Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.6 Turbo Sport review
by David Finlay (12 April 2012)
Of all the Vauxhall Astra GTCs on the market at the time of writing, the 1.6 Turbo is, at 178bhp, the most powerful, and will remain so until later in 2012 when the altogether more serious VXR comes along.
So what did I do with the car during this test? I trundled for many hundreds of miles up, down and across a large proportion of the UK's motorway network. That's what I did with it.
Don't feel shortchanged, though, because I have other experience of the same car to draw on. At the press launch of the GTC last autumn, Vauxhall arranged for members of the motoring press to tackle, in the same morning, the Shelsley Walsh and Loton Park hillclimb courses, and reasonably enough the model they picked for that part of the exercise was this one.
Needless to say, the journalists concerned attacked the hills with much vim and no small amount of bravado, and it might easily have been the case that Vauxhall's decision might have proved to be a rash one. But the GTCs emerged without a scratch. In fact, I'm not aware of anyone having done more than put a wheel on to the grass. Vauxhall's insistence - the PR department brooked no opposition to this - that we should keep the ESP switched on at all times may have been an important contributory factor, but still.
One thing this exercise proved was that, even in 178bhp form, the GTC isn't really a sports car. Another is that the balance of the chassis is excellent, the rear being happy to help the rest of the car through a corner without threatening to step out except in extreme circumstances.
A third was that it can be driven very hard with a high level of confidence. I had only one really awkward moment at Loton, and that was because I believed the chap who told me that you could leave your braking until forty yards before a particular corner (nay, nay and thrice nay, and yea again I say nay).
At Shelsley, where a rainstorm of the kind that would have sent Noah scuttling for his toolbox arrived shortly before I did, the GTC maintained lateral grip (fancy talk for "didn't slide") far better than I imagined it would. At the very steep startline and on the apex of the first important corner it was easy to create more wheelspin than the ESP could cope with, but honestly, if you'd been there you would have forgiven it for that.
Since the GTC is that good in competition conditions you won't be surprised to learn that it feels as safe as a safe on the public road. It's not quite as interesting to drive as the looks and power output might suggest, but it responds well to commands and it rides quite well.That made it a pleasant companion for my motorway marathon. You could quite reasonably use it if you were a rep, or whatever the politically correct term is these days for those ladies and gentlemen of the highway, particularly because the luggage volume - 380 litres with rear seats up, 1165 litres with them down - is rather impressive for a coupé.
My one concern was the fuel economy. I never drove the car hard (after the hillclimbs I didn't need to), so it came as a surprise to find the trip computer telling me I was averaging 37.9mpg. I was not impressed by this. Eyebrows were raised, lips pursed. Surely I could have expected to achieve 40mpg at least?
Well, according to my measurements after I'd used the first tankful, I had. The calculations worked out at 40.4mpg, and although there's always the possibility that I'd done something wrong, I'm inclined to believe my figure rather than the car's.
Although the GTC isn't very exciting (unless you're putting more trust than you should in someone else's suggestion for a braking point) it's perfectly pleasant, and enhanced by the fact that it is by general acclaim the best-looking Astra coupé there has ever been. The lack of rear visibility drives me scatty, but its main rivals - the Renault Megane, the Volkswagen Scirocco and the more recently-introduced Hyundai Veloster - are either no better in this respect or considerably worse.
The 1.6 turbo isn't, however, my favourite GTC, because the 1.4 turbo is. Its power output of 138bhp may seem feeble by comparison, but it's all I would want or need. Unless I was competing in a hillclimb, of course.