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Over there and not over here
  ... Opel Astra GTC Turbo

  Unless you are a religious fanatic about German cars, you probably wouldn’t remember that one of the last Opel models to reach our shores was the sporty Opel Mantra (1971-1975) or that the last American Opel was an Opel in name only, the easily forgotten Buick Isuzu Opel (late Seventies), less than affectionately nicknamed the “Jopal” because it actually came from Japan, not Germany.  Of course we’ve had our small share of Opel-based GM cars more recently, the bland and underpowered Cadillac Catera and the much more likeable Chevy Malibu Maxx are both Opel-based.  But if you want to sample any of the current Opel offerings, you’ve got to travel to Europe as I did recently to attend the Frankfurt Auto Show.  (By the way, there’s a ray of hope for you as an automotive historian if you can find the error in this paragraph.)

  A call to GM PR got me linked into Klaus-Peter Martin in International Public Relations who arranged for me to pick up an Opel Astra GTC Turbo in Russelsheim.  Martin’s last words to me were, “The Turbo’s a fast ride.  You’ll like it.”

  Boy was he right!  The GTC in the name stands for Grand Turismo Compact, which gives you some idea of the same of the car.  It’s a two-door hatchback coupe, about the same size as a Ford Focus ZX3 or a Toyota Celica.  But those three letters say nothing about the “Fast.”  That comes from a turbocharged 2.0- liter 4-cylinder pumping out 200 bhp, which makes the GTC one of the fastest cars in the compact segment according to Opel calculations.  I didn’t have a drag strip in Frankfurt to check acceleration times, but the factory quotes a maximum speed of 234 kph (146 mph) and 0 to 100 kph (0-62 mph) acceleration in just 7.8 seconds. For the sprint from 80-120 kph in fifth gear the 200 bhp GTC Turbo needs only 0.1 seconds longer. This excellent flexibility is due to the torque characteristics: 250 Nm (185 lb-ft) are available over a broad rev band from as low as 1950 rpm and the peak value of 262 Nm (193 lb-ft) is reached at 4200 rpm.

  I can report that this 2-liter provides smooth, aggressive, seamless acceleration sans turbo lag, that it runs eagerly and effortlessly to its 6500-rpm redline and that it cruises comfortably at 200+ kph.  The turbo is mated to an excellent 6-speed gearbox that offers smooth precise gear changes and aggressive gearing that makes this combination ideal for the cut and thrust of European driving.

  A big disc brake at every wheel provides anchors-out stopping capability, ideal for those Autobahn “moments” when that lorry running 100 kph slower decides “now” is the time to pull out and pass.  But I’d prefer a bit higher pedal effort for smoother heel-and-toe downshifts.

  While the GTC’s basic suspension already offers exemplary road behavior, the adaptive IDSPlus suspension system available as an option sets new and even higher standards in road dynamics and active safety. Numerous high-tech solutions make this possible, including networking the sensors and control units of all the road dynamics systems together to create an integrated suspension control system. The various control units are networked via three innovative CAN bus systems (Controller Area Network).

  An essential element of the IDSPlus concept is the CDC (Continuous Damping Control) system, which used to be available only for exclusive luxury and sports cars before its introduction in the compact car category on the new Astra. CDC adjusts the characteristics of the four shock absorbers, which are controlled by solenoid valves, steplessly and continuously to match road conditions, vehicle movements and driving style. The controlled damping always offers the highest possible ride comfort, improves wheel grip in all driving situations and helps reduce braking distances.

  There is also a special Sport mode that can be selected by the driver with the SportSwitch (standard with IDSPlus and on the GTC Sport).  Activating the sports mode firms the shock absorbers (only on IDSPlus), quickens and firms the steering and quickens accelerator pedal response. The driver can also choose to switch off ESPPlus, the Astra’s stability control program.

  In practice all this chassis technology works extremely well.  It is virtually impossible to detect the front-wheel-drive configuration of this sporty coupe. There are none of the usual giveaways: torque steer, torque tightening and understeer under power that characterize the typical front-driver.  The balance this chassis exhibits is superb, closer to all-wheel drive than front-wheel drive.  I can’t name another car that would rate this compliment. And Opel has a 240-bhp version waiting in the wings that they say is just as good.

  Inside, the sporty character of the Astra continues with comfortable seats featuring excellent bolstering and numerous manual adjustments.  Gauges are large and readable.  There’s a fair amount of hard plastic used on interior surfaces, but the quality of the materials used and the fit and finish are all very good.

  At a price around 25,000 Euros (multiply by 1.3 to convert to dollars), the Astra GTC is a performance bargain.  When I returned to the U.S., I told Klaus-Peter that if Mssrs Wagoner and Lutz were serious about a GM performance division, they should stop fooling around and place the GTC Turbo at point for a group of imported Opel models.

I’ll make it a point to be first on line for a GTC!

                                                                                                                     John Dinkel
                                                                                                                     October 2005

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