2005 Opel Astra GTC

Just like Ford with the Focus, Opel has injected some sex appeal into the cheapest version of its big selling Astra sub-compact. The GTC (for Gran Turismo Compact) is a sleek three-door hatch that has a 0.6-inch lower roofline and unique sheet metal to differentiate it from its five-door sibling. The so-called Panorama windshield option is a unique feature that survives from the concept car shown at the 2003 Geneva motor show: the windshield effectively extends all the way back to the B-post to give the impression of a much airier cabin.

At launch, the GTC has a choice of five gasoline and three common-rail diesel engines, ranging from a 90 hp 1.4-liter in-line four to a 200-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four. Later on, a hot 230 hp turbo will join the lineup. Exemplifying how sophisticated European small cars are becoming, the GTC is available with an adaptive electronic damping system that has a driver switchable sport mode that also sharpens throttle and steering responses. With automatic and manu-matic transmissions, the shift points are also modified.

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