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Astra made for enjoyment:

By BRENWIN NAIDU

A LONG distance journey is the best way to get acquainted with the character of a new car. On such a trip, one receives a better

glimpse into a vehicle’s handling ability, versatility, power and fuel consumption, that a spin around the block simply can’t match.

So I grabbed the opportunity to thoroughly test the Opel Astra 1.4 Turbo Enjoy Plus. With my swimming trunks, bucket and spade packed, I headed down to Durban – my birthplace, home to the ocean, tasty bunny chows, and the personalised number plate – think of stuff like “2FAST4U-ZN”.

The first half of the trip down the N3 from Johannesburg is as straight as a ruler. This gave me the chance to experience the Astra’s cruising and acceleration capabilities – keeping within the 120km/h speed limit, obviously. The cruise control was set to 110km/h, minor input was needed to keep the car on a straight course, affording me time to listen to my selection of music and nibble on some snacks. It offers a laid-back driving experience on the open road.

At the Bergview stop, I had planned to follow my Durban-trip tradition and sit down for a meal from Nando’s. But my favourite fast-food poultry restaurant was closed, leaving me disheartened and having to opt for a bland burger from another place instead.

No matter – my spirits were lifted on the twisty roads and changing elevation that followed. I switched the cruise control off for this stretch, involving myself in the process of braking, changing gears, and enjoying the gust of power from the Astra’s turbocharged engine, escorting me swiftly out of corners. The steering has an assuring weight to it, you can confidently turn into a bend – even with a little more exuberance than what you’re used to.

The moment I saw the Citi Golf sitting on my tail, in my rearview mirror, I knew that we had hit Pietermaritzburg. The Opel had Eastern Cape number plates, and I wanted to display the spirit of The Friendly Province, so I moved over and let Mr Golf rush through the precarious fog one usually experiences on this section of the trip.

The exterior design of the Astra was also impressive. But then again, the Astra – even in its previous guises, has always been an attractive, albeit understated car. Our test vehicle was a silver/grey colour, which gave the Astra and elegant, classy kind of appearance. It does look truly wicked in red, though. I like its shape, with well-placed curves and kinks in its physique. The striking alloys it wore rounded off the pretty package.

This 1.4-litre turbocharged engine has an output of 103-kilowatts and a torque figure of 200 Newton-metres. It’s very brisk, and it felt much quicker down at coast altitudes. It’s mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. Those with a need for speed also have the option of a 1.6-litre Turbo, this top-of-the-range model kicks out 132-kilowatts.

We liked the Opel Astra, it’s a competent product in the crowded family hatchback segment. Its pretty looks give it an edge over competitors, and the Opel nameplate – a favourite in South Africa – will certainly work in its favour, to garner sales.

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