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Vauxhall Astra GSe 2023 review

Vauxhall’s new hybrid-powered Astra range-topper looks the part. Don’t be deceived…

Evo rating
Price
from £40,550
  • Polished dynamics, neat looks, quality materials throughout
  • Let down by lacklustre drivetrain and lack of performance

It’s not the done thing to deliver a strong verdict within the opening sentence of a review, but you need to know that the new £40,550 Astra GSe is no more a hot hatch than a BAC Mono R is a sensible family car. A good car, but mildly warm (some might say tepid if they were being particularly cruel) would be a more honest and closer assessment of the first GSe since the Monza. A VXR for the twenty-twenties the Astra GSe most certainly isn’t.

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It is a good car, the Astra GSe. Mark Adam and his design team have given the Peugeot 308 underpinnings a sharp set of body panels that eradicate Vauxhall's forgettable design dictated by GM’s stodgy strategy. The aerodynamic-style wheels don’t scream hot hatch and the Michelin Primacy 4 tyres that accompany them certainly wouldn’t be anyone’s choice for a car with a whiff of speed about it. But in this game every CO2 saving and additional mile of electric range counts more than a set of smart rims and sticky rubber. It’s a decision that ultimately undoes the GSe.

> Ford Focus ST Track Pack 2023 review

Inside the Astra is equally impressive as the outside, with a clear layout and screens that are easy to read and use, and demonstrate they don’t need to be the size of an iMax cinema. It even has physical controls for the likes of heater and a rotary knob to control the radio, very innovative. Of more relevance are the AGR certified seats that might lack aesthetic appeal but are an orthopaedic delight to sit in. 

The Sport Tourer estate would get the nod over the traditional five-door hatch for us, but avoid white paintwork like the plague, unless you work in Europcar’s fleet department of course.

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If you are familiar with Peugeot’s 308 GT you’ll recognise the GSe’s powertrain, which consists of a 178bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox (no, there is no manual) option. In addition there’s an 108bhp electric motor powered by a 12kWh battery, to provide a combined 222bhp and 265lb ft. It means a 7.5secs 0-62mph time, a 146mph maximum speed – or 83mph in pure electric mode – and an electric driving range of 40 miles placing it in the eight per cent BIK tax rate; at 39 miles the ST slips under the 40 mile EV threshold and therefore is liable to 12 per cent BIK

There are three driving modes – electric, hybrid and sport – with the transition between petrol and electric power in hybrid mode impressively seamless and better than a number of more expensive, premium brand cars with similar tech. It’s not, however, the punchiest in hybrid mode, the throttle response languid. Then again, it weighs 1703kg giving it a power-to-weight ratio – 132bhp/ton – on a par with a 2005 Fiesta ST. 

Selecting sport mode via the switch on the transmission tunnel, which does without a gear lever, provides you with red graphics for the instruments, a sharper throttle response and… well not a great deal else. Vauxhall claims the exhaust has been tuned for a more ‘sporty sound’ but the three test cars we drove all sounded rather empty and characterless. 

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There’s a touch more bite when you ask the turbo-four to give it its all, but it never feels anything more than a warmed over Astra rather than a bonafide hot hatch. You can engage it more by changing gear via the steering wheel paddles, but there’s no standalone manual mode and it won’t hold a gear and quickly jumps back to drive at the first opportunity. There’s no engine braking to talk off, unless you select the dedicated brake regeneration button, or guts to get you past slower traffic safely unless the straight is Mistral in length, anything shorter and you’ll be taking a deep breath and hoping for the best. 

> Peugeot 308 225 PHEV 2022 review

Dynamically the GSe, which sits 10mm lower than a regular Astra, is fitted with a set of Koni dampers that use FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) technology that have a second valve in the oil filled dampers to better control the forces depending on the driving style. There’s no independent damper adjustment, and the springs are 11 per cent stiffer over a regular Astra. There’s also a nine per cent increase in steering response and the ESC stability control has been recalibrated to activate ‘slightly’ later but you can’t turn it off. 

Body control and comfort are impressive and you can get into a nice flowing rhythm so long as the pace remains warm rather than hot. Go for the latter and the slow steering – you need to apply more lock than you anticipate – and the low-rolling resistance properties of the Primacy tyres make for a vague front end that washes wide at the first opportunity and doesn’t regain control from there on in. It really doesn’t like to be pushed and there isn’t enough power to adjust things on the fly, either. It’s very much a trimline addition to the Astra line-up rather than an individual performance model. Think Ford ST-Line and Seat’s FR trims for comparisons.

Both the GSE’s big issues could be rectified. One the owner could do by not swapping the eco tyres for something with more purchase and better feedback, the other requires using Vauxhall’s 296bhp dual motor hybrid set-up that is offered in the equally new Grandland GSe SUV. Unfortunately Vauxhall isn’t looking to offer a more powerful Astra GSe anytime soon. Which is a shame, because a dual-motor 300+bhp full-fat Astra VXR would unlock the potential that the GSe keeps locked away. 

As a hot hatch, the GSe doesn’t so much miss the mark as tumble by unnoticed. Which is a disappointment, because the Astra is a good car on many levels. It’s smart looking, the interior works well with a blend of screens and physical buttons, and the AGR seats are an ergonomic delight. However, at £40,550 it’s also not cheap (that money buys you a good, used BMW M340i xDrive Touring if you don’t need a new car). 

Vauxhall Astra GSe specs

EngineIn-line 4-cyl, 1598cc, turbocharged, plus 81kW electric motor
Power225bhp
Torque265lb ft
Weight1703kg (132bhp/ton)
Top speed146mph
0-62mph7.5sec
Basic price£40,550
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