Vauxhall Astra GTC: First drive
With the UK being the largest market for sporty Astras and the current car on sale for over two years, Vauxhall really needed a sporty three-door rival to cars such as the Volkswagen Scirocco.
Well, British Vauxhall hot-hatch buyers won't have to wait much longer as it's called the GTC and has finally arrived in the UK.
Originally shown as a concept at last year's Paris Motor Show, the production car remains remarkably faithful to the concept. Obviously an Astra, yet the GTC looks far sportier, as it shares just two exterior parts with the five-door – the roof and the door handles.
Exterior design highlights include the slimmer front and rear lights, the larger lower front grille, the upswept window line and the way deeply sculpted rear haunches fold into the flared wheel arches.
Overall, the Astra GTC has to be Vauxhall's best-looking car since the last Astra Coupe. It's a shame then, that the interior styling isn't as unique as the exterior. In fact, it looks unchanged from the standard hatch.
Still, on the plus side the switchgear is conveniently placed and the dashboard design is attractive and well built. It's just a bit of a let down that it doesn't feel as special as I think it should, especially in Sport trim, which doesn't even get a leather-wrapped steering wheel as standard!
Go for pricier SRi versions and the interior feels more special with more supportive sports seats and the centre console that's finished in a combination of aluminium and carbon-fibre look. There's also more equipment including automatic lights and wipers and an electronic handbrake.
I'm over 6ft tall and found it easy to get a decent driving position; all round visibility is generally good but the small rear window sculpted rear haunches make reversing a bit of a chore.
There's also enough head and legroom in the GTC for a couple of six-footers to travel in comfort. Sadly, with the smaller upswept rear windows they will soon feel quite claustrophobic though. The Astra GTC also has a practical 380 litre boot, which is bigger than the Volkswagen's with a practical split/fold rear seat.
The Astra GTC is offered with the choice of 118bhp or 138bhp versions of the 1.4-litre turbo or a 163bhp 2.0 CDTi diesel. For the moment, the most powerful GTC is the 178bhp, 1.6-litre Turbo - well that's until the fire-breathing VXR arrives next year.
I got the chance to drive the 138bhp 1.4-litre turbo petrol, the 163bhp 2.0-litre CDTi diesel and the 178bhp, 1.6-litre turbo petrol.
Apart from the extra performance, I found it quite difficult to tell the difference between the 1.4 and 1.6-litre turbo petrol engines. Even though the 1.6 is the sweeter and smoother engine, many will go for the smaller engine because of its impressive 47.1mpg and 140g/km CO2 emissions.
The 2.0-litre diesel surprised me; clattery on start-up, it feels far torquier than the petrol units and suits the Astra GTC's optimised dynamics. Low CO2 emissions of 127g/km and a combined fuel consumption figure of 58.9mpg are also sure to attract business users.
Vauxhall are making great claims about the Astra GTC's dynamics, with specific UK steering and suspension settings. There are also wider front and rear tracks, 15mm lowered suspension and a longer wheelbase contributing to the feeling of agility.
Another feature in the Astra GTC's bespoke chassis is the front HiPerStrut system. Also fitted to the Insignia VXR, it works by reducing the amount of camber change through the front wheels during cornering.
It works too, as the turn in feels sharper and more eager in the twisty stuff than the standard hatch. It doesn't roll much either, but the electronic power steering could really do with more feel to complete what is a highly competent package.
The Astra GTC rides best on the standard 18-inch alloy wheels; move up to the 19-inch alloys and things get more bumpy and unsettled. Arch-filling 20-inch alloys will be available; I didn't get the chance to try them, but on the evidence of the 19-inchers, I couldn't recommend them.
So, the three-door version of the Astra looks great, offers a keen drive and is more practical than rivals. The only question marks over the model is the less than special interior and the steering, which isn't as keen as the rest of the GTC's ride and handling package.