Polish-built Astra GTC shares only door handles and aerial with five-door

Polish-built Astra GTC shares only door handles and aerial with five-door

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General Motors Europe could rearrange the distribution of Astra production with the next generation car, swapping the three-door GTC hatchback version and the five-door Tourer (wagon) between Poland and Ellesmere Port (England) so cars are built closer to the markets in which they are most popular.

Insiders at the latest GTC's UK launch said most English-built Tourers are exported while the UK would be the strongest market for the GTC and thought had been given to building the GTC in England and the Tourer in Europe as the cost of exporting "concerned the bean counters". Final decisions await a verdict on whether Ellesmere Port gets the nod to build the range-extender Ampera.

For now, Poland builds the GTC, some five-door hatchbacks and "a planned new body style" which was all but confirmed as the four-door sedan, a variant favoured in some European markets such as Ireland and southern and eastern countries. Insiders said this was not too different from the new Buick Verano that is just going on sale in the US but would have a new nose and tail.

The outgoing three-door Astra Sports Hatch is a sharp looker and the new GTC is extremely attractive and sporty looking. Rather than use a low-specced three-door as an entry-level buyer grabber, GM Europe leaves that to the numerous offerings in its smaller B-segment Corsa supermini line and has turned the C-segment Astra trois-porte into a high-spec, sporty coupe hunting the likes of the Volkswagen Scirocco and Renault Megane; there's no equivalent Ford Focus.

Some effort has gone into this. While dashboards and powertrains are shared with the cooking five-door hatch and wagon models, the GTC shares only its door handles and radio aerial with siblings. Everything, as Russelsheim-based Brit and chief exterior designer Andrew Dyson explained in a walk-around, is new, from the deeper nose to the reversed hockey-stick side crease line that starts at the front on the GTC rather than ending in the rear doors on the five-door cars. Subtle 'GTC' lettering is moulded into the front foglamp surrounds and the lower grille bars reflect the side creases.

The GTC also gets big brother Insignia's HiPerStruts front suspension which reduces kingpin inclination angle 44% and shortens spindle length 46%. The result is reduced torque steer and less camber change when cornering, improving grip and steering feel.

The UK offer is a simple choice - Sport or SRi with three turbo petrol or three diesel engines. Two can be had with six-speed automatic; six-speed manual is standard. Prices start at a relatively steep GBP18,495, definitely not entry level.

The petrol engines are 120PS and 140PS versions of the 1.4 - both with stop-start as standard - and a 180PS 1.6. Diesels are 110PS and 130PS 1.7, the latter expected to be the most popular in the UK, and a 165PS 2.0. All diesels have start-stop and an even lower emissions EcoFlex 1.7 arrives later in 2012. The automatic is optional with the 140PS 1.4 petrol and the two-litre diesel.

Sport trim includes ESP, 18-inch alloys, a/c, digital radio and cruise control; the SRi, distinguished by chrome window outliners and front foglamps, also adds sport front seats, automatic wipers and lights, trip computer, electric park brake, hill start assist, a front armres and dark tinted rear side windows.

Handling and ride were honed on British roads and a zip around Worcestershire countryside showed willing and torquey engines - we sampled the 140PS 1.4 and 1.6T and the two-litre diesel - and very precise handling albeit with the jiggly ride you expect on a minimum of 18-inch wheels. Nineteen and 20-inch are in the options list which consists of various individual items and some packs.

But looks and spec will sell these. Order books opened in September and deliveries start in January. One of our number has an outgoing Sport Hatch with a year's lease to go. Our recommendation on replacement is in...