Per Ardua ad Astra
26 February 2014
In this vast universe of ours, stars are born in the blink of an eye. Truth be told, it takes so long for that light to reach us, it's dead before we even notice, and then reborn. Now, it seems, one short flash in the Australian automotive galaxy is set to return (again), but this time can it shine with a new type of brilliance?
Opel didn't last long in Australia and this time in a metaphorical sense rather than a literal one, it was again the rough terrain that they couldn't handle. Back in the last days of disco, Holden received Opel's big gun sedan to test for replacement of the then archaic but tough as old boot nails Kingswood. It fell to pieces and the German engineers solution was (if the legend holds true) 'get better roads'.
In 2013 however, it was the business environment that was torturous. A glut of over producing neighbours, favourable trade environment and the prospect of continually shrinking import tariffs, and thousands of resource industry workers looking to splash their hard earned dollars, ensured that competition was fierce. Sixty Six brands fighting for a piddling million sales per year.
Enter the Astra.
Put me down as a fan of the Astra. The TS, which consistently knocked opposition out of the park when it served as Holdens small car darling from 1998 to 2005. It provided a level of handling not common in the Australian small car market at the time. It also had the SRi badge which introduced the 2.0 turbo or 2.2 normally aspirated I4 engines. These combinations would provide little grins for excitable owners and could scare the pants off regular folks. (I'm speaking from experience here).
Needless to say, I was certainly interested in the Astra returning irrespective of the fact it was under the Opel brand. Forget which brand it is (no really, Opel is gone again) because what it really important is what the product offers. Even more important was perspective because I literally got out of the storming 2.8V6 Turbo AWD Insigina then straight into the 1.4 Astra.
I hesitate to use the word naked, because to me, naked is something associated with revealing underlying beauty. Like a half faired cafe racer, or an Ariel Atom. No; compared to the $60k top of the line Insignia, the Astra felt empty. The dash is clean and well contoured but echoed minimalist efficiency rather than emotive design. Everything was grey (which is cool with me ) and the materials were neither impressive or disappointing. The red monochrome display seemed clean but outdated and the speedo/tacho combination were positively snoozeworthy. I find that particularly amusing because the guages were the same as the Insignia, just without the branding stamped in the back ground.
Accommodation was almost on par with stable sibling Cruze, but lacked the support. Highlights were the small windows at the base of the A-pillar which at first glance don't seem practical, but in reality worked quite well.
If it had have been an auto, I probably would have cried tears of boredom but fortunately there were three pedals to prod and stamp. I'd previously sampled this combination of 1.4 turbo and 6 speed manual under the Cruze CD sedan, so my expectations were realistic and I knew I would have to work for a smile.
It didn't take long to realise that the Astra didn't drive like the JH Series II Cruze CD (yes the Australian made one). It had a much more relaxed gait with the body control and bump absorption showing a preference for compliance rather than control. It wasn't soft and floppy by any stretch, but the CD Cruze had a lot of spunk when you were committed to a cause. The Astra, I guess represents the Opel brand, just as the locally tuned Cruze represents the Holden brand. It was an equivalent product according to my preferences but was priced precisely midway between the Cruze and a Golf.... with another 8 or so other competitors.
The Astra hatch never really had anything outstanding to differentiate itself, nor justify a premium.
Blame it on the Bosses Nova
So why are we here? Why are we talking about the Astra? Well in case you missed the rumours, Opel sourced cars are coming back to Australia and this time (again) they are wearing the Lion and Stone. One of the big issues with the Astra, Insignia and Corsa is that they were at the END of their life cycles. The Insignia, for example, was Europe's car of the year.... in 2009. Now, the Opel blitz, for those whom noticed it, stands for nice but slightly outdated cars priced according to how good they were 4 years ago.
What's even more of a shame is the spanking new Zafira, which made it's return in numbers only, is now languishing under the wrong brand. Is that important? Well I guess it all depends on what value you place against a brand. Now that brands now outsource much of their components, including engines, gearboxes and in some cases whole vehicles, what does it matter if an Opel is arriving under the Holden badge? All Opels are serviced at Holden dealers anyway.
A brand is the personification of a set of expectations. A brand only needs to ensure that the execution and tuning of this assembly of outsourced components is in keeping with their customers expectations.
Per Ardua ad Astra
Through adversity to the Stars
There is much to be said about the GLOBAL upheaval of General Motors over the last 2 years, particularly in reference to Holden in Australia, Chevrolet in Europe and Opel in general but I'm going to give it miss for the moment (let's stay on track). Just let it be known that if General Motors are going to keep shifting re-badges around the globe (and I think they should), they need to remember to let each brand meet the expectations of their market.
Likewise, the selection of those products should consider the market environment as a priority over global market presence. Sending old stuff to tough markets just does your brand damage. Any press is only good press if you're a washed up teeny bopper singer with a shaved head.
Just send us your stars, like say.... the Cascada and the GTC..... and maybe just 1 more OPC Insignia just for me.
GMI Drives: Opel Astra GTC
GMI Drives: OPC Insignia
GMI Astra Gallery