Four-wheel-drive hybrid Grandland is reborn as a sporty GSe
Vauxhall is launching its electrified performance brand GSe, which will in time spread to the majority of the range. For now, the Astra has had most of the GSe attention, but because the Vauxhall Grandland SUV has recently been facelifted, it’s a good opportunity for the firm to give it the GSe treatment as well.
Unlike the Astra GSe, the Vauxhall Grandland GSe isn’t even a new powertrain option for the model. The artist formerly known as Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 300 retains its 296bhp plug-in hybrid system. It is composed of the familiar 1.6-litre turbo four in a 197bhp state of tune, assisted by a 108bhp motor sandwiched between the piston engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox, and a 111bhp one on the rear axle providing the four-wheel drive.
It does, of course, receive all the same facelift tweaks as the rest of the Grandland range, so it adopts the more distinctive ‘Vizor’ grille that is being rolled out across the Vauxhall range. Inside, all Grandlands get the twin-screen ‘Pure Panel’ for the gauges and the digital gauge cluster.
GSe-specific tweaks include quicker steering, firmer springs with frequency-selective dampers, unique 19in wheels, a black roof and bonnet, sport seats and a sport steering wheel. The engineers say the biggest improvement is in the chassis, which is now better up to the task of dealing with nearly 300bhp and 384lb ft.
In practice, the chassis and powertrain don’t so much fight as just each do their own thing. We’ve driven this 300PS version of Stellantis’s plug-in hybrid system in a few different cars now and it rarely fails to disappoint. With enough juice in the car’s battery, I don’t doubt the 6.1sec 0-62mph claim, but it just never sounds very happy about it, and it feels like a bit of a waste to have that much power in a car like this.
With an empty battery and therefore less power available from the electric motors, the engine and gearbox have to work even harder, which hurts both power and refinement. The advantages over the cheaper, front-wheel-drive 225PS plug-in hybrid are a lot smaller than they look on paper. It’s better to view this as the four-wheel-drive version rather than the performance one.
The Grandland GSe may have almost as much power as the Volkswagen Tiguan R, but that’s where the similarities end. The Grandland has a lumpy, thumpy ride but offers very little for the interested driver, either. Light, numb steering and fairly disappointing levels of grip from by the Michelin e-Primacy tyres see to that, and there is little sense that the rear axle has much of a say in proceedings.
Inside, the facelift tweaks can’t hide that the Grandland is quite an old model. The piece of gloss black plastic that joins the gauge cluster and the centre screen together is supposed to mimic the slick curved ‘Pure Panel’ that’s in the newer Astra and Mokka, but it’s not fooling anyone.
A good selection of physical buttons can’t compensate for the illogical, slow previous-gen infotainment system. The general materials, design and ambience aren’t offensive, just a bit forgettable. The Grandland has never been one of the roomiest options in its class, either, and its 390-litre boot is only slightly larger than an Astra hatchback’s, let alone an Astra Sports Tourer’s.
Unlike other Vauxhall models, which are priced at the upper end of the non-premium side of their segments, the Grandland GSe is actually slightly cheaper than many of its rivals, and its 40 miles of electric-only range on the WLTP cycle mean that company car tax stands at just 8% instead of 12%. That tax benefit also applies to the Kia Sportage PHEV and Toyota RAV4 PHEV, however, and while they are more expensive, they also feel it.