Opel launched the fourth-generation Astra at the 2015 IAA (Frankfurt Motor Show). The car is more compact than the model it replaces and weighs up to 200 kg (440 lb) less. A five-door hatchback and five-door Sports Tourer estate were on display at the show.
The Astra (a Vauxhall in the UK) will be the first vehicle to feature General Motors’ OnStar Connectivity system in Europe and comes with the option of matrix LED headlights, which Opel claims is the first time this feature has been offered on a European C-segment car.
“There was a lot of really close work between our engineering, product planning, marketing, and design guys on a daily basis,” said Malcolm Ward, Opel/Vauxhall Exterior Design Director. The new car uses the Opel design language dubbed "Sculptural Artistry."
“That is really all about very fluid sculptural shapes with some very precise technical elements," explained Ward. "On a secondary level, we always try to give a lot of emphasis to the wheels, so we sculpture the surfaces very strongly so that the car sits better on the road. We are always trying to make our cars look as low and as wide as possible.
“When the car actually gets lower, then that’s already helping us; that’s the first point from the architectural standpoint," Ward continued. "But if you actually look at the car itself, just the way we have positioned a couple of the lines, you can see where the blade is, the undercut in the shoulder, but more importantly, how we have treated the whole C-pillar, what we call our breakthrough C-pillar. By stretching that black graphic as a window graphic, the whole window graphic still leans rearward, like in the previous generation, but with this breakthrough C-pillar, connects from the rear glass to the side glass and really makes the car look a lot lower than it actually is. That was the real technical challenge for our organization.
“Quite often manufacturers put a chrome accent on the belt," Ward added. "Again, that’s a visual trick to try and get it to look lower. We deliberately put it on the DLO (daylight opening, above the doors) on the upper part, not on the lower part, because actually, with that breakthrough C-pillar, your eye automatically goes there. Then the chrome element gives a connecting link from the front to the rear that tells you that’s how low the car is and in actual fact it’s another 30-40 mm higher, as you can see. That was one of our big visual tricks.”
The new Astra’s track is wider than for the outgoing model, which also gives the design team more opportunity to work on the visuals of the car by exploiting the width around the wheels. Ward explained: “That gave us the chance to get even more sculpturing in the wheel arches, which again catches more light, and when it catches more light the car looks more efficient. When shadow and light play together in the right way, that’s how you can make the car look like it’s a lot more athletic and more efficient.”
Any long-running series of models takes each new version through a change of profile, but Ward and the Opel design team wanted to retain the coupe-like profile of the outgoing Astra. “Only by staying with the overall profile of the car can you really communicate how much more efficient, how much lower and wider it has become. When you change the whole profile, a customer has no reference,” said Ward.
This presents other challenges because aerodynamically, a more vertical rear is preferable. “You can see it’s really pushed forward and pushed down, which is bad for aerodynamics,” explained Ward. “So just by choosing this profile, we had lots of discussions at the beginning of the program. We convinced the organization that this was the right thing to do for this car, for the brand to really signal that even with a more difficult profile, it can be very aerodynamic. We committed to compensating for the lack of an upright rear in other parts of the car.”
The sculptured and dynamic design theme is what the Opel design team has set out to bring to the interior too. “We’ve given the whole interior a very horizontal accent,” said Ward, “At the same time we have simplified all the interfaces that you have with the car. For example all the HVAC buttons are linked together and separated from the main infotainment area. The infotainment system is quite Apple-like in its appearance with some fine chrome elements that give it this premium appeal. I think that’s what this interior is all about.”