Holden Astra GTC

GMs Euro product onslaught begins

JAMES WHITBOURN

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE Astra is back. Again.

Just like in 2012, when the Opel Astra spearheaded a short-lived revival of the European brand in Australia. Or the time before, in 1996, when the Opel-sourced but Holden-branded Astra revived a name carried by various badgeengineered Pulsars in the 1980s.

That feeling of deja vu is heightened by the fact the new Holden Astra is an updated version of the same fourth-gen J-series Astra that made its global debut in 2009 and arrived here in hatch, wagon and (2011) coupe form less than three years ago.

With the Astras relaunch, Holdens on-off relationship with GMs European small and medium cars (and the Astra badge itself) appears to finally be resolved.

Necessity dictates the return to Opel and it seems there will be no looking back from an approach that will see 24 Opel-engineered models introduced here over the next five years.

For the time being, though, the three-door Astra GTC and GTC Sport, the hottie VXR (see sidebar) and the Cascada convertible (see p.60) slot into the small and sporty niche beside the more pedestrian Aussie-built Cruze.

The Astra is built on the same Delta II platform as the Cruze, but in GTC form its chassis is sharpened with GMs HiPerStrut front suspension, which is a similar dual-axis system to that found in the Renaultsport Clio and Megane firebrands. The system brings front-end keenness and steering reward, which is a whole lot more exploitable in the new direct-injected 1.6-litre turbo Holden version than it was in the lower-powered 1.4 turbo and portinjected 1.6 turbo Opel versions.

Both the GTC and GTC Sport are powered by the 1.6 turbo, but not all Astra engines are created equal. Those linked to six-speed autos lose 22kW and 20Nm on the 147kW/280Nm six-speed manuals. Despite these decent figures, the GTC is no shooting star thats the VXRs turf and a workmanlike note ensures its no visceral thriller, but it is flexible and relatively fuel efficient.

The lack of a reversing camera is a rare miss (though front and rear parking sensors are standard) in a generous suite of standard kit.

Prices are down compared with the previous Opel, at $27K (down $2K) for the GTC and $30K for the Sport (down $5K), which brings 19- rather than 18-inch alloys among the sports and luxo bits.

The stellar pick? A used Opel GTC Sport manual, which has just gone from undervalued orphan to Holden-backed bargain. Or, for new-car buyers, the superior latest version of that same variant, now wearing a Lion emblem.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Holden Astra GTC Sport 1598cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo 147kW @ 5500rpm 280Nm @ 1650-5000rpm 6-speed manual 1498kg 7.9sec (claimed) 6.9L/100km $29,990 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Not a brand-new model; ageing interior; no reversing camera Cooler than Cruze; b et t er per forma nce and value than previous Opel

Cheap heat

ITS not an OPC, because the O meant Opel, but the Holden Astra VXR is the same car. Our first taste limited any assessment of comfort on its standard Flexride adaptive dampers and 20-inch wheels, but a 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo makes the VXR the hottest hatch on sale in Oz. A well-honed chassis and massive 355mm crossdrilled front rotors clamped by Brembo four-pot calipers ensure serious sharpness, adhesion and stopping. Its a bit of a bargain, too, at $39,990 $3K less than when it was sold here as an Opel.