Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.6 Ecotec review

The fastest mainstream version of Vauxhall's Astra GTC coupe is a tempting petrol package. Jonathan Crouch reports on the 1.6 Ecotec variant.

Ten Second Review

Vauxhall's Astra GTC coupe has always been a pretty thing - and fast too in its ultimate VXR hot hatch guise. What the range was arguably lacking was a fast, efficient, more affordable petrol-engined version further down the line-up. A car like this 1.6 Ecotec version in fact.

Background

Almost all the Astra GTC coupes Vauxhall sells tend to be diesels. Now the company wants to redress the balance a little with a truly class-competitive petrol-engined version. To be fair, there were petrol versions on offer before but they weren't quite on a performance and efficiency par with the best that rivals could offer. Here's a variant that is: the GTC 1.6 Ecotec. Under the bonnet lies the latest turbocharged SIDI direct injection engine already seen in, both in the larger Insignia and in more conventional Astra models. The stats offered by this unit probably say it all: rest to 60mph in just 7.3s on the way to 143mph. Yet a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 42.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 154g/km. These are the kind of returns that until just a few years ago, you'd have seen from some diesel engines. The result is an engine variant that makes a lot of sense if you can't quite stretch to the list price or the ongoing running costs of the petrol GTC flagship, the VXR model. Let's look more closely at what's on offer.

Driving Experience

Fire the engine in a GTC with the turbocharged 1.6-litre Ecotec powerplant beneath the bonnet and there's no real clue that 200PS lies beneath your right foot. Things are clearer once you get out onto the open road where 60mph from rest is just 7.3s away en route to a maximum of 143mph.That's pretty rapid going by class standards. By anyone's standards in fact. Yes of course, it's nothing like the performance you'd get from the range-topping VXR hot hatch version of course but in the real world on real roads, this car is surely as fast as anyone will really need it to be. You could be excused for approaching a drive in this GTC model with rather low expectations. But you'll be surprised. Sharper steering, a wider track and, most importantly, a completely different suspension set-up all combine to make this the most engaging driver's car Vauxhall makes. Only a £30,000 Insignia VXR gets its power down and turns into corners as sharply - and that's only because it shares this car's clever HiPerStrut suspension system. Before I drove this car, I wouldn't have thought it possible for an Astra - any Astra - to offer as rewarding a drive as a rival Megane Renaultsport or a sporty Focus ST. I was wrong. Better still, you don't have to spend extra money on Vauxhall's hi-tech FlexRide adaptive damping system to really enjoy it, so well-judged is the ride and handling balance, especially tuned for our appalling British roads.

Design and Build

You expect a three-door coupe to be smaller than the five-door Hatch it's likely to be based upon. But that certainly isn't the case here, this GTC longer and wider than its more ordinary stablemate and featuring a larger wheelbase that explains the remarkable amount of space it can offer for both rear seat passengers and their luggage. We'll get to that in a minute. But let's begin with what will probably sell you this car in the first place: the way it looks. Stylist Mark Adams and his team have created a shape that shares nothing but the roof ariel and the door handles with the 5-door Hatch, the differences further emphasised by a wider track, front and rear, plus a lower stance and much larger wheels. Lift the tailgate and you'll find yourself gazing at a boot that at 380-litres is actually 30-litres larger than that provided by the five-door hatch and free up 1165-litres of total volume - a space nearly 20% bigger than you'll find provided by some obvious rivals. Plus of course you can extend it by pushing forward the 60:40 split-folding rear seats. This all comes courtesy of this model's lengthened wheelbase, something that also benefits rear seat passengers.Two adults will be more comfortable back here than in anything else in the class - even on longer journeys. Getting in behind the wheel means opening one of the huge doors that are needed thanks to the extended wheelbase and coupe bodyshape - and that might be an issue if you're tightly parked. Once installed behind the wheel though, it's all pretty user-friendly, even if it isn't very different from the layout you'd find in an ordinary Astra Hatch, despite Vauxhall's attempts to lift the atmosphere with faux aluminium inserts on the centre console, air vents and doors. What is different from the Astra Hatch is the rear screen - which is a pity as it's smaller in the GTC, slightly restricting rearward visibility.

Market and Model

Expect to pay around £21,000 for this Astra GTC 1.6 Ecotec - which seems reasonable given that this sum represents a premium of only just over £1,000 more than the fastest 140PS version of the entry-level petrol unit, the 1.4 16v VVT Turbo. Entry-level Sport-trimmed models include most of what you'll want - air conditioning, a decent quality MP3-compatible CD stereo with Aux-in point and USB functionality, daytime running lights, seat height adjustment and a remote control alarm system. They even include 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and a DAB digital radio. At this level though, some will feel that this car still doesn't feel quite special enough, an issue that's partly addressed by specifying your car in 'SRi' trim. The extra £1,300 or so this will require on top of the price of your chosen variant buys you the 'nice-to-have' touches - a leather-covered steering wheel, front door sill covers, dark-tinted rear windows, sports front seats and front foglamps - as well as a bit of extra high-tech (auto lights and wipers, a multi-function trip computer and a hill start assist system to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions). You also get an electronic parking brake - though that, to be honest, I could do without. A key decision all GTC buyers have to make is whether to find an extra £800 for the FlexRide adaptive damping system that enables you to set the suspension up to suit the mood you're in and the road you're on. Many will feel that the standard UK-developed damping set-up is good enough not to need it and may be more tempted to spend a similar amount on Vauxhall's clever Adaptive Forward Lighting system - or perhaps the clever Intellilink infotainment set-up.

Cost of Ownership

Fuel economy is certainly competitive with a 42.8mpg combined cycle figure not at all bad for a car with 200PS on tap. CO2 emissions are rated at 154g/km. The insurance grouping is 27.

Summary

Vauxhall's Astra GTC was in danger of becoming something of a forgotten choice in the affordable coupe sector. This 1.6 Ecotec engine deserves to get it noticed. To be frank, it's easily the best mainstream petrol engine in this model line-up, fast yet efficient. A powerplant that, in short, perfectly suits this car. If you were thinking of buying a GTC with a diesel engine, we'd urge you to look and see if your annual mileage really warrants that. We'd guess that in many cases, once you do your sums, this 1.6 Ecotec variant might turn out to be an all-round better bet. Choose it and we reckon that you'll certainly enjoy the ownership experience a lot more. Which is, after all, what owning a small coupe ought to be really all about.