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Car reviews - Opel - Astra - GTC

Our Opinion

We like
Stand-out styling, affordability, rear-seat space, roadholding, entry model price, European badge
Room for improvement
Low-speed ride quality, notchy manual gearbox in base model, fussy gauges, lack of true performance model for now

1 Aug 2012

WITHOUT a doubt, the standout feature of Opel’s Astra GTC three-door hatch is its styling.

It will be love at first sight for many buyers, drawn to the low, sleek, taut and finely proportioned surfaces that set the GTC apart from the standard five-door Astra hatch that forms a key part of the Opel launch brigade in Australia.

The other key will be pricing because you can count the number of three-door Euro small-car hatches priced under $30,000 with one finger: the $28,990 base 1.4-litre turbo manual GTC.

From that standpoint, the GTC should cream the market.

Not so fast. Firstly, car-makers have a reason for exiting the mainstream small three-door hatch market, and that is because the demand has been so low. The convenience of four or five doors is compelling.

Secondly, the GTC might have the tiny sub-$30k three-door segment to itself, but just a hair’s breadth away, in the affordable sports coupe segment, sit two new contenders that have re-written the benchmarks for low-end sports machines: the Toyota 86 and Hyundai Veloster.

Both these vehicles also offer sub-$30k entry pricing, while the Veloster has just gained the 150kW SR Turbo variant at $31,990. And a little further up the pricing tree we find the Toyota 86’s Subaru twin, the BRZ.

At the time of writing, we have yet to sample the Veloster SR Turbo, but we have driven both the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ and frankly the Opel GTC with its current engine line-up of 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder engines would not see which way they went.

Of course, if and when Opel sees its way clear to introduce its fire-breathing GTC OPC to its local range, the boot might be firmly on the other foot.

For now, however, the GTC is more of an attractive, sprightly boulevard cruiser than a hard-edged sports machine.

We drove both versions of the GTC – the base 103kW 1.4-litre turbo and $34,990 1.6-litre GTC Sport – at the media event in the Hunter Valley on potholed roads more suitable to a ute launch than an alleged finely tuned Euro hatch.

First up was the base car, matching the same 1.4-litre petrol engine that graces Holden’s Cruze – after all, these cars are closely related under the skin – matched with a six-speed manual gearbox.

First impression was that the suspension was a bit hard and jittery over small road imperfections – a trait that appears to be an Opel issue across the range, at least on the cars we drove.

However, as speed rises and cornering forces increase, the suspension – front strut and Watts link rear – does a manful job of coping with the bumps and lumps, holding its line securely in the bends. And, on occasions, this was a tough ask (who is responsible for those roads west of Newcastle?).

Tyre-generated road noise was apparent from the 18-alloy wheels, but we have experienced worse.

The electric-assisted power steering betrayed its mainstream General Motors origins, feeling a little vague either side of straight ahead, but again we have had worse.

Driven hard into corners, the feel was much more satisfying and, while hardly in the Golf GTI class, it covered ground with a fair bit of fun and flair.

Not so much fun was the notchy gearshift (Hyundai Veloster, take a bow). As well, the gear lever is positioned uncomfortably too far back on the console, resulting in the driver’s elbow colliding with the seat backrest when going for second or fourth gears on occasion (Toyota 86/BRZ, take a bow).

If you have driven the 1.4T Holden Cruze, you have the picture on performance: buzzy and adequate rather than fiery, but at least the GTC seemed to be a little more insulated than its mainstream cousin.

Inside, the base GTC we drove was equipped with the $2500 leather pack, with high-quality leather trim on cosseting sports seats. Unfortunately, we did not get to experience the standard cloth seats, and nor did we sample the six-speed automatic version.

Along with the Astra five-door sedan and Sports Tourer wagon, the GTC has one of the most contemporary interior designs in the Opel range, with brushed metal trim and lots of dark leather-look surfaces.

The chrome-ringed main dials are rather busy in their graphics, however, and the base GTC does not appear to have instrument lighting with the lights off, making reading of the speedo difficult. And, speaking of difficult reading, the smaller gauges are tiny, like looking down the neck of a Coke bottle.

Some of the trim fit was less than exacting, too.

The leather-wrapped sports steering wheel can be adjusted for both height and reach, while the optional sports seats not only have height adjustment but adjustable thigh support as well. Consequently, it is easy to get comfortable behind the wheel.

Likewise, the back seat offers cosy seating, but really for two rather than the possible three across the sculpted bench.

While the rear seat is surprisingly roomy, it is also rather claustrophobic due to the tiny windows demanded by the slope-roofed coupe-like styling.

Stepping up to the 1.6-litre GTC Sport, the extra 29kW of power was immediately noticeable, as was a less notchy manual gearchange (go figure).

The so-called HyPerStrut front suspension does a good job of taming torque steer through the front wheels, which would probably be more necessary on the OPC version should it get the green light for Australia.

Again, the 1.6-litre turbo engine is sprightly rather than blistering, and we would hesitate to define this model as a hot hatch.

This test drive gave us the opportunity of trying the optional ($2000) Flexride adaptive chassis control, with three modes operated (confusingly) by two buttons.

The modes are Standard, Sport and Tour, which adjust dynamic controls such as the suspension, steering, and throttle according to taste. Switching between the softest Tour mode and Sport was immediately noticeably, with the throttle noticeably more hair-trigger and cornering sharper.

The GTC gets the 19-inch alloy wheels as standard, but whopping 20-inchers are optional for an extra $1000. The penalty is likely to be ride deterioration and more road noise.

The Sport variant not only adds more performance but also extra gear, such as climate-control air-conditioning, sports seats and piano-black interior finishes, which lift the ambience.

So, while the Opel GTC might be easy on the eye, easy on the pocket and easy to drive, it lacks the sports qualities to be described as a hot hatch, or even the qualities to go with a middle-order Volkswagen Golf.

For those who want to look the part, however, then nothing beats it for the price.

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