DRIVEN: VAUXHALL ASTRA GTC
Why are we driving an Astra? Because Vauxhall said we could have a go at a hillclimb... turns out it's not bad, either...
Ordinarily we would not grant much time or space on PistonHeads to what amounts (no matter how you dress it up) to little more than a sleek(ish) three-door shopping hatch. But Vauxhall must be confident of the innate sportiness of its new Astra GTC, because it's tempted us along to the launch of the new three-door Astra (call it a coupe if you want, Vauxhall; seems like a hatch to us) with the promise of some competitive runs up a couple of hillclimbs. Sold.
Fortunately for the GTC there is more than just looks to this. The clever GM HiPer Strut suspension is standard across the range (it's like a MacPherson set-up, only with many of the benefits of a much more expensive double wishbone arrangement). The effect of the system - which has until now only been used on GM's larger, high-end models such as the Insignia VXR - is that the GTC has a more 'planted' feel than it would otherwise be blessed with, a wider track and a more distinctive, aggressive stance.
Inside, the GTC is well specced - DAB radio is standard across the entire range, for example - and £21,480 seems a reasonable-ish price for the top-spec 1.6T SRi, but the layout is a little confusing, and the perceived build quality can't quite live with the best that, say, VW has to offer. It's not a bad place in which to spend time, however.
And the hillclimb? Suffice it to say that the combination of Riggers and turbocharged Astra GTC won't be challenging the current outright record of 22.58secs, set by Martin Groves in his Gould single-seater. It took us rather longer, at over 41 seconds, but that and the time at Loton did make us the third-quickest publication on the day, but bested by Autocar and Top Gear mag (curses, etc etc). But Shelsley Walsh, the oldest continuously used motorsport venue in the world (and the more involved, longer and dare we say more satisfying run up Loton Park) did reveal that there is genuine sporting fun to be had with the GTC. And that the narrow, twisting nature of your typical hillclimb actually mirrors the demands of a gnarly B-road quite effectively.
When pushing on the road, we did feel that we had to be a gear lower than we ought to have been at any given time, but then we were working in the 1.6T with a modest 170lb ft of torque (albeit spread between 2200rpm and 5400rpm). The top-end 163bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel we also tried, with its 258lb ft of shove, definitely felt more muscular. Even so, the GTC has proved itself fleet of foot and fun to drive. Its low-ish rent interior and that badge (apologies to Vauxhall fans, but there are plenty of haters out there) perhaps make it less appealing than rivals with a touch more class. But the GTC is a likeable car, and bodes well for the forthcoming VXR version...