OPEL ASTRA GTC REVIEW
Price: $34,990 (plus on-roads)
Power: 132kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 230Nm @ 2200rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual
0-100km/h: 8.3 seconds
Fuel consumption (listed): 7.3 l/100km
Fuel consumption (on test): 9.4 l/100km
There's a tough task ahead for Australia's newest car market contender, Opel.
It's a rebirth of sorts, especially for the Astra, which brings a familiar and respected nameplate back into the market, but under a new badge.
But anything trying to elbow its way into the overcrowded bloodied scrum that is the Australian passenger-car market is going to have to be better than merely good. Especially if it's going to dish out any pain at all to the established players.
Nonetheless, Opel is here, and is lining up a three-model 14 variant range for a September 1 launch.
Helping its cause is some pretty impressive machinery. Tastiest of all, on the basis of our first forays at the wheel, is the Astra GTC Sport.
From the pen of Opel exterior design chief, Mornington Peninsula boy Niels Loeb, the GTC is dripping with style. Ours, in brilliant yellow, drew lots of long admiring looks (figured it wasn't me).
Well-priced and well-featured (it also slips under the Golf GTI by $4000), the Astra GTC 1.6T Sport matches Euro class and style with beautiful on-road balance.
For style and accommodation, the interior is pretty sharp.
Our car, in Irish-spec for the launch (the Aussie-spec machinery hasn't arrived yet), had the very comfortable, generously-shaped $2500 AGR leather sports seats.
Tactile surfaces are all good, with an upmarket feel, and the combination of brushed metal and polished dark highlights looks very smart.
Switchgear also feels 'right', and ergonomically things seem well-placed and easily operated. The leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel however, while nicely square-on (and rake and reach adjustable), could perhaps be a little thicker.
The big chromatic sports dials are clear and easily read and there's a cold metal solid feel to the door handles.
All-up, although at a mid-thirties price-point, the GTC Sport has a classier upmarket European feel. And everything felt tight and robustly constructed.
The only debits we could find in the interior were a couple of slightly misaligned joins.
It is also comfortable and reasonably quiet. There is a bit of road roar from the big tyres on coarser surfaces, and some wind-flutter from around the base of the A-pillars, but it's quieter than a Golf GTI and Mazda3 for instance.
There is also no shortage of gear. Standard equipment for Astra GTC models (the 1.4T and 1.6T) includes Bluetooth connectivity, premium audio, cruise control, trip-computer, leather-bound steering wheel, USB input, front and rear parking-sensors.
And there's a full suite of safety features including six airbags, ABS, and stability control.
The GTC Sport however also gets those tasty 19-inch wheels plus an electronic park-brake, LED ambient interior lighting, heated front seats, foglights, standard leather trim, dual-zone climate control air-con, adaptive headlights, rain-sensing wipers, Stop/Start and sat-nav.
Our tester was also kitted with the $2000 Flexride chassis control system (with console-mounted buttons for choosing Standard, Tour or Sport modes). These rejiggerise the dampers and engine, steering and drivetrain mapping, from a sharper sports feel, to a softer comfort setting.
On The Road
Under the bonnet of the GTC 1.6T Sport is a super-sweet 1.6 litre DOHC petrol turbo and six-speed manual transmission.
With 137kW and 230Nm, it doesn't have the sledgehammer power of the 184kW Megane Sport or even the rush of the 155kW Golf GTI, but it's delightfully nimble, can be belted through the gears and feels every ounce the slick 'sports-hatch'.
Dispatching the 0-100km/h dash in a claimed 8.3 seconds, it's 'warm' rather than 'hot', but pulls strongly with an eager turn of speed and can be punched out of a corner.
(Is the endless pursuit of monster torque and power figures becoming a bit of a yawn? Give me balance and athletic elan every time.)
The only trans on offer with the GTC Sport is the six-speed manual.
The stubby shift (polished black, chrome and leather) feels just right under the hand. But, interestingly, calls for an Italian straight-arm driving position: it's set a little far rearward in the console for my liking.
The GTC Sport's balance at the front-end is superb; that HiPerStrut front-axle layout and Watt's-link rear works really well.
It doesn't have quite the razor precision of the $38,990 Golf GTI, but is friendlier in its execution.
The suspension compliance is particularly good; it's sporty, but doesn't jar or judder on smaller imperfections as can the GTI. There's a bit of 'give' in the initial compliance, and the rebound damping seems just right for Aussie roads.
For a sharper ride, the effect in altering the settings of the Flexride adaptive chassis control system is instantly apparent.
Punch in 'sport', and everything changes: the ride sharpens, the wheel is suddenly heavier, and an eager surge from down below signals sharpened throttle response.
The steering is perhaps not quite as alert as we'd like (for a sports hatch), but the front end is very settled and turns in eagerly and flatly when being pushed.
Grip too from the handsome 19-inch wheels on our test car was very good.
We had too little opportunity to really give it a sustained whack to get an accurate sense of how it might measure up in a serious shootout against the likes of the GTI, SP25 and Megane RS, but came away pretty impressed.
The impression is of a well-executed chassis with a stable and very nicely integrated front/rear suspension balance.
First Drive Verdict
But while the GTC Sport doesn't have quite the elastic on-road verve of the Golf GTI, it's arguably got it licked for style, and is a rapid, delightfully balanced and fun-to-drive sports hatch.
It's also got one more ace up its sleeve. Opel is soon to announce details of a fixed-price servicing offer, covering its full model range. And that's something that a lot of buyers considering a Euro product will want to hear.
A full test will tell the tale, but, on first impressions, Opel's GTC 1.6T Sport is one we like. On price and style alone it's worth a look.
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Note: prices exclude on-road costs.