Impressively sophisticated chassis offers significant front-end grip, stability and uncorrupted steering. Remarkably calm when driven very hard.

What is it

Vauxhall did pretty well out of the old three-door Astra. Its distinctive lines helped it take 20 per cent of all Astra sales and a full 40 per cent of that total were right-hand drive versions sold in the UK. No surprise, then, that Vauxhall is putting extra effort into the new Astra GTC to make sure that it builds on the British enthusiasm for the model.

Vauxhall says it’s aiming the GTC directly at the Renault Megane Coupe and the VW Scirocco. The entry-level 118bhp 1.4-litre turbocharged Sport model will cost £18,495, undercutting the base VW coupe by £1100. This model - the range-topping 178bhp petrol-engined version - comes in at £21,830, making it a direct rival in virtually every parameter for Renault’s Megane 180 GT Coupe.

The GTC shares nothing externally with its hatchback sister, save for the door handles. The wheelbase is also 10mm longer, it rides 15mm lower and the front and rear tracks have been widened by 40mm and 30mm, respectively. In the flesh, the GTC looks purposeful, particularly from behind, while being a much more polished piece of styling than its predecessor.

What’s it like?

Under the skin, the effort that’s gone into distinguishing the GTC in this market is impressive. At the rear is a modified version of GM’s clever compound crank axle and Watt’s link set-up. Vauxhall says it offers advantages over a multi-link set-up including straight-line stability, minimal lateral deflection in corners and greater compliance and ride comfort at the rear.

What really sets the GTC apart from the crowd is the HiPer strut front end, which is far superior to the McPherson struts used by nearly every front-drive car.

Despite the emphasis on the GTC’s UK tuning, we were only able to try this late prototype car at the Millbrook test track. A combination of emergency lane changing, slalom, low-speed city-style driving and a blast around the deceptively tough handling circuit - driving the GTC SRi back to back with the equivalent hatch - was the basis for our assessment.

The upshot is that the GTC is a marked improvement over the hatch, though with such a sophisticated front suspension system, that should be no surprise.

At lower speeds, the steering feels satisfyingly meaty and precise but, driven hard, the GTC attacks obstacles with a remarkable air of calm, seemingly giving the driver much more time to think and react to a situation, while simultaneously carrying more speed. The downside is that the helm can feel a little distant or remote - a result of the way that the HiPer strut partly isolates the steering wheel rim from what's happening under the front tyres.

Pushed hard on the handling circuit, the identically-engined Astra SRi hatch - a car we had for comparison purposes - quickly lapsed into (well controlled) understeer but, more seriously, the steering feedback became extremely mushy and imprecise. The GTC, however, remained surprisingly crisp even when driven very hard into bends and felt much more at ease tricky situations. Though it’s worth noting that our test car - which rode well at the track - also had the optional FlexRide active dampers. The final production GTC might not be quite so competent on the passive suspension.

Should I buy one?

This model has decent pace, fine sports seats, a good driving position though the effective engine is not the most cultured. A definitive verdict will have to wait for the open road. But it’s also clear that this front end will be well up to handling the 200bhp+ of the upcoming VXR model. The downside is that such is the competence of the GTC chassis that the smaller engined models will probably probably feel distinctly underpowered. .

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Vauxhall Astra GTC SRI 1.6 16V Turbo

Price: £21,380; Top speed: 137mph; 0-62mph: 7.8sec; Economy: 40.4mpg(combined); CO2: 164g/km; Kerb weight: na; Engine: 4 cyls, 1598cc, turbo, petrol; Installation: Front, transverse, FWD; Power: 178bhp at 5500rpm; Torque: 169lb ft at 2200rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual

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jonboy4969 21 July 2011

Re: Vauxhall Astra GTC SRi

having seen the car in the metal..... it looked great, and for most thats all they care about......

thebaldgit 21 July 2011

Re: Vauxhall Astra GTC SRi

Quite a good looking car which will act as a good staging post for the forthcoming 300bhp VXR

TegTypeR 21 July 2011

Re: Vauxhall Astra GTC SRi

artill wrote:

I refuse to believe the Astra has a dead beam axel to improve on the ride and handling of a proper independant set up what ever Autocar publish.

This might be a decent car, but come on, its got a rear suspension set up more to do with GMs accountants that their engineers.

Of course not but it is good marketing blurb. There is a degree of truth in what they say regarding the minimal lateral deflection and straight line stability but that isn't necessarily what enthusiasts want in a car (great in Germany on an autobahn though).

I just hope all of this follows through to the on road tests though as this is a car that I think deserves to do well.

I also hope to see some of these suspension components and settings finding their way on to a warm 5 door at some point so they can inject a little more excitement in to that range.