A public service

LOOK at it. Just look at it. If there’s any better reason for buying Vauxhall’s stunning Astra GTC three-door hatch than its sassy styling, I’ve yet to hear it.

Yes, it drives well, is solidly built and is well equipped but do you really care? Just look at it.

Correct me if I’m wrong but I think it was Vauxhall who were the first to cotton onto this particular idea. For years hatchbacks had been getting bigger and bigger, but Vauxhall realised that this didn’t need to be so. With its Meriva and Zafira MPV vehicles catering to those looking for ultimate practicality, the Astra didn’t need to start shopping at Jacamo just yet.

The latest Astra five-door is undeniably handsome but those looking for something that will have grown adults sighing in admiration, little can touch the Astra GTC three-door hatch. When it was first unveiled the GTC Paris concept in 2010, most figured that by the time the production car arrived it would be fatter and frumpier. It isn’t.

If you expected the Astra GTC to be just a re-skin of the existing Astra five-door, close inspection will reveal that the changes go rather deeper. Even in entry-level trim, the GTC adopts the sophisticated front suspension from the Insignia VXR, featuring Vauxhall’s HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut), combined with the clever Watt’s link rear axle for stability and handling precision. The Astra GTC can be ordered with a choice of four engines - one diesel and three petrols. With 165PS, the 2.0 CDTi is an upgraded version of the diesel that’s fitted to some models in the Insignia and Astra ranges. Delivering 380Nm of torque (including overboost function) the 2.0 CDTi engine provides excellent mid-range acceleration for the GTC, combined with a zero to 60 mph time of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 130mph.

The most powerful engine in the range is the 1.6-litre Turbo, which produces 180PS and allows the GTC to hit a top speed of 132mph. Those looking for a real Porsche-baiter will need to wait for the VXR model that’s due to arrive in 2012.

Prices kick off at £18,495 for the entry level 120PS 1.4-litre car, with the diesel Sport model costing £21,165.

Day to day running costs are not going to be markedly different from any other Astra model. In fact, when residual values come into play, it’s likely that the GTC is going to be the cheaper car to run. Carbon dioxide emissions certainly look competitive enough, with the entry-level 1.4-litre 120PS model emitting 139g/km. Go for the diesel model and you’re looking at 129g/km which isn’t at all bad for a car that generates 165PS.

The Vauxhall Astra GTC is less a car, more a public service. Buy one and it’ll beautify your neighbourhood, providing an visual fillip that’s offers a welcome respite to the usual lumpen MPVs and SUVs. The best part is that beneath the silky suit is a car that’s solidly sensible. It’s like lifting up a Versace ball gown and finding a pair of Doctor Martens underneath. In short, it offers style and practicality.

The acid test for this car’s mettle will be when the VXR model is launched. That will put it head to head with seriously talented rivals like the Volkswagen Scirocco R and the Renaultsport Megane Cup.