Volkswagen will this year launch its much-awaited Golf V and, not to be outdone, Opel will have its competitor - the next-generation Astra - ready early next year.

Volkswagen will this year launch its much-awaited Golf V and, not to be outdone, Opel will have its competitor - the next-generation Astra - ready early next year.

The new Astra, to be revealed to the public at the upcoming Geneva Motor Show, will début in the form of the GTC Genève concept car. It will provide the clearest hint as to what the Astra will look like when it is launched in Europe in 2004.

As with Concept M, which was shown at last year’s Auto Africa motor show in Johannesburg, the GTC sports a more aggressive front bumper than we can expect on the production edition, as well as a bigger set of wheels and wilder spoilers.

However, the GTC’s taut lines, clear surfaces, three-dimensional headlights, wide wheelarches and crafted details will probably be key elements of the car that is due to replace the underrated, but not particularly inspiring, current Astra range on the South African market.

Martin Smith, Opel´s director of design, said: “With the GTC Genève we want to demonstrate how sporty a three-door sports sedan can be. Working with our vehicle concept engineers, we set out to make a very dynamic-looking car, with space for four passengers, that’s also immediately recognisable as an Opel.”

The car has a tinted, transparent roof that stretches from the windshield to the rear window. “There’s a lot going on in car design at the moment, from very traditional to almost eccentric forms,” Smith said this week. “With the GTC Genève we wanted to make a sporty statement.”

“The tapering begins just in front of and just behind the wheelarches, emphasizing the short overhangs,” said Friedhelm Engler, chief designer in Opel’s compact car studio. “

With its short overhangs, low silhouette and curved roof, the GTC is clearly the sportiest passenger that Opel has produced in recent times.

The GTC Genève´s large, three-dimensional headlights and taillights were designed to fit organically into the surrounding bodywork as if they were “settings for a piece of jewelry,” Engler added.

The designers’ fascination with detail can be seen in the individual lamps of the taillight housing. The cylindrical bulb settings look as if they were carved from a single piece of material. This form reappears again in the design of the centre high-mounted brakelight, located over the rear window.

According to , performance car fans can look forward to a 186 kW GSi edition, which will be powered by a two-litre Saab-derived turbocharged four-cylinder engine. At the other end of the range are 1,3-litre and 1,7-litre DTi diesel powerplants.

As for the petrol engines, a new 1,6-litre turbo is under development, together with revised 1,8 and two-litre units. At the very top of the line-up will be the current 2,2-litre engine. As well as offering a six-speed manual on the European market, Easytronic semi-automatic or even CVT fully automatic transmissions are under development. It's rumoured GM is considering adapting Fiat's Selespeed system for its performance flagships.