Ryan Bubear drives the Opel Astra GTC 1.4T Enjoy...
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Despite being highly desirable, compact coupes aren't massive sellers. Almost everyone wants one, but not many people are prepared to shell out for style, often at the expense of practicality. So, they end up buying a traditional five-door hatch instead.
The Opel Astra GTC tries to change that.
Two front-wheel-drive variants are available in South Africa: the 1.4T Enjoy and the 132kW 1.6T Sport. We had the smaller capacity turbocharged petrol model on test, which also makes do with a lower equipment level. But, of course, this means it's a fair bit cheaper, which — let's face it — makes it more likely to sell.
Bang in the middle
The 103kW 1.4T GTC slots in neatly between its direct competitors: the ageing but still gorgeous Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI (118kW; priced from R302 800) and the fresh-faced Renault Megane 1.4 TCe GT Line coupe (96kW; priced from R249 900). In fact, it reminds me very much of the smart little Megane in a number of ways, and a couple of observant people commented on its Scirocco-like styling cues too.
The 1364cc engine boasts a peak torque of 200Nm across an impressively wide rev range (1850-4900rpm), and is mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It's certainly no stabbed rat — hitting 100km/h from standstill in a tardy 9.9 seconds — but there's just enough extra grunt to keep things entertaining (if it's raw power you want, you'll have to wait for the GTC-based OPC). The gearbox is pleasant to use, even if the throws are a little on the long side.
Of course, one of the few upsides of not having oodles of power under your right foot is the possibility of returning a fuel consumption figure that wouldn't make an oil sheikh blush. Opel claims that the 1.4T uses just 5.9 litres per 100km in the combined cycle (CO2 of 139 gm/km), thanks in part to the standard Stop/Start technology and that all-important sixth gear. Only thing is, the chassis is so good that the GTC always feels like it needs to be driven hard... and as a result, we finished on a lofty 8.5 litres per 100km. Ouch.
Bends. Bring 'em on
The low-slung Astra GTC has accurate steering and makes use of Opel's HiPerStrut front suspension, which successfully cuts out torque steer and delivers entertaining handling without sacrificing ride comfort. It's all very technical (think "kingpin inclination angles" and "spindle lengths"), but all that really matters is that it works. Very, very well.
The GTC is no mere three-door version of the rather pretty five-door Astra hatch. Nope, this is a stand-alone model. It's 15mm lower, it's wheelbase is 10mm longer, and it's track is 40mm wider at the front and 30mm wider at the rear. Compare the two in the metal and you'll grasp just how different from each other they really are: the only common exterior elements are the mirror surrounds and the antenna... Every single body panel is changed.
Looks are largely subjective, but there's no denying that the exterior of the GTC is visually striking. While there's plenty going on in terms of dramatic, swooping lines and intricate detail, it's not at all brash. And thanks to the way the various styling cues have been integrated, it's not an assault on the eyes. As a result, it ends up having more than just one "good-side", which makes approaching it in an empty parking lot pretty damn satisfying.
Thankfully, all this design work hasn't impeded too much on visibility or practicality. The rear window is rather small, and the A- and C-pillars quite bulky, but it doesn't feel like you're seated inside a postbox. A couple of adults (Opel reckons three, but they'd have to be rather small-framed) are able to squeeze into the back, and the boot can swallow 360 litres (that's 10 litres more than a Golf), or be expanded to 1165 litres.
Inside, the 1.4T gets supportive cloth sports seats, and a tastefully restrained instrument cluster off-set by strange red "mood" lighting. The controls are logically laid out and perceived quality is fairly high. A leather multifunctional steering wheel, cruise control, power side mirrors, power windows, manual air-con, auto headlights, auto wipers, rear parking assist, and radio/CD/MP3/Aux/USB with Bluetooth all come standard (for the record, the 1.6T gets electronic park brake, hill start assist, climate control, leather trim, heated front seats, and a sunglasses holder too).
Safety is taken care of by ABS with EBD, ESP, traction control, and steering brake control. A pedal release system and active headrests, together with front and seat-side airbags for the driver and front passenger, and roof-mounted curtain airbags, take things a step further. A five-year or 120 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km service plan (15 000km intervals) come standard.
Opel rightly expects the "normal" Astra hatch — the best-selling of its admittedly sparse current range — to continue to drive sales. But the GTC's mix of sporty style, fun and practicality makes it hard to ignore — and a tough opponent to the comparable Scirocco and Megane GT Line models.
Desirability... meet coupe practicality.
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See page 2 for specs and pricing.