Astra GTE 16v: proof that Vauxhall did it their way
Remember 80's hot hatches? Well, despite rivals' efforts, the Volkswagen Golf GTi 16 Valve was the reigning king.
That was until Vauxhall came along with the infamous 'red top' 2.0-litre C20XE 16-valve engine for the Astra GTE, that packed 150bhp.
The Astra GTE MK2 was originally launched back in 1984 and got off to a good start by looking far more modern than its German rival - with a class-leading drag co-efficient of 0.31.
The curvy styling with the integrated rear spoiler and deeper front and rear aprons just shout 'steal me', so it's no wonder that the MK2 Astra was once the second most stolen car in its time.
It was a shame then, that it was originally powered by the weedy 115bhp 1.8-litre four-cylinder. This was upped to a gutsier 124bhp with the fitment of a 2.0-litre eight-valve, but it was still a little way behind the Golf GTi 16v's 127bhp.
Then in 1988, the GTE got the powerplant that those looks really deserved and at the recent Astra GTC launch I had a chance to have a go.
Considering hot hatches during the 80's were particularly extrovert, the Astra's transformation from eight to 16v is actually quite subtle. In fact, the only way of distinguishing between the two cars are the 16v badges on the front and rear of the car.
Inside, despite the upright dashboard, the Astra still feels surprisingly modern. The driving position is comfortable, the Recaro sports seats supportive, the three-spoke steering wheel good to hold and even the steering column adjusts for rake.
There's also lots of reasonably modern equipment including a tilt and slide sunroof, plus electric windows and mirrors.
In fact, the big giveaways to this car's age are electronic LCD instruments, the hilariously overcomplicated immobiliser and the velour trim.
This Astra GTE 16v, part of the Vauxhall's Heritage fleet, has to be the best of a dying breed. I mean, when did you last see one as good as this?
Even after 23 years, this 34,000 mile car felt particularly sprightly, that's almost too prone to wheelspin all that power away. Press on, and above 4,000rpm this engine really comes alive. Giving all the seemingly intact 150bhp progessively through the gears.
Which brings me nicely to the Astra's five-speed manual transmission; it doesn't have the sweetest of changes, but it seems to be well matched to the engine.
Even the brakes feel the measure of the performance of this car.
Cornering-wise, there's more body roll and it handles less predictably than a modern hot hatch. Still, there's plenty of grip and the only part of this car that stops you from pushing harder is the lack of feel from the steering.
So, whilst the Astra GTE 16v might lack the finesse of the Golf GTi 16v and its image brash, I think that's part of its appeal. The engine is also a gem and an unmodified example definitely deserves its place in hot hatch history.