Do you remember the days when a three-door hatchback was just that – the same as the five-door but with fewer entrances? Now times have changed and in this image-conscious market a three-door model has to be seen to be more than that. Now the three-door version has to make a statement with sporty pretentions, and that means marketing itself as more than just a hatchback.
The previous generation of Vauxhall Astra did this to great effect. First there came the normal five-door hatchback, and then a couple of years later came the ‘Sport Hatch’. Essentially the same car underneath the Sport Hatch had a more streamlined shape than its sibling and struck a distinctive shape in the hatchback sector. Now Vauxhall are trying exactly the same with their latest Astra and the result is this, the Vauxhall Astra GTC.
The Astra GTC is a much more curvaceous shape than the old Sport Hatch and one that sits lower, looks sleeker and shares very little on the outside with its five-door sister. In fact, although in some areas the differences are subtle, the only common features are the door handles and Vauxhall badges. This coupe-esque transformation places the Astra GTC up against some serious competition that includes the Volkswagen Scirocco, Volvo C30 and Renault Megane Coupe. That’s a tough fight so the Astra will have to be good to stand a chance.
Although the GTC is a less radical design than the Sport Hatch it replaces it does look good, very sleek and curvy with prominent creases to define its shape. At the front it has a wide and low stance, the low roof and narrow glass give the sides a streamlined appearance, while at the back the large bumpers give the GTC an ample derrière. It’s certainly a smoother shape than the Megane and some of the opinions I heard suggest that it could give the market-leading Scirocco a run for its money.
The SRi model pictured here adds chrome highlights and a subtle roof spoiler, but to look its best I think it needs a set of bigger wheels to fill those large arches. The standard 18-inch items look a bit lost but if you skim through the GTC options list you’ll find that 19 and 20-inch wheels are available. They will certainly improve the Astra’s profile, but doubtless at the expense of ride quality.
Open the wide doors and you’re greeted by the same well appointed cabin as you would find in the five-door. It’s a huge improvement on the old model and shows that Vauxhall have definitely cottoned on to the importance of a premium feel. Chrome highlights are used all over the dashboard and instruments, and each of the knobs and buttons operates with the same quality feeling as you’d find on some of the more expensive competition.
There are some nice design touches too that lift the atmosphere inside. The brushed steel and carbon fibre effects on the dashboard look good, even though you know they’re really plastic. Look at the base of the gear stick and you’ll see a line of red light running around it, part of the ambient lighting that extends into the door frames. Does it make the GTC better to drive? No, but it contributes to the feel-good factor.
The cloth seats (leather is an option) are softly padded and comfortable with decent side bolsters to give you some extra support. It’s very easy to get comfortable behind the Astra’s wheel and it would be a nice place to spend your time.
The dashboard is littered with buttons and it can take a while to figure out what does what. The optional Navi 600 system fitted to this GTC contributes to the button count but it also adds a fantastic screen, large and bright, to show off the navigation, heating and sound system controls. It’s not a cheap option at £855 but it is good.
Below that are the Sport and Tour buttons for the optional FlexRide system (more on this shortly) and an Eco button to disable the Start/Stop feature fitted to the engine. Next we find a lot of buttons for the Navi 600 system, and finally the climate controls below.
The Navi 600 adds satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth technology, controls for which can also be found on the steering wheel. Alongside that are the cruise control buttons and a speed limiter. Fed up of worrying about average speed checks? Simply set the speed limiter and then you don’t have to worry about straying over the speed limit, as the engine cuts the throttle if you start to pick up speed. A useful system that could help some people keep points off their driving license.
While the GTC may have dropped a couple of doors and have a more sloping roofline than the five-door, that doesn’t mean that space for rear passengers is an afterthought. The rear seats are just as comfortable as the front and have adequate headroom for all but the tallest of passengers. Boot space is also good, not as generous as the five-door but not too much of a compromise.
Economy Ahead Of Performance
This SRi is equipped with a 1.7 CDTi engine, good for 129bhp and 221lb/ft of torque. With a 0-60mph time of 10.0 seconds and top speed of 122mph it is not to be considered a performance option. For the most part the diesel unit is refined but sometimes it can feel like it is straining against the GTC’s weight, causing you to drop down a cog or two on the manual six-speed gearbox.
However, the diesel does make a good case for itself if you’re more interested in saving money. The official fuel economy rating is an impressive 62.8mpg, helped by that Start/Stop technology. That keeps the CO2 rating down to 119g/km, placing this Astra in tax band C and qualifying it for free road tax in its first year.
There are more powerful engine options if you want an Astra GTC with more go, including a 163bhp diesel and a choice of 1.4 and 1.6-litre turbocharged petrols with 138bhp and 178bhp. Then there’s the upcoming Astra VXR, only available in GTC form and equipped with a 277bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre, but that’s a review for another day…
Floaty Or Firm? You Choose
Another option fitted to this Astra GTC is Vauxhall’s FlexRide system. This system offers three different modes to tailor the ride quality and throttle response, controlled via two buttons on the dash. In Tour mode the Astra goes all soft and wallowy, perfect for relaxed cruising but not so great in the corners.
In Sport mode the suspension firms up, the throttle response is sharpened and the instruments light up in with an eery red glow. The result is a less relaxing cruise but better control of roll, although the Astra still feels heavy at the nose as you pitch it into bends. The final mode, Normal, is adaptive and adjusts the dampers to the current driving conditions. It’s a very good compromise between the other two modes and I suspect it’s the one that’s going to be used the most.
However, my personal choice would be to leave the FlexRide option unticked and go for the SRi’s standard setup. The conventional springs and dampers do a good job of keeping the Astra neat and tidy but also manage to soak up the worst of the bumps, including some pretty nasty speed humps as I discovered at Millbrook.
On-limit handling might not be this Astra’s strong point but it does feel solid and secure on the road. It has a sure-footed feel and does a good job of isolating thumps and bumps from the cabin, while road noise is nicely suppressed.
The Final Reckoning
The Astra GTC made a positive impression in the few hours I spent behind the wheel. You can tell that Vauxhall have worked hard to improve the quality of their cars, previously in the Insignia and continuing with the Astra.
The 1.7 CDTi doesn’t make the SRi a very exciting car but it does make it a good choice if you value the contents of your wallet ahead of driving thrills. A combination of reasonable pace and low running costs make this a sensible choice, helped by the fact that the GTC looks good in SRi trim.
In this spec the Astra GTC isn’t a very Driving Spirit kind of car. The faster diesel or the 1.6- turbocharged petrol would doubtless have fared better in the overall score, but please don’t think that this means the 1.7 CDTi SRi is a bad car. Far from it, I’m actually very impressed with what it does – it’s just not my cup of tea. What I will say is that the GTC is an excellent starting point for the next Astra VXR and if that can add enough pace and handling prowess to this GTC platform it will be very, very good.
The biggest problem the Astra GTC faces is wooing customers away from the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco, the default choice in this sector. The Astra GTC is cheaper to buy, comes with more equipment as standard and gives you a much more enticing cabin than the Scirocco. You should certainly try before you buy because you may find yourself tempted by Luton’s latest three-door offering. Just don’t call it a three-door hatchback.
Vauxhall Astra GTC SRi Specifications
|Engine:||1,686cc 4-cyl Turbodiesel|
|Top Speed:||122 mph|
|CO2 Emissions:||119 g/km (Band C)|
|Official MPG:||62.8 mpg|
|Price (as tested):||£23,505*|
Vauxhall Astra GTC SRi Scores
|PERFORMANCE||Diesel engine is not very lively, a little coarse at high revs||6|
|HANDLING||Composed and reassuring rather than exciting||7|
|AFFORDABILITY||Generous specification and a competitive price||7|
|DESIRABILITY||A handsome car with more appeal than five-door||7|
|DRIVING SPIRIT||Not a ‘fun’ car in this guise, go for the 1.6 petrol instead||6|
*Prices taken from Vauxhall website, May 2012