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First drive: 2023 Vauxhall Astra GSe. Image by Opel.

First drive: 2023 Vauxhall Astra GSe
Vauxhall resorts to plug-in hybrid power for new warm hatch, but can it really compete with the best in the business?

   



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Vauxhall Astra GSe

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Vauxhall is making a return to the so-called 'warm hatch' sector of the market, but instead of using a conventional petrol engine to produce a sporty family five-door, the brand has turned to plug-in hybrid power. But is that really the way forward for high-performance hatchbacks, or will the Astra GSe struggle against its rivals?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2023 Vauxhall Astra GSe
Price: from £41,050
Engine: 1.6-litre petrol engine and 81kW electric motor
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Battery: 12.4kWh lithium-ion
Power: 225hp
Torque: 360Nm
Emissions: 25-26g/km
Range: 39 miles
Economy: 256mpg
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 146mph
Boot space: 352 litres

Styling

The GSe version of the Astra looks much the same as any other, but that doesn't mean Vauxhall hasn't tried to differentiate it. The bumpers have been restyled, and there are some new wheels, but that's about it. Of course, you get some subtle GSe badges and the suspension sits slightly lower than in the standard Astra, but few people will notice that. They might spot the two-tone paint and the black lettering, though, both of which give the Astra quite a sporty image. It's just no sportier than the stock Astra.

Interior

As with the exterior design, the Astra GSe's interior has only had a light makeover. Key to this are the GSe-branded sports seats, which are remarkably supportive, despite looking like racing buckets. Aside from that, the rest of the cabin is fairly run-of-the-mill, with much the same basic design as the standard Astra.

That means the styling is quite modern, but the materials are an issue. It feels like a mash-up of multiple materials, with no cohesion to the design and plenty of cheap plastics knocking about, although the layout is fairly clean. The digital instrument display, for example, is clean and easy to read, while the touchscreen is equally minimalist. None of it is especially clever, but it does the job.

Practicality

Cabin space is not the Astraís strong suit, but in fairness, that isnít exclusive to the GSe. Thereís no problem with space in the front, but room in the back is less generous. Headroom is adequate, as is rear legroom, but thatís all it is. And boot space is a bit meagre, too. Like other hybrid versions of the Astra, the GSe cuts the standard carís boot space from more than 420 litres to 352 Ė just a litre more than you get from a Volkswagen Polo.

Performance

Vauxhall has given the Astra GSe a high-performance version of its existing plug-in hybrid system, which combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. In total, the system sends 225hp to the front wheels, which leaves it just 20hp down compared with a VW Golf GTI. However, because itís heavier than a Golf, and it has an eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Astra is quite a lot slower than the VW. The dash to 62mph takes 7.5 seconds Ė just two-tenths faster than the 180hp Astra hybrid Ė and the top speed is 146mph.

At least the minor increase in performance is ameliorated by parity when it comes to economy. The GSe achieves exactly the same 256mpg efficiency as the standard 180hp plug-in hybrid, and the 39-mile official electric-only range is just three miles down on the conventional hybrid. Of course, youíll struggle to achieve either figure in the real world Ė youíre looking at 30 miles on a charge if youíre lucky Ė but for those with the right lifestyle, the GSe can be efficient. More to the point, company car tax rules mean it wonít break the bank on that front.

But thatís the limit of the hybrid systemís talents. The combination of engine, motor, and gearbox makes the system clunky and reluctant, giving you power when you want subtlety and failing to provide grunt when you need it. And although itís pretty refined most of the time, the noise at high engine revolutions is pretty characterless.

Ride & Handling

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the GSe is not the way it performs, but the way it drives. Vauxhall might have retuned the suspension and the steering, but the car doesnít feel much more lively than a standard Astra. The steering is still inert, albeit surprisingly heavy, and the body control is lacking, although thereís a decent amount of grip. Compared with even your common-or-garden Ford Focus, itís way behind the curve.

The one positive is that itís reasonably comfortable, in a way that most hot Ė or even warm Ė hatchbacks arenít usually. Despite the 18-inch alloys, the suspension soaks up the majority of bumps quite ably, with only the sharpest undulations making an impact. And though the carís weight isnít necessarily helpful, the GSe feels every bit as comfortable, if not more so, than the supposedly less sporty GS Line.

Value

With prices starting at just over £41,000, the Astra GSe strode straight through the realms of 'a bit pricey' on its way to the wasteland of 'downright expensive'. Yes, itís a hybrid, and it isnít all that much more expensive than other plug-in Astras, but for a five-door family hatchback with a mediocre luggage bay and a disappointing powertrain itís hardly cheap. A VW Golf GTI is a far better car with a far lower price tag, but at least the Astra comes with plenty of kit. A head-up display, 360-degree parking camera and heated seats are all present and correct, not to mention the heated steering wheel, heated windscreen and wireless phone charging.

Verdict

The GSe adds little to the Astra recipe, and while it might have some merit as a plug-in hybrid hatchback, it really doesn't have the quality to mix it with proper hot hatches. If you want a hot hatch, therefore, you're going to have to look elsewhere. But if, for whatever reason, you really want an Astra, there are far more convincing and more competitively priced options available lower down the range.



James Fossdyke - 25 Jul 2023



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Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.

Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.Vauxhall/Opel Astra GSe Hatchback. Image by Opel.







 

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