Ladies and gentlemen, Opel is back. After years of barely any presence in the Middle East, the European arm of General Motors is making a renewed assault on the region.
At the Dubai Motor Show last year it showed off a range of current and upcoming models with which it hopes to rejuvenate interest in what is a long-established and hugely popular brand in its native Europe.
Previous Opel offerings in the region – such as they were – were entry-level, thoroughly uninteresting methods of transport. But for the rebirth, it’s brought some much more interesting vehicles, and a lot of them are indicated by three letters – O, P and C, which stand for Opel Performance Center. These letters are Opel’s M badge, its RS, its AMG. All things being well, it stands for fun.
Today, we’re sampling OPC for the first time, but we’re not just rocking out the bog standard Corsa OPC. No, we’ve got our hands on the limited edition Corsa OPC Nürburgring Edition. In a market where we don’t get Ford’s apparently-hilarious Fiesta ST, this is an extra-nippy version of a small hot hatch that really only goes up against the soon-to-be-replaced Renault Clio RS. The Corsa OPC is a compact, front-wheel drive hatch powered by a 1.6-litre, turbocharged engine that develops 207bhp in the ‘Ring Edition, versus 189bhp in the standard car. In a machine this small, which comes with a six-speed manual transmission, that’s a pretty intriguing recipe for fans of cheap thrills that have been largely starved of small hot hatch fun in Arabia.
As well as the extra grunt, the Nürburgring Edition also comes with stiffer Bilstein shocks, a mechanical front diff and massive Brembo brakes, lurking behind 18-inch, gloss black alloys. And of course, it boasts the obligatory Nürburgring graphics on the B-pillar and the door sills. It’s available in the region by special order only for $31,300, which put it squarely up against the base-spec new Volkswagen Golf GTI in price. Considering that was our Hot Hatch of the Year for 2013, the Opel needs to impress.
Our test car is clad in Henna Red paint (which looks more like a metallic orange to me), which combined with the gloss black elements and an aggressive bodykit looks rather mean. Naturally, with a name like this, there’s only one place to do it justice. The Nürburgring Nordschleife, the Green Hell – a place that makes or breaks cars and drivers and pushes machines to their ultimate limit.
Unfortunately, the Eifel Mountains of Germany are a bit of a trek from the crankandpiston offices in Dubai, so we’re making do with the next best thing. The UAE has its own version of the Nürburgring. Well, sort of. When manufacturers are shaking down their sports car during regional testing, when petrolheads want the nation’s ultimate stretch of tarmac, they invariably head to a mountain just outside Al Ain called Jebel Hafeet. At 11.7km long, with 21 corners, it’s as close to motoring nirvana as it’s possible to get in the Middle East, with minimal traffic and a smorgasboard of short, long, widening and tightening corners mixed with long straights to blast down. Oh, and it was built by Germans. Hopefully, the Corsa will be worthy.
The drive from Dubai requires getting out of the city and onto the motorway, which requires the negotiation of speed bumps. Which may well require chiropracty. The Bilstein suspension is very stiff indeed, with little give or concession to the merest ripple in the road surface. Speed bumps are arduous, and even the motorway is a touch jolty. Still, on the plus side, there’s great pull from the engine, and the thin Recaros are surprisingly comfy, and classy too, with an embossed layout of the Nordschleife on the headrest. I find myself mentally comparing it to the Golf GTI because of this limited edition’s inflated price, which is perhaps a touch unfair – the standard OPC Corsa is just $23,141, so you’re paying quite a premium for exclusivity and a bit of extra zeal. Nevertheless, I can’t help but reflect that the ‘Ring edition, even though it’s new to the region, has been available elsewhere for two years, and is based on a car that came out way back in 2006.
Consequently, the interior looks and feels dated. The dashboard plastics are hard, and the orange monotone LCD screens glaringly stand out against more modern rivals’ colour displays. Opel has added a touch-screen infotainment system mid-way down the centre stack, but someone at the dealership lost the unlock code for it, so I can’t tell you how good it is. Ominously, there’s an annoying rattle from somewhere near the glovebox, which isn’t brilliant considering the car has done less than 1000km.
The 90-minute motorway cruise ends with a series of roundabouts as we pass through Al Ain, and ahead of us Jebel Hafeet looms out of the mist. It’s only now that I’m starting to get a feel for the steering that I’m more hopeful that the Corsa can deliver on some of its promise. Even with three people and camera gear inside, it’s staying flat, and there’s plenty of organic texture through the wheel. Perhaps the lack of cutting edge tech could play into its hands?
We arrive at the bottom of the mountain. Traffic is minimal and the weather is fine. A quick recce is required so photographer Arun can find some good spots from which to shoot, but after dropping him and assistant Sharon off near the top I can finally return to the bottom of the hill and open up the taps.
Story concludes on page 2