Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo 2012
Have Vauxhall managed to turn the work-a-day Astra into an exclusive and sporty coupe?
Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo
Vauxhall’s mid-size coupe challenger caused a stir when it went on sale last June. Its purposeful looks, from the steeply raked roof line to raised rear haunches and squat stance having far more impact than that of its workaday five-door sibling. Penned by British designer Mark Adams, the dramatic lines of the GTC were meant to rock the established front runners in its class – the Volkswagen Scirocco and Renault Megane Coupe. The result is a sleek and stylish product that is distinctly more than just a ‘three door’ Astra, in much the same way that the Calibra, back in the 1990s, clearly stood apart as a different product from the Cavalier platform, on which it was based.
But according to Vauxhall, the GTC’s appeal runs far deeper than its rakish lines, with the whole car being conceived to appeal to the keen driver, who values the way a car handles and performs as much as the way it looks.
Engineers from both Vauxhall Engineering Centre at Millbrook and Opel in Russelsheim have made significant changes to the Astra’s chassis and developed a bespoke platform for the GTC.
Compared with the Astra Hatch, the GTC’s ride height has been lowered by 15mm, while the wheelbase has grown by 10mm, from 2685mm to 2695mm. Both tracks are wider too, at 1584mm (+40mm) front and 1585mm (+30mm) rear.
Key components in the front suspension, such as the HiPerStruts used on the front axle, have been derived from the 320 bhp Insignia VXR. Vauxhall claims this configuration helps prevent torque steer – a trait of many powerful front-wheel-drive cars – allowing drivers to make more use of the GTC’s performance without the steering being corrupted. Meanwhile significant upgrades have also been made to the GTC’s unique Watt’s link/compound crank rear suspension set-up to aid in maintaining lateral stability.
The theory being that all these modifications and enhancements provide a chassis that offers superior dynamic control and gets the best from all the different power-plants in the model line-up.
ON THE ROAD
The chassis modifications are certainly apparent on the GTC; where both body roll and understeer are much reduced compared with the 5-door Astra. The increased composure and dynamic assurance is especially apparent when taking fast corners or pressing on through twisty B-roads.
Despite its clear dynamic advantages however, the one let-down is the GTC’s steering, which although efficient, nevertheless fails to communicate much information back to the driver. This is rather surprising, especially given the effort Vauxhall engineers have gone to liven up steering feel with speed-sensitive electric assistance and placing the electric motor directly on the steering rack for faster response. Make no mistake, the GTC is a competent handling car able to cover ground quickly in an assured and composed manner, yet the driver is somehow left feeling rather uninvolved in the process.
Thankfully, gear changes are never a chore due to the GTC’s slick six-speed box, which is well-weighted and positive, as are the responsive brakes that haul the car to a stop with reassuring vigor.
Another area where the Vauxhall scores especially well is refinement. The GTC’s chassis was designed specifically with British roads in mind and has been tuned to deal with rutted and broken surfaces. Consequently the ride remains composed and comfortable, whether in town, on the motorway or on bumpy country lanes.
In terms of firepower, the 1.4 Turbo138 bhp tested here proved somewhat underwhelming. To extract decent performance it has to be worked hard and when stretched sounds thrashy and un-sporty; not characteristics expected in a performance orientated coupe. However where it does impress is with economy and emissions: 47.1mpg and 139g/km CO2 figures stack up well against main rivals – Renault Megane Coupe 1.4 TCe 130 only managing 44.8mpg and 145g/km.
To increase the fun-factor, other engines in the GTC lineup should offer a more satisfying driving experience and there are numerous permutations to choose from.
The petrol line-up starts with the 1.4 Turbocharged unit in 118bhp and 138bhp (as tested here) and continues with a 177bhp 1.6 turbo that offers stronger performance and a 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds.
Diesel power comes in the form of a gutsty 2.0 litre CDTi with 163 bhp and 258 lb ft of torque, making the best option for overtaking punch coupled with frugality. Those wanting more extreme performance will have to wait until June for the fire-breathing 276 bhp VXR, which promises an exhilarating 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds and electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.
Vauxhall’s Start/Stop technology is available on all 1.4 Turbo and 2.0 CDTi engines and works to assist in reducing emissions. As soon as the driver selects neutral, the Start/Stop system is activated and the engine cuts out automatically, re-starting when the clutch is depressed.
IN THE CABIN
The interior of the GTC is remarkably spacious. Coupe curves somehow fail to impinge on both leg and headroom, with even six-footers being well catered for. The comfortable well sculpted seats score highly too. Luggage compartment and storage areas are also generous by family car standards – let alone a coupe, with a 380 litre ‘seats-up’ boot capacity exceeding that of both Volkswagen Scirocco and Renault Meganne coupe, by 68 and 36 litres respectively.
High levels of cabin refinement also impress. Engine noise is generally well suppressed, as is wind and road noise. There is also a high quality feel to interior fixtures and fittings, although a dashboard lifted from the regular 5-door Astra means the GTC’s cabin fails to stand out as different or special.
Poor rear three-quarter vision due to small rear side windows and letter box shaped rear screen make parking tricky, so optional rear parking sensors are well worth the extra £385.
Astra GTC comes in just two trim guises: Sport and SRi. Entry-level Sport models get 18-inch alloys, air-conditioning, DAB radio, iPod integration and cruise control. SRi trim costs £1265 more, and adds sports seats, automatic lights and wipers, an electronic handbrake and leather steering wheel.
So, overall does the GTC makes sense? After all, it stands out from the 5-door Astra with sharp coupe looks, while also offering spacious and practical accommodation. It’s decent to drive; blending good on-road dynamics with high levels of comfort and refinement and is as happy in town as it is on the motorway.
Generous equipment and competitive prices also make it look good value compared to rivals, with the 1.6 petrol turbo costing almost £1500 less than a Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI 160. Equally the 2.0 CDTi diesel is also cheaper than an equivalent Scirocco or a Megane Coupe and that’s before taking into account big discounts that Vauxhall dealers are offering. However both rivals do boast stronger residual values.
Ultimately, for buyers wanting style, practicality, affordability and ease of ownership ahead of full-on driver involvement, the Astra GTC makes a very strong case for itself. Those looking for a more engaging drive however, are better served by the VW Scirocco and Megane Coupe – both of which are sharper from behind the wheel.
Model Tested: Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.4 Turbo (140PS) Sport
Price From: £19,180
0-60: 9.0 seconds
MPG: 47.1 combined
CO2 emission: 139g/km
2010/2011 VED: £115pa (1st Year £115)
Other models in the GTC range:
Engine CO2 (g/km) Trim level UK price (on the road)
1.4 T 16V 118bhp 139 Sport £18,495
1.4 T 16V 138bhp 139 Sport £19,180
1.6 T 16V 178bhp 164 Sport £20,115
2.0 CDTI 16V 163bhp 129 Sport £21,165