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Star Astra

By Wells Journal  |  Posted: September 19, 2012

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Vauxhall's Astra GTC offers couture styling with blue-collar underpinnings. It's a great combination.

Powerful engines are available, but you don't necessarily need them for the feel-good sensation that comes with GTC ownership. It's a relatively affordable compact coupe that can stand wheel-to-wheel with apparently more exalted rivals – and often come out on top. Wouldn't it smarten your driveway? Many potential buyers will think so.

You could be excused for approaching a drive in this GTC model with rather low expectations.

After all, it succeeds a couple of Astra coupe models that were no more exciting to drive than the frumpy five-door hatchbacks they were based upon. And quick glance at the badgework and under the bonnet might suggest that we're again looking at something similar here. You might think that. Your friends might think that. But you'd both be wrong. It's true that apart from the potent 2.0-litre petrol turbo used in the flagship VXR version, GTC engineware is identical to that you'll find in any ordinary Astra. But that's only because engineering effort and investment has been directed into areas far more important to driving satisfaction.

Sharper steering, a wider track and, most importantly, a completely different suspension set-up all combine to make this the most engaging driver's car Vauxhall makes. Only a £30,000 Insignia VXR gets its power down and turns into corners as sharply – and that's only because it shares this car's clever HiPerStrut suspension system.

Better still, you don't have to spend extra money on Vauxhall's hi-tech FlexRide adaptive damping system to really enjoy it, so well-judged is the ride and handling balance, especially tuned for our appalling British roads.

If you can't stretch to the frantic 280bhp VXR 155mph high performance version, then the only engine in the mainstream range likely to really get your heart pumping is the one I tried, a 16v 1.6-litre petrol Turbo unit developing a useful 180PS.

It would be easy to imagine many potential compact coupe customers not even trying this car, seduced as they might be by the fun of a MINI Coupe, the quality of a Volkswagen Scirocco or the style of a Peugeot RCZ. And that would be a mistake.

In fact, it's arguably the best handling car in its class, certainly the most practical choice and probably the most affordable too.

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