Monday, 8 April 2013

mkII Astra GTE 16v - Driven


Having driven the mkI Astra GTE just prior to the mkII 16v, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The mkI is so well balanced, so entertaining, so feelsome, that it's hard to see how it could be improved upon within what is fundamentally quite a similar package. But it only takes a few seconds in the mkII to change all of that...
Whereas the mkI offers a perfect representation of what 'hot hatch' entailed in the 1980s, its nineties successor neatly encapsulates how things moved on with the next generation of souped-up city cars. Where the older Astra employs a single overhead cam 8v unit, the engine in the GTE 16v is a world apart: the 2.0-litre twin-cam XE offers around 150bhp, and it's very usable power too. While the car never feels ballistic, it's eager and provides plenty of urge wherever you are in the rev range. I don't quite know how I've managed to go over three decades without ever driving one of these, but I can certainly see what the fuss is about; as you soar for the redline on that oh-so-retro digital dash, the Astra constantly goads you on to keep pushing it harder and harder - and the key advantage it has over the mkI is that it has decent brakes, which inspire the confidence you need to wind it up to max on the country lanes without fear of overshooting a corner and embarrassing yourself in a hedge.
So now I'm torn. I honestly don't know what I prefer - the purity of the mkI, or the refinement of the mkII. I guess I'll have to drive them both again...







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