Vauxhall/Opel GTC Coupe

Along with excellent design, the GTC has a gutsy V6 engine and superb 4WD system

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

There's much to like about the GTC. It looks fantastic, with a shape that's more at home in a Batman movie than on the high street. Let's hope the production Vectra has just as much road presence when it arrives in showrooms in 2008. Inside, that theme continues with a cabin that offers some brilliant design, innovation and excellent quality. Then there's the gutsy turbo V6 engine, superb four-wheel-drive system and clever adaptive suspension. So if this is the future for family Vauxhalls, then the Vectra's mainstream rivals - as well as prestige brands such as BMW - had better be very worried indeed.

Family car buyers have never had it so good! Not only has the new Ford Mondeo rewritten the rule book, but Vauxhall is poised to do the same, lining up a stunning successor to the Vectra, which will be based on this: the GTC Coupé. And Auto Express has driven it.

The undoubted star of the Geneva Motor Show in March, the dramatic concept stole the limelight from the blue oval's new family favourite with its edgy design, breathtaking detailing and futuristic technology.

It points to the look of the next-generation Vectra hatchback, saloon and estate models - due in late 2008 - and we took a test drive to find out what buyers can expect.

What strikes you immediately is the maturity of the GTC's styling. Yes, it's menacing, but it looks like a very upmarket machine and, with its sights set on bringing the quality of Audi's A4 and BMW's 3-Series to the family car market, Vauxhall is clearly trying to raise the Vectra's image.

Although the dramatic chrome-rimmed air intakes are unlikely to become a production reality, the high bonnet line and distinctive new lights will definitely make it to the showroom. And while this concept carries an Opel badge and nose, Vauxhall's now trademark V-grille will appear in the UK, with lower air dams styled to mirror this unique shape.

At the back, there's a far stronger resemblance to the existing Vectra. Both the tail-lights and the bootlid are very Vauxhall and, although the Venturi-style diffuser and chromed exhaust pipes won't be carried over, the rest of the rear end will change little before the car hits dealers.

Inside, it's a similar story. The dashboard is virtually ready for production, and with backlit red instrument dials and red-stripped seats, it looks every bit as distinctive as the exterior. The cabin is also extremely clever, as it features an ingenious four-seater arrangement called Flex4.

Developed as a continuation of the Flex7 system first seen in the Zafira people carrier, it allows the GTC to be configured as a four-seater, three-seater or two-seater. Press a button on the key fob and the rear seatbacks slide forward to meet the front chairs, leaving up to 1,020 litres of cargo capacity in two-seat mode.

Occupants in the front get plenty of space, and while the steeply sloping rear window limits headroom in the back, this shouldn't be a problem on production versions of the Vectra hatch and saloon, which will feature a much higher roofline.

With its muscular looks and huge alloys, the GTC Coupé certainly looks the part - but how does it drive? Well, for a concept car that's supposed to be more suited to show than go, it's full of promise.

Under the skin lies chassis architecture from General Motors' latest Epsilon 2 platform, which allows the fitment of an all-new four-wheel-drive system. The GTC also features adaptive suspension, offering drivers three modes: Normal, Sport and Rain/Snow. All of these innovations will appear on the production Vectra.

On our test, we selected the Sport setting over some twisting roads in France, and although it was wearing show stand tyres, the GTC performed well, with pleasing agility. Traction is also superb. The 4WD system divides torque 50:50 front to rear in normal conditions, but it can range anywhere from 60:40 on slippery surfaces to 40:60 under dry acceleration.

Power comes from a 2.8-litre V6 turbocharged direct-injection petrol engine. It delivers 295hp and 400Nm of torque, which means searing pace; 0-60mph takes around six seconds and the top speed is 155mph.

On a few steep hills, we left the six-speed manual in third gear at low revs and accelerated. Response was electric, with the V6 revving strongly all the way to 7,000rpm. And this was accompanied by a terrific 'whooshing' noise from the turbocharger.

Flagship VXR versions of the new Vectra will get this engine and transmisson and offer similar performance. But a new 2.8-litre diesel V6 will also be available, blending good economy and torquey pace. As well as this oil-burner, there will be more affordable four-cylinder petrol and diesel cars.

If it's anything like the GTC Coupé, the new Vectra will provide a sportier driving experience than any family saloon in Vauxhall's history. So, buyers have a lot to look forward to - and there isn't long to wait.

A four-door saloon concept debuts at September's Frankfurt Motor Show, with the full range on sale in summer 2008. Expect it to cost from around £17,000, with the VXR at more than £25,000. In the meantime, the new Mondeo has much to think about.

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