2023 Vauxhall Astra GSe review
New Vauxhall GSe sub-brand aims to take the new Vauxhall Astra to the next level with stiffer suspension and increased power. But just how good is it? Lets find out...
On sale Now | Price from £40,550
From SRi and VXR to GSi, we’ve seen many performance sub-brands from Vauxhall over the years, but never one focused solely on electrified performance. That is, until now. What you see here is the Astra GSe, a faster, firmer version of the Vauxhall Astra plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
Now, before you ask: yes, we have seen the GSE badge before. In fact, it first made its appearance on the performance-focused Monza GSE coupé, which was sold in Vauxhall showrooms from 1983. The difference is that the badge now stands for Grand Sport Electric and aims to provide customers with what Vauxhall calls ‘responsible performance’.
But what does that actually mean? Well, along with revised suspension for better handling, the Astra GSe can call upon 222bhp when its 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor join forces – up from the regular PHEV's 178bhp. This enables faster acceleration without making the polar bears sad, because you can still keep emissions low by driving around on electric power alone for a short commute.
That’s all well and good, but the Astra isn’t the only plug-in hybrid that’s focused on giving you performance and efficiency – indeed, the closely related Peugeot 308 Plug-In Hybrid even uses the same 222bhp engine and hybrid system. On top of that, the Astra needs to take on the Seat Leon e-Hybrid and the very accomplished VW Golf GTE.
Does it really have what it takes to come out on top? Let’s find out.
What’s it like to drive?
As we’ve already mentioned, the Astra GSe's four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine and hybrid system produces 222bhp in total. The result is that it can cover 0-62mph in 7.5sec – 0.2sec quicker than the regular Astra PHEV, and a match for the 308 PHEV 225.
As you might imagine, you don’t really feel that improvement; the Leon e-Hybrid feels quicker when you plant the throttle. That’s not to say that the Astra GSe is slow, it has more than enough power when you need to quickly get up to speed on a motorway slip road or overtake, but it’s not exactly in the realm of the hot hatch. What’s more, the automatic gearbox doesn’t react especially quickly when you need a burst of acceleration, and it has a tendency to be a little jerky, especially when you encounter a hill and it needs to switch down a few gears.
Things improve, though, when you hit a twisty road. While the standard Astra isn’t particularly gifted through corners, the Astra GSe is actually quite fun. That’s all thanks to the lowered suspension, with stiffer springs and input from specialists, Koni.
Head into a corner and the GSe displays much better body control than the regular Astra; there's barely any lean and loads of grip. As a result, you’ll find the driving experience more involving than before. True, the Leon is better still, but the Astra is a fine thing.
The only bit that lets it down is the steering. You see, while you can feel that it's been tweaked for the GSe because it gains more weight in Sport Mode than it does in the standard Astra, it still feels quite numb, so you never have a clear picture of what the front wheels are up to.
Once you settle down and drive normally, the Astra GSe retains the normal car’s comfortable nature, despite everything being slightly firmed up. It rides well over most road surfaces, with the suspension soaking up bumps well, proving forgiving enough at low speeds to cushion you over speed bumps. At higher speeds and over undulations, the increased body control means it never wallows around.
When it comes to efficiency, official figures suggest that you’ll be able to drive on electricity alone for 40 miles – slightly farther than both the 308 PHEV 225 and Leon e-Hybrid can go. When you do so, the Astra GSe is smooth and easy to drive, slowing predictably with the regenerative braking. It's quiet, too, with little more than a slight whine from the electric motor.
What’s it like inside?
If you’ve ever sat inside the Astra you’ll feel instantly at home in the Astra GSe. In fact, despite the sportier bias of this new sub-brand, very little has actually been changed. Think of this as an upgrade rather than a redesign.
The best and biggest of these upgrades is the new sports seats. Trimmed in Alcantara, they look great and give the same brilliant driving position as the standard Astra but with plenty more support from larger side bolsters. That’s ideal, considering the GSe’s greater talent in going around corners quickly.
They’re electrically adjustable and provide plenty of planes of movement, including lumbar support. Even on a long drive, they’re comfortable and you won’t find your back aching. Meanwhile, the steering wheel is trimmed in a thicker leather than in other Astras, making it much nicer to hold and use throughout manoeuvres.
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