Punching above its weight

THERE’S no doubting Vauxhall’s deep desire to make its new coupe look unlike all those sensible hatches with Astra badges on the back. The GTC shares door handles and roof aerial with them, and nothing else.

It must have been an expensive exercise, changing every panel to give the Astra GTC the lines of a proper coupe that looks worth more than Vauxhall charges for it.

That’s a fine start, but then you discover clever use of interior space means there’s room for two grown ups in the back – and a decent boot behind them – and the GTC becomes not merely stylish, but sensible too.

Digging deeper, you discover the way this mainly German-designed car drives has been heavily influenced by Britain’s awful roads, giving the car a fighting chance of staying comfortable despite suspension inevitably tilted towards sporting.

Staying at some depth, you’ll also find a front suspension quite different from lesser Astras; more complex and dearer to make but letting the front wheels steer straighter when a keen driver gives the car some welly out of a sharp corner.

So, all in all, a thorough attempt at producing an affordable and handsome coupe that thousands of drivers will put on their short list, with lots destined for a slot in the company car park.

The GTC line up is split into Sport and dearer SRi models and a choice of three petrol and three diesel engines. Prices range from £18,495 for a 120 horsepower petrol Sport model to £22,430 for a 2.0 diesel in SRi trim.

Vauxhall names its two most likely competitors as the Renault Megane Coupe and Volkswagen’s Scirocco, which sounds spot on. It’s unusual for a car maker to be so bold in naming cars their baby must beat and shows confidence in the outcome.

A drive in the GTC on test provides plenty of evidence for Vauxhall’s bullish attitude; here is a car whose sporting pretentions go much more than skin deep, even if the outer coverings are the reason most potential buyers will take a look in the first place.

It’s a big car that hides its bulk well and, as mentioned, puts all those cubic metres to good effect.

Windscreen pillars the thickness of bridge supports and the inevitable coupe-like rear window treatment make it harder to see out of than a more upright machine and mean front and rear parking sensors ought to be standard, instead of a £385 option.

That mild inconvenience is forgotten the moment there’s room to push the accelerator to the floor, where you’ll not believe the low down punch generated from a mere 1.4 litres.

This engine feels more like a nicely developed 2.0 litre unit and shows how clever engineering can give biggish car performance with smallish car economy. The test car averaged 43mpg over several hundred miles of mixed use; an impressive result.

Vauxhall was keen the GTC felt like a sportster when the corners arrived, probably at more speed than you’d bargained for from that potent little powerplant, and they’ve made the car feel light and nimble on its (big) feet.

Almost too nimble, until you adjust to steering so sensitive to the slightest touch you’ll overdo things to start with.

Patience will be rewarded, I promise.