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Opel celebrates 85 years of compact class affordability and innovation, paving the way for all-new Astra


Opel is celebrating a significant 85-year milestone in 2021. In 1936, Opel was the first German carmaker to put an affordable, family-friendly compact car on the road, the Kadett. Each new generation Kadett brought more innovations to the masses before it was then succeeded by the famed Opel Astra when it made its world premiere in 1991. A true success story, to date, Opel’s star-selling Astra has racked up 4.13 million sales. Now, the German brand prepares for the arrival of its new blitz and enters another new era: the sixth-generation Opel Astra. A new benchmark in the compact class, the all-new Astra oozes a bold and pure design, is electrified for the first time and is due in early 2022. 


Celebrating a significant 85-year milestone in 2021, in 1936, Opel was the first German carmarket to put an affordable, family-friendly compact car on the road, the Opel Kadett, succeeded in 1991 by the star-selling Opel Astra.

In 1936, the Opel Kadett quickly earned its star reputation, winning hearts and minds amongst public and press. Opel’s compact class line would use this name for more than five decades. Featuring an all-steel body and moving away from the classic wooden frame to benefit both driving performance and fuel consumption from lower weight, the speedy four-seater could do nearly 100 km/h, generated from 23hp. Manufactured by Opel, in Rüsselsheim, the body and the powertrain (engine, transmission, axles) were united on the production line with the help of hydraulic elevators. With affordability a key to success, this innovative feat of modern modular engineering ensured costs were reduced. Details such as hydraulic four-wheel brakes, direction indicator, draft-free ventilation through a triangular hinged window and a trunk accessible from the inside, were at that time very unusual for this category of car: in the Kadett, they were all standard.

The compact car market developed so strongly during the years of post-war German economic growth that Opel, in 1962, built an all-new production plant especially for the Kadett in Bochum, Germany. 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.
In 1965 a new series replaced the first model. The new version was more than 4m long and thus a good deal bigger than its predecessor. As for its fashionable figure, designers were inspired by their colleagues overseas: the flat sloping rear was reminiscent of the fastback models then popular in the USA. An overnight success, with over 2.6 million units produced (1965-1973), customers from 120 countries around the globe snatched up the Kadett B.
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. 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. The powerful GT/E debuted in 1975 featuring a 1.9-liter engine with Bosch L-Jetronic injection, producing 105hp and propelling the mere 900 kilograms of Kadett to a top speed of 184 km/h.
The compact class at Opel entered another new era with the the fourth generation Kadett D (1979-1984). Instead of rear-wheel drive, this new model featured front-wheel drive made by Opel for the first time. The space-saving layout was a blueprint for roominess and although the newcomer was shorter than its predecessor, the inside was bigger and offered considerably more space than many of the Kadett’s rivals. 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 115hp. A total of 2.1 million Kadett D units were produced from 1979 to 1984.
The second front-wheel drive Kadett, (1984 – 1991), was named Car of the Year 1984, selling a grand total of 3.8 million cars in its lifetime. Based on the engineering of its predecessor but with a completely new hatchback design, the Kadett E was set for a stellar career. 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. When the legendary 16-valve engine arrived on the scene in 1987, it left its competitors eating dust.
The Opel Astra F made its world premiere to much applaud. Winning fans aplenty, some 4.13 million units were built between 1991 and 1997, making it the bestselling Opel model ever. Combining modern design with more interior space, enhanced comfort and greater emphasis on environmental protection, 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.
In 1998, the Astra G 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. A progressive design, dynamic chassis, increased interior space, larger truck volume and new powertrains were just some of the characteristics of the completely new, 2nd-generation Astra. The new model’s fully galvanized body played a key role in its high value retention. Active safety was enhanced with a 30% in the light output of the transparent H7 halogen headlamps and the completely redesigned Dynamic Safety (DSA) chassis. 
With 12 engines ranging from 90 to 240hp and 7 body variants, the choice of models for the Astra H (2004 – 2009) that sold over 2.7 million units was exceptional. Technological highlights included the adaptive chassis system with electronic Continuous Damping Control (CDC), otherwise only found in luxury class and exclusive sports cars, as well as an Adaptive Forward Lighting (AFL) headlamp system with dynamic curve light. The Astra H also boasted high levels of safety and was considered one of the safest sedans in the compact class, cemented further with the introduction of the Opel Astra J (2009 – 2015), when the Opel Eye camera system was introduced, combining traffic sign recognition and lane departure warning systems. AGR seats and FlexRide adaptive technology also made their debut.
Crowned European Car of the Year 2016, the Opel Astra K shed 200KG, was roomier inside despite a reduced overall length and gained efficiency thanks to the deployment of new-generation engines. Once again available as a hatchback and as a spacious Sports Tourer, it was the first car in the compact segment to introduce adaptive, full LED matrix technology Intelli-Lux LED®. New-generation driver assistant systems included Traffic Sign Assistant, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning along with Forward Collision Alert and Collision Imminent Braking.
Eighty-five years after the original Kadett, in the firm tradition of its predecessors, the sixth-generation all-new Opel Astra takes a bold step into the future. Due in spring 2022, for the first time Opel will offer the new Astra as a plug-in hybrid in two performance levels, together with highly efficient petrol and diesel engines. A nod to its famous predecessors, the new Opel Astra is a bold design statement for the German brand. Dynamic as never before, with sheer, taut surfaces and sporting the new Opel Vizor brand face and Pure Panel interior, Opel shows that the Astra is ready to define a new era.