When Martin Smith, then the Executive Design Director for Vauxhall Opel, jumped the good ship GM to join arch rivals Ford to head up their European styling department, there were understandable concerns.
At the time, Vauxhall was undergoing something of a styling renaissance, Smith appearing to work magic in a similar manner to the way he had at Audi before he was lured by The General. Would Smith’s departure for the Blue Oval leave a void and lead to a soulless series of replacements for the Vauxhall staples?
Mark Adams, in particular, has ensured this hasn’t happened. Arguably, since Smith left, GM Europe’s design language has evolved, combining greater elegance, with bolder detailing, ensuring the designs remain distinctive yet retaining that all important mass-market appeal.
The boldest exponent yet of Adams’ work is the latest variation of the Astra family, the GTC.
In the hotly contested C-segment of the car market, three-door hatchbacks, once the favoured choice of bargain basement bounty hunters as well as the hot hatch brigade, are in a terminal decline. Nobody wants an ordinarily-styled family hatch that isn’t that easy to get into the back unless it’s something special.
Many manufacturers, Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Ford to highlight a few, have dropped the three-door hatch from their line-ups altogether, whilst Renault have ventured into more distinctive territory by marketing theirs as coupes instead.
It’s this second path that Vauxhall’s opted for too with its three-door Astra. While the GTC has a clear family resemblance to the family-friendly five-door, the only body parts they share are the door handles and roof-mounted aerial.
Instead the GTC looks squatter and closer to the road, the broad, flat bonnet appearing to hug the wheels, its slimmer headlights looking more purposeful and hinting at a sporty intent.
Side on, the GTC is especially bold. The rakish glasshouse mimics the outgoing Astra Sport Hatch but the body sides are dominated not only by the signature styling blade on the front doors but also a returning crease that wraps around the door handles; the effect replicates an expanding ripple in water, suggesting tension in the body work.
The pert tail is equally distinctive: rear lights feature similar graphics to the five-door’s but in a squashed lens, utilising LED technology. The coupe transformation is completed by an impractical-looking slit of a rear screen, although from the driver’s seat rearward visibility isn’t especially restricted.
Inside the GTC you’ll find an interior that’s almost as spacious as the regular hatchback Astra and, disappointingly, one that looks all but identical to the five-door too. With so much effort made on the outside, it’s a pity that a few more Euros couldn’t be found to tweak the dashboard to at least try to do the pretty panel work justice.
Until the flagship VXR version is unleashed, the GTC is available in Sport and SRi trims with a selection of turbocharged petrol and diesel engines. Disappointing, the combination of Sport specification with the 128bhp 1.7-litre turbo diesel wasn’t an alluring one, making the GTC feel little more than ordinary.
Out on the road, the torquey, low-end shove from the engine aids initial getaway but at 10 seconds for the 0-60 run it’s more of a jog than a sprint.
It’s not all lacklustre news though for the GTC is a nimble and fine handler. The chassis is taut, providing an engaging level or roadholding that lets you explore what speed the CDTi engine can provide with confidence. It never feels like you’re going to be spat off the road when lifting off the throttle mid bend; your hands and feet comfortably adjusting the Astra to go exactly where you want. It’s evident that the platform can take considerably more power, so if you can stump up the extra, go for the 2.0-litre CDTi or preferably the 1.6-litre turbo petrol with 178bhp.
The steering also offers a level of feedback that would have been unheard of with anything wearing the griffin badge even just a few years ago. Again, it’s not the last word in communication, nor does it feel like you’re taming a wild beast holding the wheel but you can appreciate what the front wheels are up to and where the grip is. The downside? The steering wheel itself feels a bit cheap in your hands. The leather wrapping the SRi’s rim enjoys feels much more pleasurable.
In GTC format, the Astra is blessed with a level of desirability that the five-door and estate versions can’t hold a candle too. But therein lies a word of caution because those glamorous looks are deceptive.
Choose your specification wisely or you’ll discover that the GTC’s like plucking up the courage to start chatting to someone hot at the bar only to discover a vacuous level of dull conversation is the outcome.
Fun and desirability can be had in the upper echelons of the GTC range but at a price. You pays your money, you takes your choice…
Model Tested: Vauxhall Astra GTC Sport 1.7 CDTi 16v (130ps) Start/Stop
Top Speed: 122mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 62.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
VED Band/Cost: C/£30pa
Engine size: 4/1686cc common rail fuel injection, turbocharged diesel
Boot space: 380-1165l
Kerb weight: n/akg
Price: £21,200 (April 2012)
All photographs © Vauxhall 2012