WHAT would we do without choice? Its everywhere you turn and with every product you buy, and as consumers weve taken it for granted. Dont forget Henry Ford offered a well-known colour palette for his Model T and only recently has the notion of saloon or hatch being pretty much your only choice come to an end.
Thats why instead of choosing a humble three-door version of the Vauxhall Astra you get something a little more different: the Astra GTC. Just as the last-generation compact hatch from Vauxhall became a Sports Hatch, with the current car there is something much more intriguing to tempt buyers looking for something a little more distinctive.
Of course the GTC is still recognisably an Astra at first glance but by the same token a non-Vauxhall spotter might well find themselves drawn to the attractive sporty number passing by. Despite the family resemblance, Vauxhall is keen to point out that only the door handles and the roof aerial are carried over from the five-door hatch which represents a significant commitment to making the GTC a car of distinction. Even more unusually, it has a different wheelbase and track over the hatch, which promises a more focused driving experience.
There are more mechanical tricks up the GTCs sleeve too. All versions, even the entry-level 1.4-litre Turbo, has HiPer struts fitted at the front end. Its a sophisticated piece of suspension technology borrowed from the Insignia VXR but essentially it solves the problem of powerful front-wheel drive cars suffering from torque steer, where the front wheels writhe under power. UK GTCs also benefit from specific suspension settings, all the better to cope with the serious challenges of difficult bends and poor surfaces.
It builds the anticipation of a good drive as you get behind the wheel, and although the cabin is virtually identical to the five-door the new exterior doesnt compromise cabin space. Adults can comfortably sit in the back although the taller end of the spectrum will find the roof sloping towards their heads, but the boot can hold 380 litres with the seats up and a generous 1,165 with the seats folded. Adding an electronic handbrake across the range has also freed up more storage space you dont feel any sense of compromise for those stunning looks.
The engine range also means the GTC can be bought and run for less than you might think: the entry-level 1.4-litre Turbo model checks in at £18,495 and offers a brisk 0-62mph time of 10.2 seconds alongside 47.1mpg combined and 140g/km of CO2. But to really tax the able chassis you need one of the bigger powerplants, and the 2.0-litre CDTi unit has an ample 258lb.ft of torque to get you going.
With this particular engine in front of you, the GTC has plenty to offer the keen driver. The flexible nature of the four-cylinder diesel allows effortless acceleration, whether keeping pace with urban traffic or making serious progress along a challenging B-road. The gearshift is positive and shifts in a smooth fashion while the brakes are strong. The real challenge comes when you power out of a tight bend, but the trick front suspension clearly does its job: the ESP light may flash at you if youre really trying, but the power is put down cleanly and without fuss, while the steering feels uncorrupted. So you can enjoy the GTC without really thinking about which wheels are handling the power always a good sign.
The GTC also strikes a useful balance between fun and everyday comfort. The option of Flexride gives even more scope, allowing the driver to switch between three settings for the suspension, steering and throttle response for extra control. However even without, few will find the GTC to be anything other than comfortable in pretty much all conditions.
And perhaps most importantly of all, Vauxhall claims the GTC undercuts its key opposition. An SRi 1.4 Turbo GTC is just £255 more than the equivalent five-door Astra hatchback, despite the significantly improved suspension layout and sharper looks. Its a rare car that gives you extra style and driving pleasure with so little in the way of compromise.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Vauxhall Astra GTC 2.0 CDTi SRi, £22,430
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit producing 163bhp and 258lb.ft of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 131mph, 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds
Economy: 58.9mpg combined
Emissions: 127g/km CO2