The fact that motoring execs and PRs are so loose with the truth has made the people who report on their industry into deeply cynical, cranky old bastards. So when Opel announced, at the launch of its OPC range (Opel Performance Centre, to an Opel OPC is about like an ATM machine) that it had magically cured the curse of torque steer, and thus was able to channel 206kW, and 400Nm, through the front wheels of its Astra without ripping off your arms and beating you around the head with the soggy ends, we weren’t convinced.
In fact, I can clearly remember Mazda saying the same thing about a 3 MPS some years ago, and then cursing them an hour later as I lay in a field, with their burning car on top of me, after spearing off the road at an absurd angle.
But here’s the thing, every now and then car companies don’t lie. Not only does the clever combination of HiPerStrut front suspension and FlexRide chassis control cancel out most of the torque steer you’d expect (it’s still there at times, particularly in the wet), but the resulting car is something of a revelation for a bum-dragging hatch.
We were allowed to belt it around Sydney Motorsport Park for an afternoon and it was really, really enjoyable as a track car. Racer Craig Baird was paid to be there by Opel, so you have to take what he says with a few grains of salt, but he reckons he thought it was an all-wheel-drive car the first time he lapped it and, after a couple of very hot laps with him, I had to believe his offered opinion that this OPC Astra was a better track weapon than some far more expensive cars he’d belted around there before.
The odd thing about pushing this car really hard is that you know exactly when you think the car will start understeering, and steering-wheel tugging, but it just doesn’t. The result is a very powerful car – 0 to 100km/h comes up in a claimed six seconds flat – with phenomenal levels of grip, that’s also very easy to drive hard. There’s none of that will-I-spear-off-and-die fear that sometimes strikes you in other hot hatches.
The FlexRide system wins again when you leave the track, because you can turn down the suspension’s firmness to a more real-road friendly level and get home with your spine still the same length it was when you left.
This is one advantage the Astra has over the reigning hot-hatch champion, Renault’s Megane RS, which can be a little sadomasochistic for everyday life. At the very limit, I’m betting the Renault will still be better, but you might actually think about buying the Opel anyway.
We’ll let you know soon, as the we’re throwing the Megane, Merc’s new A250 Sport and a Volkswagen GTI up against the OPC next week. You can read about it in the April issue of Wheels.
Opel also had OPC versions of the Corsa and Insignia for us to drive. The less said about the Insignia the better. We only drove the Corsa briefly, and on track, but it did seem like a lot of fun. We’ll get a proper steer of one soon.