The Vauxhall Astra is one of the best-looking hatchbacks, but average dynamics and performance hamper its overall appeal
First DriveFrugal 1.6-litre diesel Astra estate has the zest to match its decent chassis and good looks
First DriveDespite a raft of tweaks aimed at achieving impressive frugality, this Vauxhall Astra 1.7 CDTi Ecoflex Exclusiv still offers an engaging driver experience
What is it?
The third out of four body derivatives of the Vauxhall Astra, Britain’s most popular new car in 2010 – and it’s about to go on sale in the UK. With the five-door hatchback and sports tourer estate already on the market, Luton is preparing to start deliveries of the three-door Vauxhall Astra GTC 2.0 CDTi Sri. Or the GTC coupe, as they would prefer you to think of it.
This time they’ve got good reason to insist on a separate showroom identity for the racier-looking Astra. Although it’s based on a platform common with the rest of the model family, the GTC is markedly lower, wider and more athletic-looking than the five-door.
Underneath the all-new panels there’s an upgraded chassis with wider tracks, retuned springs, dampers and bushings, and GM’s advanced ‘Hiperstrut’ front suspension system. The latter is designed to maintain the kingpin angle of the front suspension under load, providing better camber control, grip and steering precision, and less torque steer. It’s the sort of equipment becoming more common on highly strung performance front-drivers - but on a car available for less than £19,000, it’s unprecedented.
What’s it like?
A track drive in a prototype with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine earlier this year suggested big improvements in handling and driver involvement for the GTC relative to the regular Astra. And on UK country roads similar to the ones on which the car was developed, the GTC rides and handles with real distinction.
Our test car was a 2.0-litre CDTI diesel – not the most effervescent version of the car, but it was refined and swift through the middle of the rev range, with decent throttle response for a powerplant of this kind, and quite a slick gearchange.
Really impressive was the accuracy and crispness of the GTC’s steering and the agility of its chassis, however – both of which give the car an unexpectedly purposeful aura to match its dynamic styling. This car corners quickly with excellent body control and considerable verve and interactivity.
A retuned electromechanical power steering system, mounted directly to the car’s steering rack rather than its steering column, makes for a precise and unfettered sense of control over the front wheels. Vauxhall must have worked to enhance the feedback through the EPS system since the summer too because, although the earlier prototype we drove didn’t impress in this area, our test car certainly did, providing confidence-inspiring positivity and good natural road feel.
Vauxhall’s FlexRide adaptive dampers will be a must-have for anyone who regularly crosses really poor surfaces, however. The GTC’s standard passive dampers strike quite a firm ride compromise that makes the car a little restless over rougher roads taken at normal speeds; FlexRide has a softer ‘Tour’ setting which better smoothes out choppy tarmac. It’s a £790 option, which should be easy to offset against a healthy discount on list price from your Vauxhall dealer.
Should I buy one?
If you can live without the added desirability of a VW Scirocco, even a Peugeot RCZ, we heartily recommend the Astra GTC. For keener drivers who value tautness and agility in a car first and foremost, the GTC offers real sporting appeal, and is as suited to British blacktop as any £20k coupe we can think of. It won’t break the bank, either. A like-for-like Scirocco will set you back between £1000 and £1500 more, and an RCZ more still.
Vauxhall Astra GTC 2.0 CDTi SRi
Price: £22,430; Top speed: 131mph; 0-60mph: 8.4sec; Economy: 57.6mpg; Co2: 129g/km; Kerbweight: 1495kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyls, 1956cc, turbodiesel; Power: 163bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 258lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual