Vauxhall Astra GTC 1.6 CDTi review

The Vauxhall Astra GTC offers sleek styling and, when fitted with the 1.6-litre CDTi diesel engine, minuscule running costs. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

Vauxhall's Astra GTC has sold well on the strength of its clean and elegant styling, but now that the refined 1.6-litre CDTi diesel engine has replaced the old 1.7-litre nail, you can now enjoy refinement, torque, low emissions and hugely impressive economy figures.

Background

Vauxhall calls the engine its 'Whisper Diesel' and that pretty much lets you know what you're in for. When plumbed into the svelte front end of the Vauxhall Astra GTC three-door, the 1.6-litre CDTi, to give the powerplant its more prosaic title, delivers a combination of style and skinflintery that's hard to top. The Astra GTC used to be fitted with a 1.7-litre diesel; an engine that delivered plenty of torque but was hardly the last word in silky smoothness. Extend that unit anywhere past 3,500rpm and it sounded like a cement mixer chewing on a breeze block, which was entirely at odds with the elegance of the GTC's exterior styling. The 1.6-litre CDTi is a far more suitable piece of engineering and looks set to prove popular.

Driving Experience

Dropping a few cubic centimetres in swept capacity hasn't hurt the power output of the diesel Astra GTC. Where the old engine made 130PS when poked with a sharp stick, this 1.6-litre replacement ups that figure to 136PS which might seem pretty small beer but also adds 20Nm to the torque figure. What's more, that 136PS power output comes at 3,500rpm rather than the 4,000rpm you needed to exert the 1.7-litre engine to, at which point you might have thought about ear defenders. No such problem with the 1.6-litre engine which is amongst the best in class in NVH measures. It's also a little quicker, shaving the sprint to 62mph from 10 to 9.6 seconds. Even in entry-level trim, the GTC adopts the sophisticated front suspension from the Insignia VXR, featuring Vauxhall's HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut), combined with the clever Watt's link rear axle for stability and handling precision. Break out the tape measure and you'll discover that both front and rear tracks are wider than the five-door car by 40 and 30mm respectively and the wheelbase is 10mm longer. The ride height is also 15mm lower, helping the big alloys fill the wheel arches.

Design and Build

Aesthetics are a distinctly personal thing yet after a quick office straw poll, we could find precisely no people who found the Astra GTC unattractive. It's not as if it's blandly attractive in a news anchor fashion. It's just flat-out sassy. "Credit for the styling job goes to the team working under Mark Adams who noted "We didn't want emotion to get in the way of functionality: the Astra GTC still needed to be clever, affordable and practical." The GTC's signature design touch is a prominently arced blade, a crisp line that sweeps up from the rocker at the front of the door, running the opposite way to other Astras. A second line strikes through the door handle, stretching to the rear, while a third line follows the roof's profile, guiding the eye to the sharply integrated spoiler. There's a 370-litre boot which underscores Adams' claims of practicality although the rear seats have typically compromised headroom. The use of an electronic parking brake frees up space on the centre console for additional stowage.

Market and Model

Prices start at £22,260 which marks a reduction in price compared to the 1.7-litre car. Okay, so it's only about two hundred pounds, but when you're getting a quicker, smoother and more responsive engine, it's churlish to complain. Vauxhall's list prices have long been a bit of a misnomer. Nobody pays this much, not even retail customers. Consider that you can buy a 150bhp diesel SEAT Leon SC for less than £20,000 and that should inform you when to bid your Vauxhall dealer good day. Standard equipment is generous no matter which GTC model customers choose. Even in entry-level Sport trim, the GTC comes equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, DAB stereo and USB functionality. Move up to the SRi, and buyers get as standard tinted glass, onboard computer, leather-trimmed steering wheel and fog lamps. Bi-Xenon Advanced Forward Lighting (AFL), which offers nine separate light beams, is optional across the range. A range of colours and materials, bespoke to the GTC, set the car apart from others in the Astra range. There's a Limited Edition trim that, for the time being at least, slots between Sport and SRi in the range.

Cost of Ownership

Fuel economy is unchanged from that of the 1.7-litre unit, with a combined economy figure of 68.9mpg. It's a shame Vauxhall couldn't have squeaked the car under the 100g/km emissions threshold, the Sport model weighing in at 104g/km while the bigger wheels of the SRi version lifting that figure to 109g/km but still remaining in the same VED and BIK taxation bands. The success of the Astra GTC has meant that there's a certain oversupply in the used market. Don't get too taken in by the depreciation figures, which look bad but are based on full retail price, which you really shouldn't come close to paying. When 'real world' pricing is taken into account the depreciation on the Astra GTC isn't that far off what you'd experience if you bought a SEAT Leon SC.

Summary

Although it's been with us long enough for the initial wow factor of its styling to fade a little, the Vauxhall Astra GTC still looks like something that's just rolled from a motor show stand. It's subjective for sure, but has a better looking three-door hatch been released since 2010? The Achilles heel of the GTC range was always the 1.7-litre diesel engine, which made respectable numbers but which was never refined enough to really do the GTC justice. That's been rectified with the smooth and powerful 1.6-litre diesel, which replicates the old engine's 68.9mpg economy figure and 104g/km emissions but does so in a far more sybaritic manner. Where the Astra no longer feels quite so clever is inside, where cars like the Peugeot 308 offer a more convincing 'glass cockpit' feel. That's a job for the next generation car, but if you can live with a fascia that's not quite at the cutting edge of development, you'll still find a lot to like about the latest Astra GTC. Not least of which will be the oily bits under the bonnet.