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.