Vauxhall Astra long-term test: report 3
Our sub-editor wanted a car that would relax him on his lengthy commute and be as fuel-efficient as possible. Is his plug-in hybrid Vauxhall Astra delivering?...
The car Vauxhall Astra 180 Ultimate plug-in hybrid Run by Chris Haining, sub-editor
Why it’s here To find out if a plug-in hybrid family hatchback is the answer to a varied motoring regime, while keeping an eye on running costs
Needs to Soothe in motorway traffic, sip petrol, and entertain on a twisty road
Mileage 3250 List price £40,400 Target Price £38,123 Price as tested £39,550 Test economy 52.0mpg Official economy 256mpg
10 February 2023 – Power to the people
On the competitive car audio sound-off circuit, some systems use what’s known as a “stiffening capacitor”. This device stores current that can be instantaneously released to the amplifier when a sudden ground-shaking bass drop demands it. And my Vauxhall Astra’s plug-in hybrid system is kind of similar. When driving normally, you can easily forget it’s there – until you put your foot down.
Vauxhall doesn't disclose how much power the Astra's 1.6-litre petrol engine makes on its own, but the electric motor of its hybrid system churns out 108bhp, and you get a total of 177bhp when petrol and electricity join forces. On paper, that's not an enormous figure, but because that electric boost comes on stream instantaneously, with absolutely no sense of transition between electric and petrol power, the resultant big, juicy slab of grunt makes it feel like the Astra simply has a much bigger engine. It dishes up a terrific surge of momentum when you need to overtake or safely join a fast-flowing motorway.
It’s also very satisfying on my winding local roads, and here, the Astra’s impressive body control (there’s very little body lean, and it never feels unsettled over undulations) and deep reserves of grip mean corners can be dispatched at surprising pace. If only the steering was more communicative; it feels rather numb, sapping confidence and detracting from the fun.
Of course, while the latest Mercedes-AMG C63 employs its plug-in hybrid tech in the name of exhilaration, the Astra is focused more on economy and tax-effectiveness for company car users. However, while it officially manages 256mpg, your daily routine would have to allow almost entirely electric running to realise that figure – perhaps only using the petrol engine to get to the end of your street to plug in every night. Officially, the Astra manages a 42-mile all electric range, but through the winter, 29 miles is the most my dashboard ever displayed, and 24 miles is the most I’ve managed to eke out.
An unexpected facet of Astra ownership is that, for the first time in ages, I’m finding maths interesting. In my most recent fill-to-fill calculation, the Astra averaged 52.3mpg over 235 miles, using 20.37 litres of unleaded that cost £30.33 in total. That’s 13p per mile. However, it’s sobering to remember that it also used two full charges of its 10.4kWh (usable) battery, at £3.64 each, based on my 35p/kWh domestic tariff, making the total cost of travel £37.61. That’s the financial (if not environmental) equivalent of using 25.2 litres of petrol to cover that 235 miles. In other words, 42.3mpg and 16p per mile. The cost of topping that battery can't just be written off, so if you get the chance to recharge at work for free, grab it with both hands.
Still, I prefer not to dwell on economics; instead I'll celebrate flexibility. That 25 miles or so of real-world electric range is enough to scamper swiftly from home to my parents' house and back, without emitting noxious gases in the beautiful Essex countryside (yes, bits of it really are). And having that electric boost on tap helps the Astra to feel extremely long-legged on the motorway, where its low levels of noise and absorbent ride (at least as smooth, I’d say, as the Volkswagen Golf I previously ran), make it a very relaxing companion.
What’s more, in its Ultimate trim, my Astra has a very meaty-sounding stereo – but I don’t think it has a stiffening capacitor.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
Read more on our long-term Vauxhall Astra >>
Read about more long-term test cars >>
Best family cars 2023
What makes a good family hatchback and which models should you be considering? Here we count down the top 10 family car models – and name the one to avoid
Vauxhall Astra long-term test
Our sub-editor wanted a car that would relax him on his lengthy commute and be as fuel-efficient as possible. Did his plug-in hybrid Vauxhall Astra deliver?