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The New Opel Astra model range with innovative technology. By Brian Foley

The new Opel Astra comes with innovative technologies in a line up of compact 3 and 5-door hatchbacks and a 4-door saloon. Engines are 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol; 1.3, 1.7 and 2.0 litre petrol. Engine options and prices will be announced by Opel Ireland priorto October sales of the Astra model range.

New Astra Highlights include:

• New driver assistance systems add extra value to Opel’s compact bestseller
• FlexRide offers maximum driving pleasure and active safety behind the wheel
• AGR-certified front seats for a relaxing and smooth drive
• 2nd generation FlexFix bike carrier can transport up to four bicycles
• Panoramic windscreen for a special space, visual and drive experience
• ecoFLEX assistant helps to reduce fuel consumption
• OPC PowerApp opens up direct access to vehicle data

Several technologies from the Insignia and the Zafira Tourer are now also available for the new Astra line-up including the high performance second generation Opel Eye Front camera. The lane departure warning recognises road markings and sends out an audible warning chime and a flashing signal should the car unintentionally veer out of lane. The traffic sign assistant recognizes typical European round signs for speed limits, and the new front camera now also recognizes rectangular signs such as highway, traffic-restricted zones and speed limit-related add-on signs with graphic symbols. Due to multiple exposure technology, the new “Opel Eye” increases its image processing power and can now also detect dynamic signs - for instance LED light signals located on bridges or at accident danger spots - which are often challenging for even human eyes to see.

Further assistance functions connected to the front camera include a following distance indication which warns the driver of his or her distance to the preceding vehicle (in seconds) via a central display. Where a collision with the preceding vehicle is imminent the forward collision alert warns the driver with a loud audible alarm as well as a visual warning on the instrument cluster which is an added bonus for active safety.

The new radar-based adaptive cruise control (ACC) which comes as an extra cost option, helps the driver maintain the selected speed while keeping a pre-set safety distance to the vehicles ahead. In addition to speed, the desired gap to the vehicle ahead can also be selected by the driver – with three options available: far, medium and close. When the ACC is activated, the radar constantly checks the distance up to a range of 150 meters ahead; the selected gap is shown in the center screen of the display.

While buyers who opt for the front camera always get following distance indication and forward collision alert, these functions are also available in conjunction with the radar-based adaptive cruise control. If the Astra is equipped with the front camera as well as radar, the latter assumes both functions (beside the ACC functionality) because of its superior detection range. If the driver does not react by braking to the visual and audible warnings in a critical situation, collision imminent braking is activated to mitigate the consequences of a sudden impact.

Another feature in the Astra is the side blind spot alert, which audio-visually warns the driver of a potential, imminent collision when changing lanes (active from 10 – 140 km/h). The advanced park assist recognizes suitable parking slots and audio-visual instructions guide the driver safely into a suitable parking slot, offering even greater comfort than the park pilot. The rear view camera is an additional help for parking maneuvers.

The latest generation of intelligent adaptive forward lighting (AFL+) with bi-xenon headlamps comprises a host of sophisticated lighting functions, including high beam assist, dynamic curve light, cornering light, and variable light distribution that automatically adjusts according to prevailing road conditions (highway, country road and city streets) and even the weather. AFL+ headlamps also come with LED daytime running lamps which give the Opel Astra a striking fascia at day or night because of their arrow shaped design. When the high beam is switched on, the LEDs help to illuminate the dark edges of the road.

On top of the already dynamic driving characteristics of the Astra, buyers can opt for Opel’s intelligent mechatronic FlexRide system which further improves vehicle dynamics and safety. Mechanical and electronic functions have been harmonized. This high tech option which is very unusual for the compact segment makes clever and premium technological features available at affordable prices. FlexRide adjusts automatically to the prevailing driving conditions and offers three modes: Standard, the comfort-oriented “Tour” mode and the more active “Sport” mode.

In the Astra OPC this system comes as standard and is geared towards even more driving dynamics. The Standard mode delivers all-round performance while comfort is preserved at all times for everyday drive situations. Cornering is neutral with minimal body roll, and the steering response is more direct. The OPC mode creates the ultimate driving experience: steering becomes even more direct in comparison to the Sport mode, the throttle is more responsive and the chassis setting is geared towards delivering maximum cornering capability.

While the mechatronic FlexRide system is available for all Astra models, the sophisticated front-wheel HiPerStruts (High Performance Strut) suspension remains the exclusive preserve of the Astra GTC and its OPC high performance variant. Opel engineers continued to develop the already existing MacPherson struts of the Astra by using the same pick up points, while achieving a reduction of the inclination angle by 44 percent and shortening the spindle length (kingpin offset) by 46 percent with a reduced lever arm. This helps prevent torque-steer – a trait of many powerful front-wheel-drive cars – allowing drivers to make more use of the GTC’s performance without the steering being corrupted.

All Astra variants can be equipped with ergonomic seats (standard in the Sport trim level) which have been certified by the independent back experts “Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V.” (AGR). The seats have to fulfill a set of ten criteria. The requirements include four-way lordosis support (pneumatically adjustable in the Astra) and that the seatback contours adapt exactly to the natural curvature of the spine. The ergonomic driver’s seat possesses 18 different settings. Very long adjustment distances – 280 millimeters forwards/backwards and 65 millimeters up/down – as well as independent tilt adjustment of the seat cushion and back ensure the optimum seating position. The pull-out seat cushion offers excellent thigh support and seat-pressure distribution. Active head restraints have been fitted to the driver and front passenger seats to reduce the risk of whiplash in the event of rear-end collisions. Engineers integrated a Bowden cable into the seat back, which sends the head restraint forward and to its full height, guided by a sensor, within a split second of impact. It locks automatically the instant it makes contact with the head.

The five-door Astra and the Sports Tourer benefit from a bike carrier that is exclusive to Opel. The five-door hatchback can carry up to two bikes at a time, while the Sports Tourer can take up to four bikes thanks to the second generation FlexFix carrier system. For all FlexFix carriers the same principle applies:

The clever system is fully integrated in the rear of the car and is always on board. When not in use it disappears invisibly into the rear bumper. The user-friendly bicycle carrier is very easy to operate as it can be adjusted by hand without the need to use tools. Special holders with rubber inlays ensure that the bikes are held securely in place. The second major benefit of the Opel FlexFix system compared to conventional bicycle carriers is that it is easy to reach and therefore outstanding in its ergonomics. In contrast to other systems such as roof racks where you have to lift the bicycle high over your head, the FlexFix system is easy on the spine. Another advantage over roof rack-based systems is that with FlexFix the vehicle is not subjected to a 120 km/h speed limit, as the bikes are stored at the rear.

The newly enhanced FlexFix system for the Sports Tourer offers all the FlexFix advantages and can now be can be tilted even when fully loaded so that the tailgate of the vehicle can be opened easily, providing quick access to the luggage compartment. Compared to the previous generation FlexFix system, this carrier can now take an extra 10 kg in weight (30 kg). A further innovation is an extension, including a clip-on adaptor so that a further two bicycles can be transported by the Astra Sports Tourer. The total load capacity with four bikes loaded onto the Astra Sports Tourer is 80 kilograms. In addition, the new carrier system can be locked so that the bikes are protected from thieves when the car is stationary.

The Astra GTC and OPC are available with the exclusive panoramic windscreen patented by Opel. The large front windscreen stretches all the way to the middle of the car roof. In 2006, Opel was the first to offer this innovative type of windscreen in a production car when it was introduced in the Astra.

With the navigation systems Navi 600 and Navi 900 Europe all maps are stored on SD cards. Apart from the already available POIs (Points of interest) when the SD cards are first purchased, further POIs can be downloaded and saved onto the system via USB connections. An extra POI function alerts the driver to interesting things in the vicinity by voice, text and pop-up messages. Apart from the shortest and fastest ones, users can also choose from the most efficient route in terms of fuel consumption. The Navi 900 Europe system additionally enables the driver to separate private and business trips with voice recognition and a log book function.

In a recent study by Auto Club Europe, the Navi 900 Europe of the Astra was found to have the lowest risk of distraction in traffic. “ACE Lenkrad”, the magazine published by Auto Club Europe, surveyed 36 people together with the University of Salzburg who had tested the Ford Focus, the VW Golf and the Opel Astra to see what potential infotainment systems have for distracting the driver. The Opel Astra emerged as the winner of the HMI (Human-Machine-Interface) tests achieving the maximum total score for the least distraction in traffic for its Navi 900 infotainment system.

The ecoFLEX variants of the Astra all possess an ecoFLEX assistant as standard, which helps to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by advising the driver how to drive in an efficient manner. The ecoFLEX assistant not only shows a gear shift indicator in the central display but also all the parameters which have the biggest influence on fuel consumption. The bar chart of the Eco-Index tells the driver to what extent he is driving in a fuel efficient way. An arrow advises him when to shift gears. The energy consumption display informs the driver how active functions such as the high beam or rear window heater impact on the fuel consumption. The consumption trend display issues an update every five kilometers about the fuel consumption of the last 50 kilometers.

Having had its global debut in the Astra OPC with 280 hp, the new OPC PowerApp makes preselected data from the car’s CAN bus (Controller Area Network) directly available on an iPhone where it can be displayed or analyzed further. Apple smartphone users can download the OPC PowerApp from the AppStore for just 0.79 euro. The CAN bus is the central system that unifies and connects all the electronic control units in the vehicle. So far, only highly specialized work shops were able to access this information using specialist software. Now however, Opel is giving the chance to receive selected, performance-related data by offering the OPC PowerApp. This opens up a whole new world to drive enthusiasts who want the latest technology. Not only are up to sixty different data, including engine boost pressure, throttle position, lateral acceleration or engine torque, readily available in real-time on the iPhone but they can also be stored and later compared with friends. Seven different display modes complete with the OPC logo and colors are available to the user including an analog instrument, a G-force meter, a digital display and over/under-steer indicator, a bar chart, a line graph and a map. The OPC PowerApp works on iPhones (starting at the third generation), iPad 2 and iPod Touch and will also be available for android systems by early 2013. In order to take advantage of all the functions offered by the OPC PowerApp an optionally available Smartphone Controller can be purchased for 290 euro which can be integrated ex works or fitted by any authorized Opel dealer on demand.