Vauxhall Astra GTC review

* Sporty three-door Astra driven * First UK test * Price 18,495-22,430...

Vauxhall Astra GTC review

What is it? The new Astra GTC is much more than just a three-door version of the Astra. In fact, it shares no more than its door handles and roof aerial with the five-door version and this major redesign has transformed Vauxhall's humdrum hatchback into a squat and sexy VW Scirocco rival.

The differences aren't just skin deep, either. The GTC has a longer wheelbase, a wider track and a more sophisticated suspension system. The steering has also been sharpened and the whole car has been lowered by 15mm.

All these changes should, in theory, add up to a much sportier car, and Vauxhall hopes they'll be enough to help it take sales from not only the VW Scirocco, but also the Renault Megane Coupe.

Initially, there's a choice of three turbocharged petrol engines: a 1.4 with either 118bhp or 138bhp and a 1.6 with 178bhp. A 163bhp 2.0-litre diesel is also available, while a lower-powered 1.7-litre version will follow next spring. A hot 300bhp VXR model is also in the pipeline.

What's it like to drive? The new front suspension set-up called Hiperstrut has been designed to improve body control and reduce torque steer. It works, too, because the GTC feels more eager and darty than the comfort-oriented five-door Astra.

There's plenty of grip, and only when you're really pushing hard through corners do the front tyres start to run wide.

The revisions to the steering system have also helped. We'd still prefer a bit more feedback, but the steering is otherwise accurate and meaty enough to match the GTC's sporty pretentions.

If you stick with the standard 18-inch wheels, the GTC's suspension strikes a good balance between fun and comfort, which makes the optional Flexride adaptive suspension system seem an unnecessary 790 cost.

Splash out on arch-filling 19- or even 20-inch alloys and things start to get a bit bumpy, though.

We've tried three of the four engines currently on offer. You might expect the 138bhp 1.4 to be the pick of the petrols, especially given its impressive 47.1mpg and 140g/km CO2 emissions. However, it doesn't feel as nippy as its power figure suggests, and gets boomy when you work it hard.

The 1.6 turbo is much sweeter. It needs to be revved to get the best from it, but stays impressively refined when you do so, and the extra oomph matches the GTC's sporty character. Inevitably, though, it isn't as efficient as the 1.4.

The 2.0-litre diesel also suits the GTC well, and with heaps more torque than any of the petrols it's much easier to get a lick on. The engine isn't as hushed as the equivalent diesels in the Renault Megane Coupe and the VW Scirocco, but CO2 emissions of just 127g/km put the Vauxhall in a lower company car tax band than either.

What's it like inside? The changes are much less dramatic inside. The GTC's dashboard is virtually identical to a five-door Astra's, and although the sweeping design is interesting to look at, there are too many buttons some of which are small and poorly labelled. Visibility isn't great at either end of the car, too.

The GTC beats its main rivals when it comes to practicality, though. The 380-litre boot is a good deal bigger than a Scirocco or Megane Coupe can offer, and even six-footers won't complain about the amount of head- or legroom in the rear.

There are just two trims to choose between: Sport and SRi. Entry-level Sport models get 18-inch alloys, air-conditioning, a DAB radio, iPod integration and cruise control.

That'll be enough kit to satisfy most buyers, but if you do want more, SRi trim adds sports seats, automatic lights and wipers, an electronic handbrake, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and 1265 to the GTC's price.

Should I buy one? The GTC has a lot more going for it than just its looks. It's decent to drive, more practical than most of its rivals and is great value for money especially when you take into account the generous kit list and the big discounts Vauxhall dealers will undoubtedly soon be offering.

If you're a petrol buyer, we think the sweeter 1.6 turbo version is worth the 800 over the 138bhp 1.4. Even with the bigger engine the GTC costs almost 1500 less than a VW Scirocco 1.4 TSI 160.

It's a similar story for diesel buyers. The 2.0 CDTi is cheaper than an equivalent Scirocco or a Megane Coupe whether you're a company or private buyer.

Having said that, we still reckon the brilliant Scirocco is worth the extra money. Its stronger resale values go a long way towards making up for its higher price, and it just feels that bit more special to drive and to be in.

Renault Megane Coupe
Volkswagen Scirocco

What Car? says