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First drive: Vauxhall Astra Electric. Image by Vauxhall.

First drive: Vauxhall Astra Electric
Vauxhall adds a fully electric version of the Astra to the line-up for the first time. So what’s the plainly named Astra Electric like?


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Vauxhall Astra Electric

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With a big box of electrical bits and pieces to go at, courtesy of being part of the Stellantis conglomerate, for the first time in its history the Vauxhall Astra gets a completely electric model, called, er... the Electric, a striking bit of automotive plainspeak in an era when such a thing isn't always a given. Anyway, with familiar electric vehicle (EV) underpinnings, but perhaps the slight apprehension that this bigger body is a stretch too far for a relatively modest e-motor/battery array, is the Astra Electric worthy of your serious consideration when it comes to family car choices?

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate
Price: Astra from £26,960, Electric from £37,795, Ultimate as tested £43,960
Motor: 115kW front-mounted electric motor
Battery: 54kWh lithium-ion, 51kWh usable
Transmission: single-speed reduction-gear automatic, front-wheel drive
Power: 156hp (Sport mode)
Torque: 270Nm (Sport mode)
Emissions: 0g/km
Economy: 4.2 miles/kWh (quoted)
Range: 258 miles
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 105mph
Boot space: 352-1,268 litres


There's no doubting the current eighth-generation Vauxhall Astra is a good-looking contrivance. With its clean, sharp lines, the corporate 'Vizor' front-end styling, contrasting black roof (on upper GS and Ultimate models) and clean tailgate, it makes for an attractive hatchback shape. If you want it, there's now a Sports Tourer estate variant, which as the Electric is much more of a rarity in the current automotive landscape than a zero-emissions five-door hatchback, but either variant of the Vauxhall is going to sit nicely on your driveway for the neighbours to admire. The only visual difference between the Electric models and the ones fitted with internal combustion engines is a small 'e' logo on the bootlid, to the right of the spaced-out 'Astra' wording; discretion is the better part of valour, or something along those lines, Vauxhall clearly reckons.


Sigh. We feel like we've been bleating on about this for decades now, but the point remains valid. Who is it in the design department, either at Vauxhall or, more likely, at the Opel headquarters in Germany, who's so fond of black-on-black-on-black interiors? Come on, own up! In all seriousness, this ranting detracts from the fact that the aesthetic dreariness of the Astra's cabin lets down what is otherwise an amenable passenger compartment. This is because every model gets the twin ten-inch screens of what Vauxhall calls Pure Panel, while the general materials used in the construction of the main surfaces are all absolutely fine.

Ergonomically, it's good too, with sensible button layout and AGR-approved seats in the front. But, aside from a diagonal slash on the passenger dash and a few half-hearted fillets of slightly lighter-than-black grey here and there, it's all uniformly dark and uninteresting. This is a trait we've noticed with the cabins of the marque within Stellantis that is now most closely affiliated with Vauxhall, namely Citroen, and we'd really, really like it to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible, please. You only have to sit in the related Peugeot cars to see how much more pleasing on the eye a car's interior can be for no extra cost.


No major gripes with the Vauxhall's overall practicality, save for the usual EV-related whinge that the boot space is smaller on the Electric than it is on the Astras fitted with the 1.2-litre PureTech three-cylinder petrol. Those cars enjoy 422 litres rear seats up and 1,339 litres with the second row folded away, but - like the plug-in hybrid models - the Astra Electric loses 70 or 71 litres on those numbers respectively, resulting in a 352-litre boot with a full complement of humans onboard and a maximum of 1,268 litres with just the front seats in action. At least rear-seat passenger space is good in the Astra, while interior storage compartments and door bins are all of a useful size and design too.


Like the Peugeot E-308, the Vauxhall Astra Electric only uses the new 115kW/54kWh zero-emission drivetrain filtering throughout the wider Stellantis family these days, rather than the 100kW/50kWh set-up that was in the first-generation EVs from the automotive supergroup. This means the Astra has up to 156hp and 270Nm, that latter figure a marginal 10Nm increase on this powertrain's application in smaller Stellantis EVs to account for the Astra's greater mass.

But you only get those outputs with the car in Sport mode. Otherwise, in Normal you're looking at 136hp and 250Nm - and it's this middle ground the Vauxhall defaults to every time you start it up - while the Eco setting reduces the electric motor's grunt yet further, to 109hp and 220Nm.

It doesn't really matter what mode you're in, though - the fact of the matter is the Astra Electric doesn't feel very, well, electric. You're talking about a maximum of 156hp trying to shift along a portly 1,736kg of car, which equates to a mere 90hp/tonne (we'll save you the maths: it's 63hp/tonne in Eco). And 270Nm isn't a huge torque figure, either, so if you're coming into the Astra Electric driving experience hoping for huge shove-in-the-back acceleration and a feeling of instant-zip throttle response everywhere, forget about it.

In fairness to Vauxhall, it doesn't try and position the Astra Electric as a performance car in any way, shape or form - it's not available in the sporty GSe specification, for instance - and it's also no less powerful nor torquey than other EVs in the Stellantis fold. But we come back to the size of the car again. It almost feels, for a C-segment vehicle like this, that the outputs should have been shoved up to 200hp and 300Nm minimum. That would help overcome the fact that the Electric, which Vauxhall proudly touts as only being 58kg heavier than the 180 plug-in hybrid Astra (and a mere 33kg portlier than the GSe), is a whopping 365 kilos more than even the stoutest model fitted with the 1.2-litre petrol motor.

Oh well. It's not as if the Astra Electric is unpleasant to drive as a result. It's got enough oomph to get from 0-40mph smartly enough and there's smooth roll-on acceleration on offer too, so it never feels like you have to treat the accelerator pedal like an on-off switch in daily driving just to keep up with regular traffic flow.

In fact, the calibration of all the Astra's major controls is pretty much spot on. The steering's nicely weighted and consistent, the regenerative brakes don't feel appallingly mushy underfoot, the throttle (still don't like calling it that, although we suppose you're 'throttling' electrons, in a way) responds nicely, even in its softest Eco setting, and the way the Astra Electric transmits its resources to the tarmac seems faithful enough. We'd been warned it was a bit torque-steery and unruly under full power, but on slimy, badly cambered and sometimes outright treacherous Cotswolds roads, we found no appreciable bad behaviour from the front axle.

Moving to its other form of 'performance', the Astra Electric's charging times are familiar if you know about the Stellantis EVs using the same architecture. At its maximum 100kW DC rate, it'll jump from 20 to 80 per cent state of charge in the battery in 26 minutes, while 11kW onboard AC charging compatibility will see a complete 'empty-to-full' top-up done with in five hours and 45 minutes. Your more typical 7kW domestic wallbox on a single-phase electricity source will do the same 0-100 per cent complete charge in eight hours.

Ride & Handling

Like the Astra Electric's performance, the ride and handling is more than acceptable for the daily usage patterns of the targeted end users, without ever being in any way remarkable. Reminiscent of Volkswagens of about ten to fifteen years ago, there's a competent, straitlaced assurance to everything the Vauxhall does dynamically that makes it very, very hard to fault. And also next to impossible to love.

As we've already touched upon, those modest power and torque outputs mean the electric powertrain doesn't overwhelm the grip of the Astra's front tyres, so the nose-led wildness of some Vauxhalls of old isn't to be found. The steering, again already mentioned, is actually pretty decent and there's also impressive body control, a direct corollary of the fact that the Electric has torsional rigidity that's 31 per cent better than that of the petrol Astra models due to the inherent structural benefits its EV battery pack brings to the party. So through the corners, it doesn't lean lots, instead keeping its shell on an even keel.

What it also doesn't do is give you anything in the way of meaningful feel. You can stoke - again, that's probably not the right florid verb for an electric car, but we'll go with it anyway - the Astra Electric along a flowing back road and it will put on a technically disciplined display. But we defy you to get any joy or excitement out of it in the process. Again, as we said with the ho-hum straight-line performance of the car, this is not a dealbreaker because Vauxhall isn't setting up the Astra Electric to be some kind of hot hatch sans an engine. It's just that there are other 'run-of-the-mill' EVs which drive with more sparkle and involvement than this. Rather worryingly for Vauxhall's chassis engineers, the Peugeot E-308 is one of them.

Finishing on a positive note, rolling refinement and ride comfort are the Astra's real strengths, as it proves to be quiet and supple around towns, and elegantly composed at soaking up the bumps on faster extra-urban routes. Strangely, there seemed to be a gnat's more tyre cavitation echoing around the back of the Astra Electric's roomier cabin than in a (marginally) cheaper and car-from-the-class-down Corsa Electric driven on the same day, which is a bizarre turn up for the books, but it was by no means an excessive level of roar that was evident. In general, then, for inoffensive day-to-day driving manners, this Vauxhall is tuned almost to the point of perfection.


And this is what the whole case against the Astra pivots on. In this day and age of financing a car, rather than ever buying it outright, it is not always wise to get hung up on the lump sum of cash you'd need to cover the published list price. We fully accept that. We also fully accept Vauxhall's very earnest and carefully considered maths that was shown to us in a presentation slide, which suggested that when you factor its lower running costs, tax implications, servicing requirements and predicted depreciation into the mix, then over the cost of a certain PCP contract the Astra Electric actually costs about the same as a model fitted with the 1.2-litre 130hp engine.

Which would be fine, but for two things. One, that PCP deal was over the course of five years, and we're not sure many people want to be tied into a single car for 60 months these days. And two, in order to equalise the whole formula, you need to be charging the Astra Electric at home, all the time, on a wallbox where you get something like 8p/kWh.

Further, we - and, judging by a lot of responses on social media as well, most car fans - just cannot get over the fact that what you're looking at here is a £44,000 Astra. Even allowing for its advanced electrical powertrain and the rising cost of new cars and inflation and everything, that just seems like a colossal amount for an EV that simply isn't that impressive and which feels like the ultimate distillation of the unemotional 'car as appliance' ethos.

They might not be the same class of vehicle, but both the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 are in the £39,000-£48,000 ballpark for starting figures. And, as you're probably well aware, even in their lowlier specifications they're both longer-range EVs than the Vauxhall, while they also offer a truly premium ownership experience, one way or the other. And that's saying nothing of the talented likes of the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the Kia EV6, the Volkswagen ID.3. All similar money, or less (in the case of the VW). All more powerful. All more appealing, for various individual reasons, than the Vauxhall.

So the Astra is, frankly, too much money for what it is. At least you get lots of kit for your money. Basic Design cars come with items like LED exterior lights, cruise control, the digital Pure Panel driver interface, front and rear parking sensors, keyless go and 18-inch alloys on the kit list, these last items differentiating the Astra Electric from the petrol Design models, which have weedy-looking 16-inch silver affairs.

We'd expect most to want a GS at the least, though, for its heated front seats and steering wheel, 360-degree camera system, dual-zone climate control, radar cruise and the contrast roof. Ultimate spec loads in all the goodies, but both it and the GS are already the wrong side of 40 large without even adding any of the (very few) options Vauxhall offers for the Astra Electric.


It might seem grossly unfair of us to give this Vauxhall Astra Electric just three stars, when the almost-identical Peugeot E-308 garnered a four-star review barely two months ago. But allow us to explain our seemingly contrary reasoning: one, Peugeot - rightly or wrongly, and Stellantis itself would go with the former here as it is where it has tried to position the French brand for years now - is a more upmarket brand compared to Vauxhall, which makes the high purchase price of the E-308 make a touch more sense (but only a touch, mark you); two, the Peugeot has by far and away the more interesting and high-grade interior out of the two cars; and three, it also drives in a more vivacious and enjoyable fashion than the buttoned-down Astra.

And it is these little erosions in perceived quality from the Peugeot's level which, all added up, do enough to dock the Astra a whole star. Because, without a relatively playful chassis underneath you or a much more cosseting cabin to luxuriate in, regrettably you then start to focus on the fact that in Ultimate trim, this is a 44-grand car... with a maximum theoretical range of 258 miles. Its price looks little short of bonkers in the face of a stripped-back, 319-mile Polestar 2, which really isn't that much more money. At all.

It's a fine enough effort, the Astra Electric, and no doubt it will make plenty of company car lists in the coming months, but as a private purchase? It's just too expensive and too 'mid' for what it is. Knock a couple of grand off the list prices, though, or get the claimed range up and around the 300-320-mile marker, and this zero-emission Vauxhall would start to make an awful lot more sense.

Matt Robinson - 6 Dec 2023    - Vauxhall road tests
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2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.

2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.2024 Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate. Image by Vauxhall.


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