Home » The Humble Opel Astra Beat Tesla To The Punch With An Enormous Windshield

The Humble Opel Astra Beat Tesla To The Punch With An Enormous Windshield

Opel Astra Panoramic Windscreen Topshot
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Tesla Model X, Lucid Air, Opel Astra. What do all three of these cars have in common other than that none of them have been in my garage? They all can be had with bizarrely-long windscreens. Yes, Opel beat Tesla to the punch by a decade with the relatively ordinary Astra of all things.

Tall Windscreens

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For the most part, early panoramic glass applications were weird. You had the magical multi-way sunroof on the E34 BMW 5 Series Touring, the toaster slot on the Nissan Maxima, and the multi-panel “ehh, good enough” Vista Roof on the Ford Edge.

However, none were quite as weird as the panoramic windscreen on the Opel Astra H.

While many American car enthusiasts may only be vaguely familiar with the short-lived Saturn Astra compact hatchback, the Opel Astra lineage goes back much further than the late aughts.

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The replacement for the popular Kadett C-segment hatchback first appeared in showrooms in 1992 as a conservative but generally agreeable hatchback, sedan, or wagon.

Opel Astra 1.6 Selection (g) – Heckansicht, 21. Juni 2011, Heiligenhaus

The second-generation Astra, launched in 1998, wasn’t as handsomely styled. It looked a bit like a scaled-down Vectra family hatchback, and some of the styling cues that work well on larger cars don’t translate to smaller forms. The Astra hatchback was now awkwardly shaped with a dramatically-sloped rear window and a fake decklid. What’s more, the family front end just didn’t have much road presence draped over a smaller silhouette, and it all added up to a dowdy-looking car.

Opel Astra Panoramic Windscreen 2

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But for the third-generation Astra, the one we got here as a Saturn, Opel pulled out all the stops. No longer keen to let the Volkswagen Golf steal its lunch money, the new Astra was sharp, practical, and blessed with a massive list of engines, bodystyles, and features. (Editor’s note: I actually liked the Saturn Astra! By the end, it was the most interesting thing Saturn had done in years, besides the Sky roadster. -PG)

You could have it in such configurations as a five-door hatchback with a 197-horsepower two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a swanky hardtop convertible, or my personal favorite, a three-door hatchback with an optional windscreen that ate into the roof.

Opel Astra Panoramic Windscreen Interior 2

The objective was simple: Open up the Astra’s cabin without exposing the occupants to the elements. Perfect for those grey, rainy days when you just want a little more light. To accomplish this feat, Opel commissioned an expensive and extensive piece of glass that ran all the way from the cowl to the tops of the B-pillars, hacked the windscreen header panel out of its Astra GTC, beefed up the roll hoop, and then went about bonding the fancy new 19.37 square-foot piece of glass in. Of course, this also had the side effect of making the rearview mirror look like it was floating in space.

Opel Astra Panoramic Windscreen 4

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It’s easy to assume that this extra-glazing treatment was seriously heavy, but that assumption would be incorrect. Astra GTCs with the panoramic windscreen carry a weight increase of just 22 pounds over a standard model despite the extra roof bracing and 20 percent thicker glass than a standard Astra windscreen.

The real penalty is what happened when you crack the panoramic windscreen: One Astra owner claims to have been quoted £600 in 2012 for windscreen replacement.

Astra Panoramic Windscreen Facelift 1

Putting replacement costs aside, British outlet Auto Express was a huge fan of the panoramic windscreen treatment. In a road test of a Vauxhall Astra equipped with the option, it remarked “If you have ever marveled at the bubble canopies fitted to fighter jets, this is the closest you’ll get on four wheels.” It’s a bit of FMR TG500 erasure, but not everyone wants to daily drive an old microcar.

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Perhaps even more impressive than the glass itself is that the Astra featured something the Lucid and Tesla both lack: a proper opaque sunshade to keep glare at bay. Sure, the glass was solar-treated so you wouldn’t slow-cook your bald spot, but UV rejection won’t keep visible light out.

In the Astra, the sun visors were mounted to the motorized sun blind, so it was easy to choose where you’d want your visors to go. Call it a more complicated yet more elegant solution than the floating visors of the Lucid Air and the side-hinged visors of the Model X.

Opel Astra Panoramic Windscreen 3

A panoramic windscreen is a very weird feature in the context of an Opel Astra. You almost expect a Tesla or a Lucid to have weird glass because they’re marketed as the next big thing in luxury vehicles. Nobody expects to hop in a reasonably-priced hatchback and see nothing but sky and a rearview mirror above them. It’s almost like someone took the nauseating management-speak of “blue-sky thinking” and turned it into an engineering marvel as a joke. Needless to say, if you’re behind the wheel with this view, you’re the one laughing. What a gloriously bonkers idea.

(Photo credits: Opel, Tesla, Lucid Motors, Rutger van der Maar – CC BY 2.0, M 93 – CC BY-SA 3.0 de)

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Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 year ago

This thing is cool. What a weird feature on an otherwise deeply regular car. I love weird stuff like this.

Gosh, my favorite early panoramic roof (unsurprisingly) was the 996/997 Targa. Gone was the goofy handlebar for a cool all-glass roof. It had a break in the middle to accommodate a sunroof panel, but I liked that design a lot. If you’re going for a more luxe 911 instead of one that’s stripped down and because-racecar’d out, I feel like that’s an underrated one.

Last edited 1 year ago by Stef Schrader
ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

I forgot the Saturn Astra existed, if I ever knew, them I saw one out and about a couple years ago and thought it was a very interesting looking little car. Did didnt know about the roof option either, apparently not sold here in the states.

Alex Redmore
Alex Redmore
1 year ago

It is and always will be a boring old mans car. With the exception of Lotus Omega, Opel never made any cool cars.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alex Redmore
Mikko Merentie
Mikko Merentie
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Redmore

Eh, no. Calibra & Vectra 4×4 Turbo, Astra & Kadett 16v GSi (which ate Golf GTi’s for breakfast) Opel Manta etc etc. Many great models.

Scootershapedmotorcycle
Scootershapedmotorcycle
1 year ago

I’m tall enough (especially in the torso) that I look straight into the sun visor in most cars. I don’t see the sky when driving. My head is up against the roof and that’s just that. No, the seat can’t be lowered further, and by the time I lean the seat back far enough, my arms are stretched long to get to the wheel but my legs are bent crazy (and not dealing with the steering wheel all that well) because they’re also too long. Cars are not built for my size.

I would love this windshield and will likely never own a car that has one. Oh well.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
1 year ago

As someone who drives with the visors down most of the time, because I live where there’s lots of sun and little shade, a windshield like this would be torture.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

I think it is largely dependent on your height and light sensitivity of your eyes. My wife puts the visor down most all the time, even when passengering. I only do it at sunrise or sunset, my only purpose for the visors is to block the sun from shining directly in my eyes

Atszekelyhidi
Atszekelyhidi
1 year ago

I was lucky enough to actually sit in one of these on a car show when it came out. The inside was more of a weird, flimsy, moving carpeted headliner piece than a sunshade. Its edge with the rotating locking handle mechanism was unfortunately just above my head when opened and as I am above 2 metres tall, it was very much disturbing and made the cabin more cramped than the normal 3 door version (we still have one today), despite the huge glass area.

Last edited 1 year ago by Atszekelyhidi
415s30
415s30
1 year ago

This is the worst car to hit a moose in, oof.

Astrass
Astrass
1 year ago

The Astra H: The car my username is named after, and (at least in 5-door Saturn form) my first and (so far) only vehicle. Mine got handed down to me as a high school graduation present. I drove it all the way through college, my three-year COVID career, and now it’s taken me through my master’s degree. Mine is sitting at 140k as we speak with no major repairs. It’s got a few issues (an engine light for an evap leak, plus it’s going to need CV joints soon), but it’s never let me down or left me stranded. Its interior and features are also impressive, considering the time when it was built and the pre-bankruptcy GM that built it (rain-sensing windshield wipers? heated mirrors? leather interior? stability control? side airbags? soft-touch interior plastics?). If the parts support didn’t suck in the US (thanks GM for both shutting down Saturn and selling Opel), I would wholeheartedly recommend it as a good used car to look for.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
1 year ago

I’m not really a fan of this windshield, but I do like the Astra 4-door’s panoramic sunroof. It was the smallest and cheapest car to offer that feature at the time

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago

Certainly an interesting era for glass/pano roofs. Chevy Malibu Maxx had the glass roof over the rear seats, Nissan Quest with the multi-panel roof, Honda Element with the removable glass rear skylight, Scion tC with the pano roof too in an affordable car. In hindsight the Vista Roof on the Edge seems silly for what is just a regular pano roof, but was one of the first really to ‘mainstream’ the idea for the segment that I can recall. GM tried with the multi-panel pano roof on the G6/Aura (that was trouble-prone IIRC), and the rear skylight on the Lambda SUVs (leaked).

This was definitely cool, but given the choice I think rather have a glass roof that opens (like…a regular moonroof). Though Toyota now keeps putting in pano glass roofs that don’t open at all – Venza, Crown, Prius.

The following gen Astra J also offered the pano windscreen, though the closest we got to that generation was its Buick cousin, the Verano, which is possibly even stranger to think about considering that was a softer vehicle than the Saturn that was a direct port. Yet the Buick, you could get a 2.0T/6MT (Holy Grail?).

Aside from the Astra, I think the original Focus and the 7th gen Civic Si were our last taste of international 3-door hatches (that weren’t VW) but there were some cool ones that followed. VW had the Scirocco too, Citroen C4, even Kia with the Pro_Ceed.

Uninformed Fucknugget
Uninformed Fucknugget
1 year ago

“Honda Element with the removable glass rear skylight”

For real??? I’ve had two of these and never knew they did anything other than popping up to vent. I’ll be damned.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago

Indeed, I searched and there were some forums that mentioned it and had a pic of the section of the owner’s manual with it, although it sounds like a hassle to store it inside and then reinstall it too.

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
1 year ago

Reading the intro I definitely thought about the Nissan Quest multi panel sunroof as one of the other odd ones that wasn’t mentioned.

https://cdn.carbuzz.com/gallery-images/2008-nissan-quest-sunroof-carbuzz-532055-1600.jpg

Toyec
Toyec
1 year ago

I aggree on the styling of the 3rd gen Astra, I always liked it. The great mystery for me was that the 2nd sold so well, as it’s really a car that seemed to have no interesting qualities. And yet, it seemed like they aged not that bad, mecanically (stylism is still horrible, even for the Bertone coupe and convertible that vere supposed to replace the Calibra) at least.
Now, do you now which very reasonably priced hatchback, with even far less luxury ambitions than the Astra GTC had an enormous windshield ? The 2nd gen Citroën C3 ! https://images.caradisiac.com/logos/9/0/4/9/129049/S7-Nouvelle-Citroen-C3-Visiodrive-officielle-33098.jpg

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Toyec

From above, that looks like Prince William’s rapidly receding hairline a few years ago.

Mthew_M
Mthew_M
1 year ago
Reply to  Toyec

The Citroens (especially the C4 Picasso) are what I always think of when I think of vehicles with extended windshields.

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago

Even the Saturn version had features that you wouldn’t expect. I bought a 5 door Saturn Astra new and drove it almost 10 years. It was a great car for me. I had every option except leather but still had the manual transmission. I had no significant issues with the car for the 120,000 miles that I owned it.

For a 2008 GM compact many features were really unexpected. Rain sense automatic wipers, heated seats (available with cloth or leather), projector headlights, panoramic sunroof, 6 disc CD changer, 7 speakers, stability control, the remote could roll down the windows. You could get 18″ wheels with summer tires on the 3 door. Keep in mind, this was still the end of the Cobalt and start of the Cruze over at Chevy. It was a premium featured car that was fun to drive.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago
Reply to  3WiperB

I believe GM was in the early stages of attempting to re-position Saturn into a more premium, import-fighter type brand (similar to what they also tried to do to Oldsmobile in its final days) at the time it was discontinued. Kind of interesting to imagine where the strategy would have gone, or what it would be like today, shorn of Opel/Vauxhall (or, maybe GM would have kept those two, if they had been more irrevocably intertwined with a North American division, who knows?)

Icouldntfindaclevername
Icouldntfindaclevername
1 year ago

I’d hate have that if I lived in the Southwest. OK, I watched the video. That sliding cover makes it livable.

Derj
Derj
1 year ago

Is it just me, or does the panoramic windscreen make it look like the car is suffering from male pattern baldness?

Otter
Otter
1 year ago

The sliding headliner panel with the visors is genius. I just spent two weeks flogging a rented Astra in Mallorca and man would I have loved to have that windshield while going up the switchbacks.

JC 06Z33
JC 06Z33
1 year ago

So… what do you do when the sun is setting? I see no visors. No progressive tint or frits or anything. Just sun blasting your eyeballs when you’re driving into it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 year ago

So was that giant windscreen available on the US market Saturn?

3WiperB
3WiperB
1 year ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Nope, but you could get a huge 2-panel sunroof on the 5 door that pretty much took the whole roof.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
1 year ago

I own two vehicles with sunroofs and have owned many more with sunroofs, moonroofs, and T-tops. I am avidly against all of them due to their propensity to leak, but this could have been something I could have gotten behind (besides the high price of replacement). Then again, the cost to replace the windshield on my 20 year old Lexus that has the automatic wiper stuff on it is more than $600, so perhaps that isn’t as much of a hurdle.

I agree about the Saturn Astra being rather interesting. They were a decent automobile, and got an unfair shake from the low opinion of Saturn that had taken hold by the time the Astra was released in the US.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 year ago
Reply to  Squirrelmaster

They were fairly well-reviewed at the time IIRC, for how they drove. Most complaints were centered around the infotainment setup (button heavy with a 24hr-only clock, and no aux input) and interior storage (no front cupholder or front seat armrest – an aftermarket accessory took care of both). May seem silly but most were pretty expected features by that point for a new model introduced at that point. It was definitely a stopgap, not quite designed for U.S. tastes, which would be fine…but from the buying public’s perspective it was also not a great value in small cars. Almost $17.5k with air, and then $19k with automatic too, it was about the same or more than a Honda Civic that had better fuel economy, and a little less than a Mazda 3s that had more power – and that’s all at sticker, which is what the Saturn was priced at, being no-haggle, so the others could likely be had for less even.

SparkySparkington
SparkySparkington
1 year ago

Call me nuts, but I think the Astra G’s design is the one that’s actually aged the best out of all of them, in all of its body styles (and yes, you could get it as a 3- and 5-door hatchback, an actual 4-door sedan, a coupe, a convertible, a wagon, *and* a panel van).

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
1 year ago

Looks weird from the outside, but my GOD that view from the inside is amazing.

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