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Great to drive and beautifully styled, the GTC is a game changer for Vauxhall

Vauxhall had been preparing the ground for the GTC for some time. It revealed a concept of the same name at the Paris Motor Show in 2010, heralding it as a new type of Astra, and launched it in the UK in 2011.

Three-door Astras have always proved popular with buyers, but the gives Vauxhall its first genuine coupe since the unloved mark IV. You need to go back even further in Vauxhall's history, to the Manta and Calibra of the 1980s and 1990s, to find anything that could be described as desirable. 

Normally, we'd advise you to avoid the biggest wheels on a manufacturer's options list, but the GTC rides remarkably well on 20in alloys and they look the business

The GTC hasn’t yet been subject to the new model revisions the five-door and state underwent last year, having dropped the Astra designation from its name in early 2014. It’s squarely aimed at the Volkswagen Scirocco, a car that uses the proven underpinnings of the Volkswagen Golf to deliver something altogether more special.

Vauxhall uses styling and some significant mechanical changes to transform the hatchback into a sporty, practical coupe. It gives the GTC credibility in a market that is starting to fill up quickly.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Vauxhall GTC rear

Vauxhall claims that the GTC isn’t just a three-door version of the Vauxhall Astra hatchback and would rather see it positioned – like the Scirocco – as a separate coupé model, distinct from the rest of the range.

“The GTC shares no body panels with either the Vauxhall Astra hatch or Sports Tourer,” Vauxhall claims. And not unjustifiably, it points out that the rakish styling has reached production in a guise that’s faithful to the GTC Paris concept from 2010.

It is no surprise that Vauxhall used the rear view for marketing campaigns: it looks terrific

Overall, the GTC’s sleek shape is even longer than the five-door hatch’s at 4466mm (up from 4419mm) and, given the stance, it’s no surprise that it’s also wider (1840mm instead of 1814mm) and lower (1482mm rather than 1512mm). What’s more surprising is that the manufacturer has troubled itself to extend the hatch’s wheelbase for the GTC, by 10mm to 2695mm. The tracks are also wider at the front (up 40mm to 1584mm) and rear (up 30mm to 1585mm).

In part, the suspension’s increased dimensions are because, at the front, it wears a different set-up from the five-door hatch. Instead of conventional MacPherson struts, the GTC was the first Astra to get General Motors’ HiPerStrut system.

In principle, it’s much like a MacPherson strut but with an extra knuckle to bring the steering axis closer to the centre of the driven wheels, reducing torque steer. Ford and Renault have similar systems. The GTC’s steering is electrically assisted and gets a UK-specific tune.

At the rear, the GTC retains the torsion beam and Watt’s link from the five-door Astra, but with extra roll stiffness. Our test car was also fitted with optional FlexRide adaptive dampers. The GTC’s engine range comprises 1.4 and 1.6 turbocharged petrol engines, and 1.7 and 2.0 turbodiesels.

INTERIOR

Vauxhall GTC dashboard

Before forming an opinion on the GTC’s interior, one must first gain entry to it, and that means opening the huge doors fitted by Vauxhall. When you have room to spare on either side, it’s easy enough, but when you’re hemmed in by parked cars, access is rather more of a struggle.

Once inside, those who expect the cabin to replicate the exterior’s stylish makeover are likely to be disappointed. Perceptibly little has changed from the interior layout already available in the conventional Vauxhall Astra line-up.

The commodious boot is welcome, but a low floor and big lip will have you stooping for heavy loads like a steamship stoker

The raked A-pillars and low-swept roofline do not compromise visibility and the high beltline is liable to make drivers feel like they’re sitting lower than they actually are, but otherwise it’s a familiar, dowdy affair.

Vauxhall has made some effort to break the monotony; the SRi model we tested featured faux brushed aluminium inserts on the centre console, air vents and doors, but the same unfortunate cloudburst of black buttons remains on the dashboard.

Returning customers might praise the functional similarity, but the uninitiated will be left to plough forlornly through myriad knobs and switches.

As the car has moved through its life cycle, Vauxhall has trimmed the range back to just two models – SRi and Limited. All cars get the OnStar concierge system with WiFi, DAB, auto lights and wipers and tinted rear windows, while a £2000 upgrade to Limited Edition spec adds 20in bi-colour alloys, sat nav, heated front seats and a VXR roof spoiler.

Although the hatch’s shortcomings have been inherited, so have its strengths. The coupé never feels less than spacious, especially in the back, where there’s adequate room for adult-sized legs.

A vast C-pillar and tiny windows can make it seem dingy, but headroom surprisingly decent considering the external aesthetic. There’s also a large boot, which, at 380 litres, offers almost 30 litres more capacity than the five-door hatch’s.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Vauxhall GTC side profile

The range-topping GTC comes with a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo, a generous headline helping of power for a car of this size and price. That engine was added at the beginning of 2014, adding another 19bhp over the unit that topped the launch range. The GTC also forms the basis of the 276bhp Astra VXR, Vauxhall’s front-wheel drive charge against the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf GTi.

At the test track, that 1.6 petrol-powered GTC’s showing was respectable, if unexceptional. In chilly and damp conditions, the car hit 60mph in a two-way average of 8.8sec and 100mph in 24.3sec.

The GTC engines lack sparkle, but not disastrously so

That 0-60mph time was a full second slower than Vauxhall’s claim but, betraying a shortfall in torque (just 170 lb ft), it was two-tenths slower than the Scirocco 1.4 TSI we tested in the same conditions. Which may slightly undermine one of the key pillars of the GTC’s appeal for some: the delivery of a little bit of extra performance at a bargain price.

The 1.6 turbo engine is at its best high up in the revs. Through the middle of its range of operation, it feels a little strangled. But that’s only a minor, relative criticism. The engine’s good in-gear flexibility and throttle response make it easy to drive in everyday conditions.

Away from the respective range-topper, performance suffers, particularly with the entry-level 118bhp 1.4-litre petrol and the 108bhp 1.7-litre diesel. It’s certainly worth paying the premium for the extra shove to match the car’s style. The line-up is filled-out by a 138bhp 1.4 – the only GTC available with an auto gearbox – and a 134bhp 1.6 diesel.

RIDE & HANDLING

Vauxhall GTC cornering

Sat on its wider track and shod in bigger wheels, the GTC feels like a meatier presence on the road than its five-door Vauxhall Astra hatchback sibling. Also, though Vauxhall's retuning of the steering, the driver is offered a consistently fluid interpretation of a sharper front end.

Thanks to the new HiPerStruts, the experience is rarely corrupted by grave torque steer, and the quality of the car’s turn-in, while still not pin-sharp, has been augmented by the lower ride height and noticeably less body roll.

Vauxhall says it carried out extensive dynamic testing in the UK. We believe them

It is not ideally suited to life on the track, but the driving experience on the road is credibly fluent and, considering the extent of the modifications beneath, still surprisingly comfortable. Even burdened with optional remarkably large 20in wheels, the GTC can usually be relied upon to decipher England’s road surface conundrum with energetic aplomb.

The optional adaptive damper set-up is busy enough to be a touch too firm and noisy when seriously tested, but comfort levels resist degradation right up to the point where the FlexRide’s Sport mode is triggered. With the orange light ignited on the dashboard, the GTC requires a concrete mill pond if it is to avoid subjecting its occupants to archetypal choppiness.

The same button also activates the car’s more assertive steering setting, but the software conceit simply adds more weight to the proceedings without improving feedback, and considering Vauxhall has gone to the effort of retuning the default set-up to British roads, it hardly seems worth selecting.

Fortunately, the manufacturer has shown sufficient foresight to allow drivers to choose which options they dial in or out of the Sport button via the GTC’s on-board configuration menu. Keener throttle response aside, less is definitely more in this regard.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Vauxhall GTC

The GTC’s pricing sees it meet the entry Scirocco head-on. Early cars were significantly cheaper, but since the range was stripped back, you now get a better-specced car for the same money as a Volkswagen.

In its most frugal 108bhp 1.7 CDTi form, the GTC emits 111g/km and offers an official combined economy figure of 67.3mpg.

The GTC is aggressively priced

Mainly thanks to its Vauxhall badge, deprecation on the GTC is tipped to be fairly sharp. The GTC 1.6T SRi is estimated to be worth just over £6000 in four years' time; the equivalent VW Scirocco 1.4 TSI 160 is likely to be worth just over £9000 after the same period.

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VERDICT

4 star Vauxhall GTC

The Vauxhall GTC is not without its faults, but like the streamlined Calibra of the 1990s, it certainly provides Vauxhall with a curvaceous excuse to start shouting about brand and badge allure again.

British-born design chief Mark Adams deserves significant credit; the styling transformation achieved under his direction would probably have ensured that the three-door Vauxhall Astra made a sizeable impact had it simply been slipped on to the standard hatchback’s humdrum chassis. But thanks to an admirable investment of time and money, this coupé can back up its new appearance with a deeper dynamic authority.

Vauxhall designed the GTC to transform its image; in many ways, they have succeeded

If you can live without the added desirability of a Volkswagen Scirocco, even a Peugeot RCZ, we heartily recommend the 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.

Ultimately, there are sufficient weaknesses in the GTC’s formula for it not to be fêted as a complete product, but the car has comfortably earned its place on the shortlist of candidates for class leader in a strong field.

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Vauxhall GTC 2011-2018 First drives