The 2015 Holden Astra range isn’t all about extreme power and pace – that’s the domain of the Astra VXR.
Buyers who want the look of a sports car with a little more manageable performance can instead opt for the Holden Astra GTC models.
There’s the entry-level GTC and the upper-spec GTC Sport, with these three-door hatchbacks aimed at giving buyers a more style-focused alternative to the run-of-the-mill five-door options on the market.
There are plenty of competitors for the Astra GTC variants to compete with – the Hyundai Veloster, Kia Pro_cee’d GT spring to mind in the three(ish)-door body styles, while there are a range of five-door warm hatches for around the same money.
On that topic, the Astra GTC starts from a fairly shiny $26,990 plus on-road costs for the base version and $29,990 plus on-roads for the Sport - those prices are for the manual versions, with automatic models adding $2200 to the price.
The differences between the two are reasonable, though both have strong standard equipment lists. Included is a seven-inch colour media screen with satellite navigation and Smartphone app connectivity, front and rear parking sensors and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The GTC Sport adds items such as 19-inch wheels, leather trim, electric driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and a body kit.
Both the GTC and GTC Sport models come with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with the choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The auto produces 125kW of power and 260Nm of torque, while the manual has more grunt, with 147kW of power and 280Nm of torque.
Fuel consumption for the manual is also better than the automatic – 6.9 litres per 100km versus 7.5 litres per 100km – though despite the extra power and torque, the manual is said to offer an identical 0-100km/h sprint time to the automatic, at a claimed 7.9 seconds.
We managed to sample both on our test drives at the local launch of the Astra range in Queensland, and found the manual to be the more engaging and exciting option of the two.
The engine revs willingly and pulls hard from about 2500rpm onwards, with plenty of fun to be had towards the top of the rev range … so long as you remember to hit the Eco button on the dash if you want to get the most out of it – otherwise the throttle response can be dull. Eco is the mode you want to be in around town, as it activates the engine stop-start function, which isn’t available on the auto models.
The manual transmission might be a little clicky and flimsy for some people’s tastes, but the clutch action is well weighted and allows you to make the most of the grunt on offer.
The automatic, on the other hand, is a little sluggish with its gear changes, and you can feel the power and torque detriment when jumping between the two.
One thing we noticed with both versions was that the engine could be noisy at idle or low speeds, and it’s not overly quiet when you wring its neck, either. The exhaust note in the automatic model, too, could prove challenging, as it is quite droning.
The roads we sampled on the launch were great but the traffic wasn’t, so we didn’t get to push the GTC as hard as we would have liked.
What was clear from our drive, though, was that the GTC feels quite poised and well balanced through sharp corners, and comfortable and composed over longer sweeping bends.
Its steering isn’t perhaps as precise as, say, a Kia Pro_cee’d GT, nor does it feel like it wants to bite down on the road during harder higher-speed cornering. But it is predictable and nicely weighted, even despite the very large steering wheel.
The ride comfort of both models verges towards firm – as it should for what is supposed to be a sporty three-door hatch – but it’s not crashy or clumsy over bumps. The suspension recovers well when it hits potholes, and while it is jiggly over consistent ruts (more noticeable in the GTC Sport, which rides on 19-inch rims with Continental tread than in the GTC which has 18s with Bridgestone rubber), it never hits frustration point.
There is an element of frustration with the Astra, though, and that is its media system.
The MyLink 7.0-inch colour screen offers reasonable resolution and the inclusion of satellite navigation in the base models is worthy of accolade, but the usability of the system isn’t. Not by a long shot.
The media screen isn’t a touchscreen system, and there’s a confusing knob/joystick controller that is time consuming and annoying to use when you’re trying to input addresses in the sat-nav system. The menus for the radio/media/phone interfaces are also less than impressive.
That said, it does have a simple Bluetooth media system which reconnects quickly, and the requisite USB/auxiliary inputs allow for quick connectivity to a portable music player.
What impressed us most (aside from the standard equipment list) of the Astra GTC is the fact it is so roomy inside. The back seat is easily roomy enough to fit a 6’0” adult, with adequate head and leg room – even more than plenty of five-door rivals.
Getting in and out isn’t too big a chore either, as the front doors are wide and so are the apertures, with the front seats sliding forward easily courtesy of a shoulder-mount lever.
One thing the Astra could do with (and it is available on the Cascada convertible) is a seatbelt presenter that would limit the need to awkwardly reach over your shoulder to get your seatbelt. It would be easy to imagine this being a deal breaker for shorter drivers.
As is the case with all Holden models, the Astra GTC and GTC Sport models are covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty, three years roadside assist and a lifetime capped-price servicing program.
In summary, the 2015 Holden Astra GTC and GTC Sport models offer a solid alternative to some of their key rivals. For a budget-friendly warm-hatch, the base GTC manual nails the criteria, even if it misses out on some of the niceties of the GTC Sport.
If you’re after a driver’s car the automatic is a bit of a dud, but for buyers interested in style over speed, we could understand why it could make your shopping list.