Opel Bestseller: Astra F Made World Premiere 30 Years Ago
- Multi-millionaire: Astra F Opel’s top seller so far with 4.13 million units produced
- In tune with the times: Astra F embodied spirit of change in early 1990s
- Highlights: New safety systems, spacious interior and environmental compatibility
- Innovations: “Multi Info Display”, “Clean Air System” and electronic traction control
- “H” licence plate: Cars delivered in late 1991 can be registered as historic vehicles
Rüsselsheim. When the Opel Astra F made its world premiere in 1991, it was a time of great change. The “Iron Curtain” dividing Europe had recently lifted and the “Cold War” had ended. Owing to incidents such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, people were becoming more aware of humanity’s impact on the environment. Carmakers needed to balance the need for lower emissions and fuel consumption against the rising demand for higher comfort.
The seventh generation of Opel’s compact model totally embodied this spirit of change. It acquired not only a new name – Astra, like its British Vauxhall stablemate – but also a wealth of newly developed safety systems. Compared to its predecessor, the Astra F offered considerably more interior space on a similarly sized exterior footprint. It also placed great emphasis on environmental compatibility, with its high level of recyclability taking a significant step toward closing the loop in raw materials, especially synthetics. Car buyers were mightily impressed by these attributes. With Opel producing around 4.13 million units between 1991 and 1997, the Astra F is the brand’s bestselling model so far.
The model range of the Astra F catered for every taste. Customers had the choice of five petrol engines and one diesel, the four-cylinder power units all boasting the state-of-the-art in exhaust gas after-treatment. While the 1.4, 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol engines were equipped with a three-way catalytic converter, the 1.7-litre diesel featured a newly developed oxidation catalyst.
The first variants delivered to dealerships in October 1991 were the five-door hatchback, the five-door Caravan estate and the sporty Astra GSi. These cars can be registered as historic vehicles this year. Available exclusively as a three-door “hot-hatch”, the top-of-the-line GSi offered a choice of 85 kW (115 hp) or 110 kW (150 hp) 2.0-litre engines, the latter with 16 valves and dual overhead camshafts. The four-door notchback arrived in spring 1992, followed one year later by the Astra convertible, made by Italian coachbuilder Bertone.
Heart of the matter: Safety, interior space and environmental compatibility
The high standard of the Astra F’s safety package marked a major step forward in the compact class. The Opel Safety System comprised, among others, dual steel bars in the doors for side impact protection, supportive ramps in the seats to prevent submarining under the safety belt and front seat belt tensioners that reduced forward movement of the seat occupant’s body in the event of a severe frontal collision. Passive safety increased still further in 1994, when Opel made “full-size” driver and front passenger airbags standard.
“Full size” also applied to the new model’s passenger compartment. In comparison to the Kadett E, Opel’s engineers endowed the Astra F with much more interior space, for example, by placing the windscreen 74 millimetres further forward and increasing headroom and knee room by up to 50 mm. Despite the newfound spaciousness, the Astra F retained the high aerodynamic efficiency typical of every Opel, with a drag coefficient as low as 0.30 cD.
In addition to high safety and roominess, environmental compatibility lay at the heart of the Astra F’s construction. Much of the instrument panel, interior trim, seats and centre console were made of polypropylene, for which Opel had developed an innovative environmentally compatible recycling process. Other parts, such as the bumper supports and wheel arch linings, were themselves already made of recycled material.
Safety and the environment were not the only areas of innovation on the Astra F. The “Multi-Info Display” at the top of the centre console was a world first, combining the displays for the radio, on-board computer and check control all within the driver’s field of vision. The new model was also the first in the compact class with a “Clean Air System” that protected the occupants from pollen, dust and dirt particles, while the GSi 16V was the first car with electronic traction control in the Astra’s market segment.
Astra F as technology platform: “Impuls III” electric drive and CNG alternative fuel
The Astra F also served as an innovation platform for alternative propulsion systems. The all-electric “Astra Impuls III” demonstrated its effectiveness during large-scale testing on the Baltic island of Rügen. Ten prototypes covered a total of 350,000 kilometres between 1993 and 1997. Five were powered by a 45 kW nickel-cadmium battery, the remainder by a 42 kW sodium nickel-chloride battery. The Astra Impuls III had a top speed of 120 km/h and a maximum range of 160 km. Opel expanded its research into alternative fuels in 1996 with a limited production of Astra Caravan estates running on climate-friendly compressed natural gas (CNG). Selected utility companies, local authorities and fleet operators tested the 500 CNG-fuelled cars under everyday conditions.
The Astra F is the bestselling Opel so far. New safety systems, interior roominess and environmental compatibility were three of its highlights. The model successfully addressed subjects that were important to consumers in the early 1990s and brought many innovations to its market segment. The seventh generation of Opel’s compact car (and the first to bear the “Astra” nameplate) was an automobile truly in tune with the times.