"The Astra GTC is the best handling, most stylish Vauxhall in a generation."
The Vauxhall Astra GTC takes on the likes of the Renault Megane coupe and Volkswagen Scirocco with its good looks and even better drive. Not only is it generously equipped, it's also an almost entirely new car from the standard Astra, is competitively priced and we have been particularly impressed by its sporty drive. It only comes as a three-door, but with four engine choices – two petrols and two diesels – with all but the most powerful turbo petrol model being equipped with fuel-saving stop-start. It's stylish and fast, but the GTC isn’t just focused on being a sports car. Some thorough design and clever suspension carried over from the Vauxhall Insignia VXR also means it's comfortable and practical on the open road. We didn’t name it CarBuyer's Best Coupe for 2012 for nothing.
The Astra GTC drives so well thanks to the 325bhp Insignia VXR's front suspension, which is fitted to the GTC, as is an upgraded version of the Astra hatchback's multi-link rear suspension. And the time Vauxhall spent tuning the GTC specifically to suit UK roads has really paid off. It may not be as out-and-out impressive as the Renault Megane coupe, but the steering is sharp and the whole car feels well balanced – through fast, open corners in particular. If you’re looking for performance, you’re spoiled for choice with the GTC – take your pick from a 1.6-litre 16V Turbo petrol engine, a 2.0-litre BiTurbo diesel and the most powerful Astra ever made, the 2.0-litre turbo. You do have to work the gearbox pretty hard to get the full performance from the GTC – especially if you opt for the base 109bhp 1.7-litre diesel model – but if you also choose the FlexRide damping system, Sport mode improves matters by tightening up steering and overall settings.
As well as providing accurate handling, the new suspension is also comfortable, too. The GTC doesn't need the super-stiff suspension setup common to most sports cars because of its weight distribution, which delivers sporty dynamics while also dealing easily with the any bumps in the road. In terms of interior space, while the backseats aren’t really suitable for longer journeys, there's still adequate headroom and the seats are supportive throughout the car. The front racing seats are made from amazing lightweight fibreglass that is comfortable and well bolstered, while the GTC also has adjustable magnetic dampers to further increase comfort. There's also the option of a FlexRide system across the range, which adjusts suspension settings according to the road surface you’re driving on. Also, given the size of the wheels (which can be increased to 19 or 20-inch alloys as options), there's really not very much road noise inside the car either.
You can hopefully expect great things from the Astra GTC, thanks to it being constructed from tried-and-tested parts from the standard Astra by engineering teams in both the UK and Germany. Plus, Vauxhall keeps improving the reliability of its cars with each successive model, so the GTC should prove to very reliable. The manufacturer's showing in recent customer surveys has also improved, which shows that Vauxhalls have become significantly more reliable in recent years and should give buyers greater confidence. It also secured the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, scoring 91 per cent for adult occupancy. Standard safety equipment across the range includes six airbags, electronic stability control and electronic brake distribution. Other optional safety tech on offer includes hill start assist, rear parking sensors and adaptive cornering headlights.
The GTC is definitely more practical than its main rivals and offers more space than you’d expect from the dimensions of a three-door hatchback. Deep door bins and decent-sized glovebox are just some of the abundant storage options in the front of the GTC for driver and passenger. The back seats offer a surprising amount of space, with enough room for three people to get comfortable for short journeys (just don’t push your luck for too long). Access to the back also isn’t too bad, so you could just about stretch to using the GTC as a family runabout, but maybe not for cross-country trips. The boot is reasonably spacious, too, offering 380 litres of luggage room, which is much bigger than in a Scirocco. Fold the back seats down and it increases to 1,165 litres. Unfortunately, the boot does have a high load lip, which makes getting heavy items into the boot more of a headache than it should be.
Value for money
You can’t really describe the GTC as cheap thanks to prices around the same level as the Renault Megane coupe. You get two specifications – the base model Sport and the top-of-the-range SRi. Sport comes with electric windows, daytime running lights, CD/MP3 player, DAB radio, USB and iPod connectivity, electric front windows, cruise control, remote central locking and air-conditioning, while the SRi adds part-leather seats and sat-nav. The BiTurbo model comes with unique part-leather seats, automatic lights and windscreen wipers, electronic parking brake and front fog lights, along with the same standard equipment as Sport models.
In terms of performance, the GTC is fast, which means it uses a fair amount of fuel as a result. There are five engine choices – a 120bhp or 140bhp 1.4-litre petrol, plus a 180bhp 1.6-litre turbo, a 165bhp 2.0-litre diesel and a 192bhp 2.0-litre BiTurbo diesel. Luckily, all cars - except the 1.6-litre turbocharged model - are fitted with stop-start as standard, so there is some fuel saving at least. The 2.0-litre CFTi has the best balance of speed and economy, returning 57.6mpg and emitting 129g/km. The most frugal diesel emits only 119g/km, but the petrol engines are less efficient, while adding the optional automatic gearbox increases costs even further. Resale values in the used car market will likely fall within class averages, so you shouldn’t expect a huge return on investment. Entry-level 1.4-litre models should be quite cheap to insure, however, which should help younger drivers out to make an impression with an affordably stylish car.