Friday, 5 April 2013

mkI Astra GTE - Driven

Modern hatchbacks could learn a thing or two from the first-generation Astra GTE. It doesn't have stop-start technology or an electronic handbrake. There's no parking sensors or heated memory seats. It doesn't even have power steering or ABS. And it's all the more entertaining for it.
It is, in many ways, the archetypal 1980s hot hatch - as white as a Southend stiletto, with the all-encompassing colour-coding stretching across the bumpers, sideskirts, arch extensions and even the wheels. But for all its aesthetic trinketry, it's not extravagantly showy; there's no boisterous spoiler on the tailgate, simply a satin black strip with some explanatory badging.
The fuel-injected, 1,800cc variant of Vauxhall's trusty OHC engine offers up a usable 115bhp - interestingly, this gives it 115bhp/ton and a top speed of 115mph - and it can pounce from 0-60mph in 8.5 seconds, which is not to be sniffed at. Sure, it's not ballistic pace, but that kind of behaviour isn't really what the GTE's about (and you wouldn't want it to be much quicker, to be honest - the brakes are, er, rather less than eager...); what this eighties poppet offers is scalpel-sharp steering, planted handling, lightweight nimbleness that makes it a joy to swoop and swerve down B-roads and, if you're brave enough in the corners, a surprising smidge of oversteer, just like a 205 GTI.
This, then, is hot hatchery at its finest - snuggled in a huggy Recaro, feeling every ripple and catseye through the wheel, barking to the redline and dancing through the curves, all the while encased in magnificent old-school angularity. What a marvellous little machine.

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