It's also - thankfully - very different from the liveliest Astra of all, the 206kW OPC. That car I found to be a bridge too far when I drove it a year or so ago. It's so close to a dedicated track weapon that, once the gloss of its exhilarating performance wears off, it begins to irritate in everyday use. It's also far too expensive, at a smidgeon under half a million rand. This brings the OPC almost into the territory of the superb Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG, with its 265kW/450Nm engine delivering blistering performance in a refined, easy-to-live with package selling for R634 517.
Anyway, the 1.6-litre GTC is far from a slug. Its turbocharged four-cylinder engine is good for 132kW at 5 500rpm, but you don't have to rev it hard to make it feel quick because the 266Nm of torque is all on tap from just 2 200rpm. That's good enough to get you to 100km/h within 8.3 seconds of launch, on your way to a top speed of 220km/h, and makes the six-speed manual gearbox almost feel redundant when you just feel like swanning around and letting the locals admire your wheels. And admire the car they will, because the styling is gorgeous, in my book - particularly the muscular rear end.
The interior is equally appealing, in an understated European kind of way, well laid-out and classily finished with mostly quality materials, largely in black occasionally broken with faux aluminium matte silver trim. The ride is firm and decidedly sporty, without being harsh, and enthusiastic throttle input is rewarded with an equally enthusiastic shove in the back via the leather sports seat. The steering gives good feedback and the handling is good - on the road at least. I suspect it would be fun on a track day as well, as long as you don't try to take on one of the genuine pocket-rockets that now spoil us for choice.
The Opel Astra GTC won't fit the bill for everyone though. It's a two-door, and with it comes the usual issues with wide doors in narrow parking bays, and threatened dislocation of the spine when you have to reach far back for the seat belt. Rear accommodation is acceptable but not great, and if you've got kids the getting in and out to allow access to the playpen can become annoying. But for those who like a car with soul and who don't worry too much about kids 'n stuff the car's a great alternative to the usual sedan or boxy five-door hatch. It retails at R344 250 with a five-year/ 90 000km service plan.