Sporty star turn
By David Morgan
VAUXHALL has a reputation for turning out some fine sporting vehicles based on its bread-and-butter family cars – but it has done something special with the GTC.
It might be based on the new Astra, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a stand-alone model. The 17-model GTC family of three-door coupés has a style, ride and character of its own – a head-turner with Vauxhall's interesting sculpted flanks, a bulbous rear end and flared arches that give it a "planted" look.
But there's more. The GTC drives beautifully. Whether you opt simply for the look and stick to a modest 1.4-litre 118bhp petrol Turbo model at just over £19,000 or head for the GTC's two-litre bi-turbodiesel CDTi performance flagship and spend around £24,000 on the 192bhp SRi, you'll get that same great handling experience and five-seat comfort.
It's a great sporting car with a dynamic appearance which is spoiled, for me, by the stylist's weak treatment of the grille. The GTC's chromed upper intake seems far too small. Vauxhall says it looks sporting. Me? I think it lacks presence and gives the coupé a "face" with firmly pursed lips that looks mildly disapproving! This is a car that deserves a wide maw of a grille that shouts its sporting credentials. But the grille issue did nothing to spoil a week touring the Highlands and west coast with the powerful 1.6 Turbo petrol SRi.
The 178bhp on tap at my right toe was delivered instantly and the 169lb.ft of torque from a surprisingly high 2200rpm was lively enough to make the most challenging Torridon or Applecross single-tracker a sheer delight.
The GTC rode smoothly over the severest dip and dive, but never gave any sign of excessive roll or pitch thanks to a perfect suspension set up that's down to Vauxhall's clever front HiPer Strut design borrowed from the larger Insignia VXR.
The rear end has the Astra's standard crank/Watt's link suspension that's been revised to reduce lateral movement in fast corners. It's a brilliant combination that makes it assured and agile on a twisty Highland road.
The ride quality is incredible, for a coupé. That's down to the suspension but may have a lot to do with the sensibly shod 18-inch alloys that Vauxhall's press fleet manager fitted with 50 section tyres – a move that gives the car a comfortable and supple ride.
My 1.6 Turbo SRi is a great value GTC – fast, responsive and with an air of practicality despite its aggressive style and pill box slit side glazing.
The overall impression of the car's physical design, with those narrow side windows sloping up to a point over the centre of the rear wheels, is to give the GTC an athletic profile that translates into a great drive.
The steering is another high point. Superbly balanced and accurate, it's an important feature on any sporting car that's often underestimated by manufacturers. If a car "feels" right from the wheel, it will more often than not be right for all driving scenarios. The GTC has such a steering system.
On the road, my three passengers complained only about restricted visibility from the high-sided rear seats – and my rate of progress which was too fast, apparently. But the 1.6 Turbo GTC is a car that encourages quick driving and I made no apologies for getting them to the Applecross Inn good and early for a bite to eat.
There's an issue with the huge doors. They're quite heavy to open and grabbing the safety belt from the B pillar is a real stretch.
And I have to say the interior design is not up to the rest of the car's edgy design. But it's well laid out and the bold central digital speed readout is excellent for checking your velocity at a glance. The instruments are clear and switchgear feels good with a tactile touch that proves that the dash has been assembled from good quality components and materials.
Roomy, smooth-riding, quick, accurate and well-appointed in SRi guise, the GTC was a great vehicle to take friends on a lightning visit to the north-west.
Despite accusations about my rapid progress, all three passengers praised the coupé's overall comfort when we reached home after nearly 300 miles.
I can't disagree. It may not have a premium badge on the nose and is firmly anchored in the Astra family, but I enjoyed every minute with the GTC. It's a great sporting car.
My only gripe was when I went looking for a spare wheel under the 380-litre boot's floor – no wheel! Instead Vauxhall, like so many makers, has equipped the GTC with a pump and "goo" kit that's virtually useless for repairing anything other than a minor puncture. Vauxhall will supply a Spacesaver spare for £85 – something I'd recommend strongly.
On the luggage front, it suffers from a high loading lip and rear seats that split and fold but won't lie completely flat.
The lively 178bhp delivery from the blown 1.6-litre feeding to the front wheels through a slick six-speed manual gearbox is a driver's delight.
The GTC is a sporting star. The 1.6 is not the quickest in the family but it's no sluggard, with rapid acceleration for overtakes and a top speed of just over 135mph.
And if you fancy more power and have around £27,000 to spend, what about the GTC's racy sister that arrived in showrooms in July? The Astra coupé VXR does not carry the GTC badge, but it's the same body.
The big difference is a 276bhp two-litre turbocharged petrol unit under the bonnet with 296ft.lb of torque – a formidable package with Insignia VXR brakes that adds up to this Astra coupé being the most powerful in its class, and gives it a rest to 62mph time of 6.1 seconds.
But there's no real need to go there. The standard GTC family is a perfect sports coupé – and the 1.6 Turbo is good. But if it was my money, I'd be happy with the outstanding 1.4 petrol Turbo model.
Small it may be, but this smooth and frugal petrol engine delivers a healthy 138bhp and should average around 40mpg.
FINAL THOUGHT: For a member of the ubiquitous Astra family, the 1.6 Turbo GTC is a fine example of a stylish and exciting coupé. It drives exceptionally well and, for a coupé, rides superbly on its class leading suspension. Comfort is a high spot thanks to excellent seating. It's great value.
Vauxhall GTC SRi 1.6 Turbo
- Price: £21,480 (£22,670 as tested)
- Capacity: 1598cc
- Power: 178bhp
- 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
- Maximum speed: 137mph
- Economy: Combined 39.2mpg, Urban 30.4mpg
- Motorsnorth average: 34.1mpg
- CO2 emissions: 168g/km (VED H)
- ESP: Standard
- Insurance Guide: Group 25