the word “Superboss” still reverberates in motorsport and high-performance lore. But the march of progress makes its 125kW output seem paltry against the latest, greatest Opel to hit the streets – the 206kW Astra OPC.
Launched here this week by General Motors SA, it’s not only the most powerful Astra ever but also officially the most muscular front-wheel drive hatch in the market, outpunching everything from a Golf GTI to a Focus ST to a Megane RS. It comes with a price tag to match, however, and at R435 000 it’s considerably more expensive than its rivals.
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All this output, along with a meaty 400Nm of torque, comes from a compact 2-litre direct-injection petrol engine, helped along by a twin-scroll turbocharger with intercooler.
And it’s 12 percent more powerful than the previous Astra OPC with torque improved by 25 percent, while fuel consumption’s seen a 12 percent improvement to a claimed 8.1 litres per 100km.
SIX SECONDS TO 100
Opel Performance Centre’s new toy is capable of hitting 100km/h in a claimed six seconds along with a governed 250km/h top speed. Helping to harness that fiery front-wheel driven output is a mechanical limited slip differential, an uprated sports chassis and high-performance Brembo brakes. Wheels are 20-inch alloys fitted with 245/35 tyres.
The Electronic Stability Programme has three modes – on, off and intermediate – and a FlexRide chassis system allows the driver to select from three different driving modes that affect suspension stiffness, steering feel and throttle response. The standard mode provides a balance between ride comfort and performance for everyday motoring, while Sport and OPC modes incrementally stiffen the suspension, quicken throttle response and give the steering a more direct action. The steering, incidentally, is a hydraulic system and not electrically assisted as in other Astras.
The three FlexRide settings really make a notable difference, and when you select the ultra-sporty OPC mode you can feel the car growing metaphorical horns and pulling an evil grin as it adopts a track-attack personality. That’s the mode I used when GM set us loose around Kyalami at the Astra OPC’s media launch earlier this week.
Not all high-performance cars fare well around a racetrack, and a road car that feels nimble in a mountain pass can often feel under-endowed when subjected to the unforgiving test of chasing quick lap times around a circuit. But the Astra OPC was honed at the Nurburgring during its development, and felt impressively accomplished around Kyalami.
It’s relatively forgiving, and doesn’t behave like a deranged pitbull. The fearsome firepower coursing through the front wheels is well contained, with none of the sphincter-tightening torque steer that afflicted the infamous Kadett TS of the mid-90s. Nor does the car run into premature understeer as is often the case with front-wheel drives, and the LS diff allows early-on-the-throttle corner exits.
The brakes held up well to the race-track torture test too, taking a lot of punishment before fading. With so much power going through them the steered front tyres took a real beating, however, and anyone who wishes to do track days in an Astra OPC will need a big budget for rubber.
The three-door OPC looks like an Astra GTC with war paint, and gets bolder body treatment in the form of aggro bumpers, side skirts and trapezoidal-shaped tail pipes. The cockpit is jazzed-up with drilled aluminium pedals and leather sports bucket seats in exclusive OPC stitching.
The Astra OPC is sold with Opel’s standard five-year/120 000km warranty and five-year/90 000km service plan. -Star Motoring