Stunning looks are hard to fault
With hatchback and estate models already in the range, Vauxhall is expanding the Astra range with the introduction of the GTC. Designed to be a separate as possible from its more humble stablemates, the GTC has a notably different design and shares only two exterior elements with its hatchback relative. It is also the sportiest Astra in the range.
The days of simple three-door versions of current family hatchbacks are long gone as manufacturers seek to offer a more distinctive coupe-like car with bolder styling to snare a wider range of buyers. This is an approach used by Vauxhall with the previous Sport Hatch, but the Astra GTC takes this a step further by increasing the difference between it and its five-door relative in terms of both exterior design and mechanical make up.
Visually the GTC is a clear relation to the Astra five-door, but the similarities are only in terms of size and basic shape. The GTC shares only its door handles and roof aerial with the Astra hatch, with every other exterior panel and detail being unique to this car. The slim side window line, heavily curved roof and unique front and rear lights all add to the visual appeal and give the GTC a very strong and desirable appearance.
Underneath the impressive skin the GTC is fitted with the same basic mechanical layout as the regular Astra, with a mix of petrol and diesel engines taking drive to the front wheels. However the suspension layout is markedly different: the GTC has a longer wheelbase and a wider track both front and rear. The rear suspension uses a heavily revised version of the existing set up, while at the front a HiPer strut is used (as seen on the Insignia VXR) which gives better control and reduces torque steer.
Despite switching to a three-door layout the GTC continues to offer a comfortable and usable cabin space. It retains generous boot space and seating for two or three adults in the rear, and features such as an electronic handbrake on some models help to retain storage space in the front row.
The effort put in to separating the GTC from the rest of the Astra range has really paid off, as it brings a welcome dash of style and a significantly improved driving experience to the table. This is particularly impressive as even the cheapest version of the GTC has the same style and ability as the top model, which should give more expensive rivals a serious headache.
Running costs are heavily affected by engine choice, with the impressively frugal 1.7-litre diesels being the pick of the bunch in this respect. However even the 1.6-litre turbo model is respectable given the performance on offer.
Given its coupe status the GTC does remarkably well, retaining much of the hatchback's practicality. Rear seat passengers have a little less light entering the cabin but otherwise do well for space, while those up front have no shortage of room whatsoever. Storage space is modest up front but the generous boot is a real bonus.
With largely the same clear and sensible cabin layout the GTC is well placed to offer an easy time for the driver. Aside from the centre console arrangement which can take a little time to get to grips with thanks to the number of buttons, there are no surprises in store and the GTC is an easy car to operate and understand.
Despite the sporting flavour the GTC does a sound job of offering comfort for the driver and passengers. The ride quality is very good, with the lowered suspension continuing to cope well with rough road surfaces and wind noise is well controlled bar a little increase in turbulence around the door mirrors at higher speeds.
Remote central locking via the key fob is expected in this sector and an alarm and immobiliser are also fitted. Covered storage in the cabin is adequate and items in the boot are concealed by a sturdy parcel shelf.
With standard ESP across the range as well as six airbags, the GTC is well placed to offer a good standard of safety, not even including the impressive chassis dynamics which will help the driver avoid an accident in the first place.
With such close attention paid to how the GTC drives, and with the base Astra hatchback already offering an impressive driving experience it's no surprise that the overall picture from behind the wheel is very good indeed. Although it uses an electric power steering system the GTC responds accurately to inputs and with good feel, while the sophisticated front suspension tracks very well and remains largely uncorrupted even with full power going through the wheels. The balance between ride and handling is also good, and when driven in normal conditions the ride is firm but not harsh, allowing tough roads and long distances to be covered with ease.
Vauxhall offers an excellent range of family oriented vehicles including the Zafira and smart new Meriva, but the Astra still manages to score highly on family appeal thanks to its ease of use and, in Ecoflex form, family-friendly running costs. Reasonably practical and with five-doors for good access, it's a strong contender for those not requiring MPV capability.
The entry-level GTC may just be within reach of a relatively well-heeled new driver, and the modest performance and running costs could allow it to appear on some wish lists.
A stunning shape is worth nothing without quality to back it up, and thankfully the GTC has a cabin offering a very respectable standard of fit and finish. The optional leather trim helps to boost the quality feel still further. The GTC should distance itself in some respects from the rest of the Vauxhall range in terms of image, with its highly attractive appearance giving it an appeal that will transcend the brand's image for many potential buyers.
Switching to a three-door layout could mean bad news for passengers, but the reality is that getting into the back seats is far from difficult. The front seats tip and slide forward a generous amount, although annoyingly they do not return to their original position, leaving the driver to reset the seating position every time.
The standard fit audio system has a very good specification, with features like MP3 compatibility, USB and auxiliary connectivity and DAB radio. Sound quality is up to a good standard, although there are several upgrade options for increased performance.
Vauxhall has introduced two new colours to coincide with the GTC joining the range, and impressively it looks the part in almost any shade. Brighter colours do show off the curves to good effect but even in sober metallics it is a very attractive car. Inside things are a little more conservative although chrome detailing helps to lift the mood.
The GTC needs a slightly more careful hand than the standard car when parking, as the svelte shape reduces rear visibility a little. Other than that its relatively compact dimensions make for easy parking, although parking sensors are a cost option across the range.
Emergency tyre repair kit as standard with option of full size spare.
Petrol engine options - 1.4-litre (118bhp and 138bhp); 1.6-litre (177bhp). Diesel engine options - 1.7-litre (110, 125bhp); 2.0-litre (160bhp). Transmission options: Six-speed manual gearbox standard on all models, six-speed automatic gearbox available on 1.4-litre petrol and 2.0-litre diesel. Trim levels: Sport, SRi.