Back in the early 80s Vauxhall introduced the Mk1 Astra 1.8i GTE. Capable of 0-60 in 8.5 and good for 116mph, it was perhaps more than a match for its brakes. Nowadays, tidy examples are still pounding our roads most sadly covered in Max Power stickers.
In the Late 80s the Mk2 set out to push the boundaries even further with 0-60 in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. However this time better brakes helped make the car a more pleasurable ride.
1991 said good bye to the GTE and hello to the Mk3 GSI which was even quicker, hitting 60mph in 7.2 and rocketing up to130mph. The older brothers were raw and aggressive but the Mk3 seemed to have attended finishing school. Perhaps it had become rather too well-behaved.
In 1994 the GSI was terminated and so was any chance of driving a quick Astra. Years passed with just a few hints of something hot until those letters once again were spoken
I hoped that Vauxhall would take the opportunity to give us back a true GTE like hot hatch. As I looked out the window at the blue GSI which had appeared on my drive I was hoping that the sporty looks would be more than skin deep.
A quick trip round the block was in order so shoes on and to the car I trotted. As I peered in I was pleasantly surprised to see a very nice set of bucketed Recaro’s in the front, finished in part leather. The dashboard had been sprinkled with silver and chrome touches, making it far more pleasing on the eye than previous Astras.
Starting the engine produced no real aural delights but I had not expected any with an Ecotec engine. Exiting the road for just a quick trip round the block I pressed the right pedal to a more comfortable position. As I hurtled down the road snatching second and third at just 4000rpm, surfing an impressive wave of torque, I considered my route. Just over an hour later I returned to find dinner most certainly in the dog!
Looking back at the car and that large GSI badge I was glad to see things had once again moved forward for the Astra.
For most cars it takes a few drives to really get to know them. The GSI though just took a few miles. Could this be a “Vauxhall comfort feeling ?” I felt like I could chuck it at any corner and I would be given feedback and kept safe with the fat tyres, tuned suspension and computer brain watching over me.
The GSI is quicker than any other Astra but feels like it is held with a large magnet to the road. Chuck it into a series of bends and find yourself at the other end relaxed and able to fiddle with the fantastic optional colour Sat Nav system.
Motorways are best avoided in some of the current hot hatches. The Astra on the other hand behaves like a larger cruiser and is a far better hatchback than any I have driven over longer distances.
One of the great advantages of having a turbo is mid range grunt. The GSI has it by the bucket load and can pull away from almost all other motorway rivals without needing to drop a cog. This makes for swift and relaxed progress on the motorway and one happy relaxed driver at the end of the trip.
Each time I hopped into this car I was more impressed. Country roads bring a different side out. Keep your foot planted and be impressed. This car is not a rollerskate, nor does it pretend to be. It has a lot of power, a good deal of grip and brakes capable of getting you out of trouble should you have a rush of blood.
Round town in heavy traffic
The seats are perhaps the best I have sampled or a least up there with the Civic Type R. Sitting perhaps a bit more cushioned than in the Honda, town driving was a pleasure. Light clutch and steering make the GSI a pussy cat around town.
I have seen all kinds of results stating the GSI can do 0-60 as quick as 6.0 seconds. We managed with two people in the car to hit 6.95 seconds with the traction control switched off. Due to time limitations we did not do any runs with just the driver and it would be fair to assume a significant improvement in time without Neil’s extra weight.
Engine Type...............4 cylinder
Gear Box....................5-speed manual
Torque........................184lb ft @1950rpm
Price £16195 Vauxhall internet price
I was concerned the GSI would have lost the old mk2’s magic and become overweight and boring. Well it has lost the rough edges and I don’t feel scared driving it but is that a bad thing ? I don’t think so - perhaps with age comes some kind of self preservation. The new breed of GSI is fast, fun and far more complete than I could have imagined.
If you want track day style thrills then buy a Renault Clio 172 Cup. Should you want a mixture of thrills and creature comforts then get yourself a test drive and see for yourself.
THANKS TO VAUXHALL FOR THE LOAN OF THE CAR