Back in 2009, General Motors experienced what it can be easily considered one of the most difficult periods in its history, with chief executives asking for financial backing from governments around the world. A significant cost-cutting programme was absolutely necessary, so chief executives within the American-based giants scratched their heads and sketched a plan to see what they have to do to stay alive.
Scrapping or selling certain brands was probably what shocked most of us. Pontiac and Saturn were both killed, HUMMER was sold to Chinese entities, while Opel, the European brand based in Germany, was supposed to be ceased to Magna International. After a long negotiation process during which German officials pressured GM to sell Opel while the Americans played hard to get, General Motors decided to keep Opel and use the money it received from the government to revive the company. CEO Fritz Henderson resigned, Ed Whitacre took his role and a new era started for Opel.
Many believe that staying under GM's ownership was actually a good decision and point to Opel's Insignia, the 2009 European Car of the Year that also made it to the US as Buick Regal. The Insignia has been considered one of the best models ever sold by Opel, but the Germans had even more to offer to the Old Continent.
The new Opel Astra was officially launched at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show and was developed on the Delta II platform, borrowing a lot of things from the Insignia series. Codenamed Astra J because it follows the same designation methodology adopted by the first Astra (F) in 1991, the new model steps into what could be easily called a very exclusive crowd: Peugeot 308, Volkswagen Golf, Toyota Auris and some others that are all competing against Opel's new hatchback.
While Insignia managed to snatch the grand prize in 2009 at the European Car of the Year contest, Opel Astra was close to take the same award in 2010, but only reached the third place on the podium, after Volkswagen Polo and Toyota iQ.
Just like its predecessors, the new Astra is sold in multiple areas around the world, obviously as a rebadged model, such as Buick Excelle XT in China, Vauxhall Astra in Great Britain and Chevrolet Astra in certain markets in Latin America. It is no longer available in the United States, as Saturn bit the dust after GM's Chapter 11 recovering process, and in Australia, were Holden discontinued the model in 2009 due to exchange rates.
Since it has to face so powerful competitors, Astra has to hide something special beyond that sporty appearance. Because we wanted to see for ourselves the new things Astra has to offer, we decided to take one for a spin. Read on to find out whether the J-designated model has what it takes to become a Golf rival.Continue reading