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New Opel Astra: Innovation Star with Rich Tradition

Jun 24, 2015

  • Eleventh generation: Opel driving from success to success in compact class since 1936
Opel News - Eleven friends: The new Astra leads the way for the eleven successful generations of Opel compact class cars; back row from the left: Kadett 1, Kadett A, Kadett B, Kadett C, Kadett D und Kadett E; front row from the left: Astra F, Astra H, new Opel Astra, Astra J, Astra G

Rüsselsheim. Over 24 million Opel Kadett and Opel Astra cars sold is an impressive number and a notable achievement. Lined up one behind the other, all Opel compact models built so far would surpass the magical 100,000-kilometer mark and create a column of cars that could circle the equator two and a half times. In short, one could say that Opel compact cars have successively made mobility accessible to new social classes and not only that. The latest generations have made technologies and innovations from higher segments such as outstanding lighting technologies, AFL+ in the Astra J and IntelliLux LED® in the new Astra, accessible.


Now Opel is starting a new chapter in the history of its bestseller – continuing the idea of democratizing innovations from upper classes and combining them with an expressive, dynamic design. The next Astra generation is based on an all-new lightweight vehicle architecture, is powered exclusively by newest generation engines and offers features previously only available in the upper class. Its lean design makes the Astra look more athletic than ever before. In short, the new Astra combines efficiency with elegance and redefines the compact class with its top innovations. The Opel Astra celebrates its world premiere at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt this fall (September 17 – 27, 2015).


Speaking of celebrations, a direct ancestor of the new Astra, the Opel Kadett B, turns 50 this year. The Kadett was built more than 2.6 million times and in the 1960s was advertised with the slogan “Das Auto”. It left its competitors behind with its lively spirit, generous space, large luggage compartment and high safety level. In short: “If you know what you want, you drive a Kadett”.


To date the absolute bestseller in the 79 years of the Opel compact class has been the Astra F from 1991 to 1997. For the first time throughout Europe, the new model assumed the name Astra already used in the UK, and sold a total of over 4.1 million units. Within reach of the four-million mark were also the Kadett E (3.8 million) and Astra G (3.95 million). So there are plenty of good reasons to look back at the more than 24 million Opel compact models sold.

Kadett 1 to Astra K – A success story spanning eleven generations

1936-1940: Opel Kadett 1 – The people’s car

Opel News - The beginning: 107,000 Kadett 1 were produced in the Rüsselsheim plant from 1936 to 1940

The first Opel Kadett was a minor sensation, both technically and in terms of price. More than 100,000 of these four-seat models were built from 1936 to 1940 in Rüsselsheim, which even then was one of the most advanced car-making plants in Europe. The first Kadett with its revolutionary unitary body construction available as a sedan or convertible cost only 2,100 marks. The speedy four-seater could do nearly 100 km/h and it did not take long to find its way into the hearts of the general public. It also found favor with the press: “As the first test drives have confirmed, the Kadett is certainly not an ordinary vehicle in this price range,” wrote a German newspaper, “Braunschweiger Tageszeitung,” on December 5, 1936. The chassis with Dubonnet independent front suspension and leaf-spring rear axle stemmed from the Opel Olympia, and the L-head four-cylinder gray cast-iron engine was taken from the Opel P 4. It generated 23 hp from a displacement of 1,073 cm3. The advantages of taking the engineering from a modular system also played a key part in the low price of the car.

1962-1965: Opel Kadett A – For the economic miracle

Opel News - Rarity: The Kadett A Caravan 1000 was built between March 1963 and September 1965 and laid the foundations for the legendary reputation of spacious Opel station wagons

A large trunk and plenty of room for four people plus a new, lively engine and low maintenance costs made up the recipe for success for the Kadett A. Opel built nearly 650,000 of them from 1962 to 1965. The contours of the two-door notchback model were businesslike and modern. The beltline was low down, the panoramic windows made for good visibility and a decorative strip running along the side accentuated the stretched form. Front fenders tapered off into the headlamps and the rear ends were shaped like fins. The interior space deeply impressed owners of conventional small cars. The trunk was a real baggage compartment and the fuel tank cap was outside! “Opel Kadett, in brief: O.K.,” wrote Opel’s advertising team, unable to also resist a dig at their competitors in Wolfsburg. “You never have the smell of gasoline in the trunk,” they said with a wink. With its modern, water-cooled front engine, the Kadett had another major design advantage over the Beetle. The 993 cm3 four-cylinder unit developed 40 hp and, from March 1963, also powered the new Kadett Caravan.

1965-1973: Opel Kadett B – “Das Auto”

Opel News - Eye-catcher: From 1965 to 1970 the Kadett B was available as the so-called ‘Gills- Coupé’ with prominent ventilation slots on the C-pillar

B follows A, and in 1965 a new series replaced the first model. The new version was more than four meters long and thus a good deal bigger than its predecessor. As for its fashionable figure – the designers were inspired by their colleagues overseas. The flat sloping rear was reminiscent of the fastback models popular in the USA. In 1966, “Automobil Illustrierte” noted: “You can almost see the power and speed before you hear the engine.” Not only was the length stepped up – so, too, was the horsepower. Opel engineers enlarged the bore of the four-cylinder unit by 3 mm. The basic 1,078 cm3 unit developed 45 hp. Also available was a higher-compression 1.1 S engine with 55 hp.

The Kadett was a fast success, with over 2.6 million units produced from September 1965 to July 1973. And its success was certainly not limited to its country of birth. In 1966, the export quota reached 50 percent as customers from 120 countries around the globe snatched up the Kadett.

1973-1979: Opel Kadett C – The athlete

Opel News - Collector’s item: Today, well-preserved Kadett C Coupé GT/E are sought after and expensive. The powerful rallye version 2000 E is an eye-catcher at every classic car event

The Kadett C family had many faces: a smart family car, a chic second car with a practical rear tailgate, or a competitive sports coupé in war paint. A total of 1.7 million of them were built between 1973 and 1979. The rear-wheel drive Kadett C made its debut in August 1973 with a cleanly designed body and a new double-wishbone front axle. Characteristic design features included a flat radiator grille, an engine hood with the brand’s signature crease, and a front apron in spoiler form. “The Kadett not only drives exceptionally well, but is also conscientiously designed and cleanly made. It requires little maintenance, is repair-friendly and economical to run,” praised the car-testing experts at “auto motor und sport” in the 20/73 edition. The powerful GT/E debuted at the 1975 IAA. Its 1.9-liter engine with Bosch L-Jetronic injection produced 105 hp and propelled the mere 900 kilograms of Kadett to a top speed of 184 km/h.

1979-1984: Opel Kadett D – The front-wheel drive car

Opel News - Great white: The Opel Kadett D GTE with its sports chassis, Recaro seats and feisty 115 hp began hunting down GTIs in 1983

The fourth generation of the post-war Kadett introduced a new compact class era at Opel. At the 1979 IAA, Opel’s first front-wheel drive model debuted as the modern-looking Kadett D. The packaging was truly convincing. Although the newcomer was 126 mm shorter than its predecessor at 3,998 mm, it sported a longer interior and offered significantly more space than many of its rivals. But it was not only the powertrain layout and the chassis with a torsion-beam axle at the rear that broke with tradition: the Kadett was given a new 1.3-liter OHC engine that generated 60 or 75 hp. The revolution continued with the body variants. In addition to the spacious station wagon with a load volume of up to 1,425 liters, Opel offered only fastback versions. In January 1983 the sporty Kadett GTE followed, with a top speed of 187 km/h and equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that developed 115 hp. Other technical modifications included a tighter and lower chassis, new steering dampers and internally ventilated disk brakes at the front. A total of 2.1 million Kadett D units were produced from 1979 to 1984.

1984-1991: Opel Kadett E – The aerodynamics world champion

Opel News - Sporty: GTE was replaced by GSI in the Kadett E which, starting in 1986, initially had a two-liter engine with a regulated catalytic converter and 116 hp and later possessed four-valve technology and 150 hp

The second front-wheel drive Kadett, built from 1984 to 1991, was named “Car of the Year 1984” and was an absolute winner. Selling a grand total of 3,779,289 cars in its lifetime, it was the bestselling Opel so far and a real aerodynamics world champion. Opel engineers certainly hit the jackpot in 1984. Based on the engineering of its predecessor but with a completely new hatchback design, the Kadett E was set for a stellar career. With a drag coefficient of 0.39, the Kadett D was already best in its class, but this figure paled in comparison to its successor. After spending 1,200 hours of fine-tuning in the wind tunnel, the E model achieved a sensational 0.32. The sporty GSi, with a Cd of 0.30 and aerodynamic drag of 0.57 m2, was the most aerodynamic hatchback in the world. Buyers took to the new form after only a few months, paving the way for a new success story that provided the Kadett E with 625,000 new registrations across Europe in 1987. By this time, the station wagon version had already climbed to the top of its class. From the fall of 1985, a notchback variant was again in the line-up, the first since the Kadett C. Moreover, the sporty GSi variant was an icon in the making. When the legendary 16-valve engine arrived on the scene in 1987, it left its competitors eating dust.

1991-1997: Opel Astra F – The bestseller

Opel News - Name change: The sixth post-war generation saw the name ‘Kadett‘ disappear. The Opel compact cars were renamed Astra – a name previously already used in Great Britain

Some 4.13 million Astra Fs were built between 1991 and 1997, making it the bestselling Opel model ever. Development work focused on combining modern design with more interior space, enhanced comfort and greater emphasis on environmental protection.

The successor to the Kadett assumed the name of its British sister model (the fourth generation of the Kadett had been sold in the UK as the Vauxhall Astra since 1980). Opel also launched a safety offensive with its new star. All Astras offered an active belt system with tensioners on the front seats belts, height-adjustable belts and seat ramps as well as side protection including double steel tube reinforcements in all the doors. For the first time, all engines came with catalytic converters.

1998-2004: Opel Astra G – The versatile car

Opel News - G model: The Astra G hit the showrooms at the beginning of 1998 and even the hatchback versions looked sedan-like with the small tailpiece

In spring 1998, the Astra with coupé-like design was offered from the start as a three- and five-door hatchback and as a station wagon. A notchback sedan, coupé and convertible were added later. Progressive independent design, dynamic chassis and powertrain technology as well as nearly twice the torsional and flexural rigidity of its predecessor were just some of the characteristics of the completely new, second-generation Opel Astra. The new model’s fully galvanized body played a key role in its high value retention. Active safety was enhanced with a 30 percent increase in the light output of the transparent H7 halogen headlamps and the completely redesigned Dynamic Safety (DSA) chassis. It combined comfort with agile and safe handling, even under full load. The wheelbase was around ten centimeters longer, enabling more interior space, in particular more rear knee room in the rear and a larger trunk volume of 370 liters.

2004-2009: Opel Astra H – The mighty car

Opel News - Esthete: The Opel Astra H shaped the compact class in Europe from March 2004 to September 2010

With twelve engines ranging from 90 to 240 hp and seven body variants, the choice of models for the Astra H that sold over 2.7 million units was exceptional. When it was launched in March 2004, the third-generation Opel Astra boasted a progressive design, high driving dynamics and plenty of technical innovations, immediately winning numerous comparison tests in specialist automotive publications. The Astra’s technological highlights included the adaptive IDSPlus chassis system with electronic Continuous Damping Control (CDC), otherwise only found in luxury class and exclusive sports cars, as well as Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL) headlamp system with dynamic curve light. The Astra also boasted high levels of safety. The consumer protection organization Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) awarded the Astra the highest rating of five stars for adult passenger protection. With a total of 34 points, the bestseller was considered one of the safest sedans in the compact class.

2009 – 2015: Opel Astra J – The designer piece

Opel News - Famous five: The Astra J family hit the market in 2009 as a five-door (blue), Sports Tourer (at the back), notchback, OPC (yellow) and GTC (red)

Sculptural artistry combined with German precision – the Opel Astra J not only embodies the brand’s new design philosophy, it also assists drivers with a range of technologies that already made an important contribution to the success of the best-selling mid-class Insignia. The Opel Eye recognizes traffic signs and informs the driver of speed limits or overtaking bans. It also warns drivers if they are in danger of veering out of lane. With the AFL+ headlamp system, the Astra can look around the corner and, if necessary, even automatically dim the lights or switch to high beam. With a chassis that can be enhanced by the FlexRide adaptive technology, the current Astra can play out its dynamic talents to the full. A new rear axle construction guarantees driving fun, improved handling and maximum comfort, with a Watt’s link incorporated to improve wheel control. Astra drivers also benefit from a new generation of front seats developed according to the latest findings in safety ergonomics and are awarded with the seal of quality from the independent medical and back experts of the AGR (action for healthy backs) organization.

From 2015: Opel Astra K – The quantum leap

Opel News - Astra Video

Up to 200 kg lighter, roomier inside despite a reduced overall length, and more efficient thanks to exclusive use of new-generation engines – the new Opel Astra is a quantum leap in development and makes its world premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in September 2015. Order books for the five-door variant of the next generation of the successful compact class model just opened in mid-June. Prices for the new Astra with the 1.4-liter gasoline engine start at just 17,260 euros. Therefore, it does not cost a cent more than its predecessor does. 53 years after it was introduced in a Kadett, an engine with 1.0-liter displacement makes its return under the hood of an Opel compact model. However, now it is an almost twice as powerful, three-cylinder unit with an output of 77 kW/105 hp reached thanks to Direct Injection and Turbo technologies. This engine also makes the new Astra the cleanest and most economical gasoline-powered model on the market in the compact class. Continuing a tradition that started with the Astra G, the new Astra K also stands out with its lighting technology. It is the first car to introduce the adaptive, full LED matrix technology IntelliLux LED® – so far reserved for luxury and premium models from higher classes – into the compact segment. New generation driver assistant systems also comprise Traffic Sign Assistant, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning along with Following Distance Indication and Forward Collision Alert with Collision Imminent Braking. In addition, the new Astra K once again delivers on wellness with newly engineered ergonomic front seats, certified by the AGR organization once more, being introduced. These new front seats can even be enhanced with a ventilation and massage function!