Listen, I love hot hatchbacks. I’ve always loved them ever since the original Golf GTI which arrived on earth even before I did. But now fuel prices are touching R12 a litre; you get locked up if you so much as think of doing ‘big speed’ driving, there is e-tolling (probably), CO2 taxation, massive customs and excise duties on expensive import cars, traffic jams as far as the eye can see, you name it, being a petrol head is a hostile environment these days and it’s killing the kilowatt and evangelising eco-ism.
I believe however, that hot hatchbacks should be in their element right now. Hot hatches are not about how quickly you can reach top speed, but about how much fun you can have before you reach the speed limit. Hot hatchbacks make driving slowly fun, they make traffic circles in your neighbourhood fun, and they make going out to get a 2-litre milk fun even if you have less displacement then that under the bonnet. Most importantly though they are cheap, so people can actually buy them with real money and keep service and repair centres afloat as they bounce them off trees late at night and go through a set of brake pads and front tyres every track day.
But alas, it’s the car companies and 21st century circumstances that are dropping the ball as it turns out. They’ve taken the turbo charger away from the petrol head and turned it into a tool of evil. The turbo charger is now used as temperance to fuel consumption and a firewall to CO2 emission. Not a one way ticket, like it once was, to a pair of battered kidneys and lagging G-forces that crushed you deep into your bucket seat. The car companies are also mating these small displacement turbo charged engines with ever fattening and widening bodies that resemble station wagons in their size, rather than conventional hatchbacks. The Ford Focus five-door falls into this category now.
The new Opel Astra GTC might be another case in point. It looks good in the pictures doesn’t it? Okay, I personally think the face is a bit too pouty and the accents at the top of the headlamps look cheap like it’s a Mazda 3. I also don’t know why it can’t be smaller, but if you believe Opel, not one panel is shared between it and the five-door Opel Astra. The five-door Astra is a car I liked a lot when it first came out two years ago despite its inability to gain much sales traction. Now Opel have lowered that same car by a few cm, lengthened the wheel base and given it a wider track front and back. The extra spoiler bulging on the roof and at the end of the hatchback looks good though, as do the speed creases around the door handles and behind the front wheels.
Now we get to the meat and veg. The old range topping GTC had a Golf GTI rivalling 147kW, 2.0-litre turbo charged motor. So how much do you expect this new GTC pictured here produces? 155kW like the current GTI? Nope, it’s much less meat and more veg, try 103kW & 200Nm from a 1.4-litre turbo charged four cylinder. That is bizarre isn’t it when you think about it… to put less power into a newer, heavier car.
Of course you’re going to say, but that’s not the full fat Astra GTC or even the ballistic OPC, and you’d be correct. This 1.4T Enjoy we have on test is the style over substance option that competes with the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4TSI and the Renault Megane Coupe 1.4TCE, maybe even the Honda CR-Z, Peugeot RC-Z and Mini Cooper. The more powerful 1.6T will get to 100kph in 8-seconds, so this one doing the same at 10-seconds is quite slow.
I simply don’t understand why anyone would be tempted by such an offering. If they weren’t going to buy the sensible and underrated Astra five door; why go for a faintly restyled, less practical version of the same car. The GTC feels big on the road and feels heavy when you drive dynamically. It feels like it takes an aeon to get going of the line and there is a lot of drive line shunt as you bang home second and third gear to try make up as much time as you can. Opel say the front suspension has a sportier edge to it that limits torque steer over the regular Astra five door, but I found the steering would wander across the road ever so slightly when you have your foot welded to the floor, almost as if it has torque steer tugging at it through the front wheels. This is unfortunate because just enough torque steer can be fun and engaging in a car, this is type though is intrusive more than anything.
When you find some bends it shows quite a lot of roll in the corners and the tyre performance seems lacking in many respects. Mostly in how little power is being fed to them but also in rolling over the sidewall numbly without a lot of bite or excitement. You can also feel a good Watts link rear suspension in the back that wants to help you along, but with this little amount of power you won’t be making the most of it. I also don’t see the appeal of it having such a long wheelbase. I know it’s just a coupe version of the Astra, but big, long, front wheel drive cars are going to take time to shift their weight and get around a corner, and this Astra does just that. However, if you do calm down and try not to drive it like a sports car, I will say that the GTC does ride well on the motorway and is very quiet inside for passengers to have a conversation without raising their voice.
So, at the end of the day the GTC is simply an Astra with three doors, meaning it’s yet another luke-warmish cauliflower of a coupe/hatchback with boutique looks and boutique shop performance, when what we used to have was piping hot radish. It’s sad; it’s the perfect car if you want to push hot hatchbacks nearer the endangered species list. Although if the five door Astra is anything to go by, hopefully no one will notice the GTC and Opel can just bring the ballistic 200kW-plus OPC earlier. All the petrol heads will forgive you then.
What we like…
- Quiet, comfortable and solid build quality for the interior.
- Good economy with the help of auto stop / start.
- Good level of specification even on the entry level Enjoy model.
What we would like…
- More engine note.
- More power and a smoother transmission.
- It to be smaller and more dynamic. Underpowered doesn’t have to mean lacking dynamics.
- The OPC to come quicker.
|Base Price||R287, 000|
|Warranty||5yr / 120, 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1, 364 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||103 kW @ 4 900 r/min|
|Torque||200 Nm @ 4 900 r/min|
|Drive type||Front wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 9.9 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||5.9 l/100km (claimed / combined)|