Opel's Astra has jumped to second in the lower-medium segment and the car is closing the sales gap with the Volkswagen Golf, Automotive News Europe said.

To the end of the first 10 months of 2005, the Astra has halved the Golf's sales lead in the segment compared with last year. By doing so, it has jumped ahead of the Peugeot 307 and Ford Focus.

"From a volume perspective, we are very encouraged that the gap to the Golf has closed substantially," said Jonathan Browning, GM Europe's vice president of sales, marketing and aftersales. "But one of the most encouraging things is the degree to which Astra is changing perceptions in the markets. Now we are seeing consideration of the Astra by people who might not have considered it before."

Astra sales have increased 35.1% over the same period a year earlier. Golf sales have increased 5.9% despite the addition of a new derivative, the Golf Plus, to the model line earlier this year.

But VW remains confident the Golf, western Europe's perennial best seller, will not lose its lead.

"We are absolutely sure the Golf will continue to lead the segment," VW spokesman Hartwig von Sass said.

The Golf has been VW's best-selling car for more than 25 years despite a fourfold increase in competition. VW expected sales of the fifth-generation Golf to exceed 600,000 units in 2004. But during its first full year of production last year, VW sold 553,575 units in western Europe.

The fourth-generation Golf maintained its market share and was the undisputed leader in its segment with a share of between 20% and 22%. That percentage dropped to 17.8% with the introduction of the new Golf last year.

Meanwhile, the Astra has seen steady increases over the last two years. Opel sold 355,530 units last year, an increase of 8.7% over 2003. Already this year, Opel has sold 400,887 Astras.