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► Plug-in hybrid with 222bhp
► GSe performance models to spread through range
► All to be electric or electrified
If you’re knowledgeable when it comes to 80s Opels, the fresh badge on the back of the Vauxhall Astra GSe may already be familiar. Standing for Grand Sport Einspritzung (German for injection), it was stuck to the back of the big Monza Coupe after it ditched carburettors.
Naturally, Opel and Vauxhall aren’t pushing the benefits of fuel injection these days. Instead, the ‘e’ predictably stands for electric, whether that be a full EV or plug-in hybrid. GSe launches with the latter in the shape of uprated PHEV versions of the Astra hatch and estate along with the Grandland SUV.
If you’re hoping for VXR levels of insanity you’ll be disappointed. Although GSe models will be the most powerful version of any given Vauxhall, the powertrains are lifted straight from the parts bin. In the case of the Astra GSe, it’s the widely used Stellantis Hybrid 225 powertrain.
As with the many other cars and SUVs that share this powertrain, it combines a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 178bhp, a 108bhp electric motor and a 12.4kWh battery. Combined they produce a maximum of 222bhp, an electric-only range of up to 39 miles, 26g/km of CO2 and a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds. Warmish, like the Skoda Octavia vRS iV and Volkswagen Golf GTE, but not outright hot, then.
So why bother with the GSe? Unlike 225 versions of the Peugeot 308 and DS 4, Vauxhall tweaks the Astra’s chassis for more bite. Spring rates are up, ride height is down, and the steering has been recalibrated with a faster rack, too.
While you can’t have switchable dampers like the vRS iV or Golf GTE, you do get some trick Koni shock absorbers with a clever bypass valve to help maintain ride comfort. All this is wrapped up in more aggressive-looking bumpers, fancy alloys and two-tone paint.
Fun and frugal?
On the road it feels brisk rather than outright fast, yet still struggles to deploy its electrically assisted punch at low speeds. Junctions are often left with scrabbly wheelspin and there’s more than a hint of torque steer at times, too. The fitment of Michelin Primacy rather than Pilot Sport tyres certainly won’t help, although we suspect most customers would take a bit more electric range over ultimate grip levels.
Even so, the Astra is a satisfying thing to drive up to a point. While the suspension tweaks have certainly helped agility, no mean feat given that the Astra already felt like the most athletic Stellantis hatch, there’s still plenty of compliance to the suspension. You won’t find any annoying fidget over coarse surfaces, and it rounds bigger bumps off with aplomb.
Pile into a bend and you’ll find a reassuring brake pedal – no guarantee on a PHEV – and impressively low levels of body roll. It rarely feels its 1700kg bulk, although we wish the steering was a little more talkative. The eventual understeer you’ll find is picked up on by the sound of struggling treadblocks or a widening of your line rather than anything filtering though the steering.
Here comes the rub…
So far so good, so it’s a shame that hybrid system still feels a little unpolished. Whether it’s the hesitation you feel when you stamp on the throttle, the odd clunk or thump as a gear is selected or the pained screams of a tortured four-pot, there’s frequently something to annoy.
Unsurprisingly the GSe is the most expensive version of the Astra, with a starting price that begins with a four, or more than both the GTe and vRS. At least you do get a very generous level of standard equipment to help offset this. If you’re a company car user, it’s the hatchback you want. A 40 mile electric range puts it in the 8% BIK tax bracket, while the Sports Tourer’s 39 miles cruelly drops it to 12%.
Thankfully too many touch sensitive controls won’t be one of your pet peeves. Just like the regular Vauxhall Astra hatchback and Sports Tourer, you get physical switches and knobs to control stuff like the heating and stereo. In addition, there’s GSe branded Alcantara sports seats that could do with a bit more shoulder support, and a GSe steering wheel with perforated leather and light stitching.
Vauxhall Astra GSe: verdict
So, should you shun the hot Octavia and Golf plug-ins for the high-voltage Vauxhall? On first acquaintance it’s a yes from us, albeit with a couple of chunky caveats. While it’s one of the better handling plug-in hatches out there, we suspect most people will be better served by the barely any slower and much cheaper Hybrid 180.
If you must have a racy badge, how does it compare to the Golf GTE and Octavia vRS? While those cars can’t disguise their bulk as effectively, in our experience the VAG hybrid system is smoother, more efficient with a flat battery and much less raucous.
Specs for Vauxhall Astra GSe hatchback
|Price when new:||£40,550|
|On sale in the UK:||Now|
|Engine:||1.6-litre, 4-cyl petrol plus electric motor, 222bhp, 266Ib ft|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed auto, front-wheel drive|
|Performance:||7.5sec 0-62mph, 146mph top speed, 25g/km CO2, 256.8mpg, 40 mile electric range|
|Weight / material:||1703kg/steel|
|Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):||4374/2062/1442mm|