Vauxhall introduces its new GSe performance label on the plug-in hybrid Astra
When the invite came in to drive the new Vauxhall Astra GSe, the new Vauxhall Astra range-topper with mildly sporting aspirations, I must confess that I thought it was the electric Astra. We know it’s coming, and it wouldn’t be the first time that a Stellantis EV was better to drive than its ICE relatives, so it would make sense and be a nice statement that Vauxhall is working on making EVs fun.
Instead, the Astra GSe is a collection of very familiar elements. The powertrain is actually just the 225PS plug-in hybrid we know from many other cars, including the Peugeot 308 and the Vauxhall Grandland. As in the other Stellantis hybrids, the 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine is assisted by a 107bhp electric motor and 9.9kWh (usable) battery.
In the Astra GSe hatchback, the battery is WLTP rated for an electric range of 40 miles, which means it incurs only 8% company car tax. The slightly heavier Astra Sports Tourer estate gives up only a single mile, but that’s enough for it to be pushed to the 12% band, like most rivals.
The Astra GSe sits above the Astra Hybrid 180 in the range and additionally gets a more dynamic suspension set-up, with a 10mm-lower ride height, Koni frequency-selective dampers and a more permissive stability control system. Standard equipment is also pretty generous, with a head-up display, matrix LED headlights, wireless charging and a suite of driver assistance features. Visually, it’s marked out as the GSe by unique 18in alloy wheels, a unique front bumper and a black roof.
For all its sporty badging, though, the Astra GSe feels like a particularly easy-going car. You sit in heavily bolstered sport seats but they’re also softly padded and supremely comfortable. You hold a steering wheel with a pleasantly thin rim, and as you move off silently on electric power, the ride doesn’t feel like that of a hot hatch either.
To the contrary, the Astra GSe is quite softly suspended, with little of the brittleness of the standard car. On the flip side, it exhibits a fair bit of roll in the corners for something with a sporty badge, and the grip provided by the Michelin Primacy 4 tyres is sufficient rather than tenacious. Sport mode adds some heft to the steering and ensures the engine is always primed to jump in, but it doesn’t affect the suspension. It ultimately feels quite harmonious, so the Astra GSe can be quite satisfying on a twisty road, but it’s never exciting.
This might all sound disappointing, and if you were hoping for a more ecologically responsible VXR successor, it will be. But when we consider the ingredients Vauxhall is working with here, I reckon it has made the right decision not to give it an overly aggressive chassis.
The hybrid powertrain is exactly the same as in every other 225 Hybrid Stellantis product: very quiet and pretty slick when you take it easy, but not dynamic in the slightest because there’s no manual mode for the gearbox and the engine’s response and voice can be quite reluctant. Mat the accelerator, and as long as there’s a decent amount of charge in the battery, it will shift, but it never feels like it particularly wants to.
All in all, the Astra GSe is a nicely rounded everyday plug-in hybrid. Its overt billing as a performance model is questionable, especially since a Peugeot 308 or DS 4 with the same powertrain won’t be any slower, but it also doesn’t harm the car in any way.
The latest Astra is a good-looking car, especially on big wheels, and the interior and infotainment are on a par with rivals’ in most ways, but with a dash of extra user-friendliness thrown in. As a product, it has never been more appealing, and if you’re after a plug-in hybrid, that holds true for the GSe as well – more so than the existing Astra hybrid.
As it stands, the GSe is only £150 more expensive than the similarly equipped but slower 180 Hybrid Ultimate, which renders the latter slightly redundant. At £40,550, the GSe is still not cheap, but it’s better value than the equivalent Volkswagen Golf GTE, Peugeot 308 or Cupra Leon hybrid.
Don’t be fooled by the sporty badge: the Astra GSe isn’t. That’s no bad thing, though. It’s just a very rounded plug-in hybrid hatchback and barely more expensive than the 180 Hybrid.