Tested: 2012 Opel Astra GTC

The comfy looker

It’s been a long time coming and I was honestly getting concerned that halfway through the year I hadn’t found any pleasant surprises yet. Sure, thundering AMG’s and seven-figure Jags may apply but it wasn’t until last week that I stumbled across a hidden gem: the Opel Astra GTC.

Most modern Opels get my stamp of approval, their Chevrolet stable-mates don’t always fare so well, so it came as no surprise to me that my first look at, and impression of, the Astra GTC was highly favourable. The Astra minus two doors with a sleeker, lower roof line is quite an attractive mode of transport.

There’s an unexpected beauty and affordable exclusivity that comes with the coupé version of a popular C-segment hatchback. Think Megane Coupé and Scirocco, although the latter doesn’t look anything like its sober Golf sibling. The two-door Astra with its sleek nose, dark lights and swooping lines is quite a looker.

It also took me a while to fully grasp the GTC’s design language, that funky rear end with a somewhat iffy black plastic insert is topped off by a glossy black spoiler atop the hatch. Its low door handles are framed by a beautiful crease that runs toward the rear end.

The sexy Astra also suffers from the usual coupé hallmarks, poor rear and ¾ visibility, a shallow boot (with hidden cellar but no exterior opener), a thumb-pinching handbrake, front seat belts that are hard to reach, front doors that are hard to close or grab hold of and rather cramped rear seats.

The front seats are comfy and supportive but have an annoying backrest adjuster. From here on, it just gets better. GTC interior is very modern and stylish with great instruments, acceptable materials but a few questionable finishes. The sounds system makes decent noises but could do with more bass.

This 1.4T model has no climate control but silky-smooth steering with good feedback, a crisp six-speed gearbox and light-pedals plus thee most unbelievably comfortable suspension I’ve come across in a long, long time. If you enjoy a smooth and comfortable ride, I implore you to test-drive an Astra GTC!

Opels tend to have sporty and very predictable handling and this one’s no exception. It corners with obedience and minimal body roll, handing over to mild under-steer and the very lenient stability controls. The added benefit here is that it has supreme damping that would befit an S-Class or Range Rover.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why – the Opel Astra GTC has some huge shoes at 235/50/18 all-round. These dimension are more suited to soft-roaders (in fact, you’ll find them on an Audi Q5) as hot hatches and modern coupés usually employ ride-ruining 40 or 35 series rubber.

This pleasant oddity also adds to the GTC’s exterior appeal – the wheels most certainly fill the arches and give the car extra presence. And best of all they are standard on all models, even this entry-level (N$287,000) 1.4 Turbo Enjoy, as is the start-stop system that endows the rev-counter with rather strange markings.

Performance is average with little turbo lag, a reasonably wide power band, and the 1,364cc turbo-petrol brings low emissions (average 139g CO2/km) and consumption (average 5.9L/100km) with it, as well as 103kW (140hp) or 200Nm. That means 0-100km/h in 9.9 seconds and a top speed of 201km/h.

All Astra GTC’s feature comprehensive specs including air-con, CD/radio/mp3/Aux, seven speakers, cruise control with speed limiter, 60/40 split seats, power lumbar support for driver’s seat, active headrests, leather, adjustable multi-function steering wheel, as well as power mirrors, windows and steering.

You also get remote central locking, rear parking sensors, alarm, immobiliser, ABS brakes with emergency force distribution (EBD), ESP Plus stability system, five airbags, Isofix anchors, an impressive five-year/120,000km warranty and a five-year/90,000km service plan.

Should you long for a little more power (132kW/hp/230Nm), a 1.6T Sport model retails for N$304,000 and spoils you with additional hill start assist, climate control, leather seats, better ambient lighting and trim, auto wipers, electronic parking brake and heated front seats.

Most importantly though, irrespective of the model you choose, you get a stylish new coupé and get to enjoy a ride that’s smoother and more comfortable than any German train. And I can vouch for that because I’m sitting on one as I write this…

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