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?...
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 4960 List price £40,400 Target Price £38,123 Price as tested £39,550 Test economy 53.5mpg Official economy 256mpg Dealer value now £29,250 Private value now £32,995 Running costs (excluding depreciation) Fuel £654, electricity £49
26 March 2023 – Everything has its price
My Vauxhall Astra must have done wonders for my blood pressure in the time I've been running it. I've actually looked forward to starting my day with a three hour commute on the eternal snarl-up that is the A12/M25 motorway combination, and after work, the Astra served well to isolate me from the chaos unfolding outside on my journey home.
Frankly, I didn't expect the Astra to be anything like the quiet, smooth cruising companion it turned out to be. It is, after all, a regular family car, not an executive express. Even on jumbo 18-inch alloy wheels, it's comfier on sections of undulating or ragged motorway than the Volkswagen Golf I ran a while back, and its 177bhp plug-in hybrid power system meant the engine never felt breathless or sounded strained.
It also well and truly ticked the practicality box that family cars need to. On a trip to Brighton, my wife and I found a set of four dining chairs in a junk shop, and we bought them on impulse, forgetting that we were in the Astra and not my previous, rather bigger Mazda CX-5 SUV.
We were relieved, then, when the Astra – seats folded – not only devoured the chairs, but also had room to spare for the armfuls of boutique shopping that a trip to Brighton around Christmas is bound to bring. Add in that I really like the way it looks, and how, when unladen, it also proved agile on a country roads (it's let down for driver fulfilment only by very numb, feel-free steering), and the Astra exceeded my expectations in several key family car disciplines.
The end-of-term report isn't entirely positive, though. For one thing, for a plug-in hybrid, the Astra is nothing like as economical as I hoped it would be. When I ran a regular hybrid Honda HR-V (admittedly a different category of car – a family SUV – and one that's 300kg lighter), it averaged 54.5mpg, on exactly the same mainly motorway routine as the Astra, which has averaged 53.4mpg. And bear in mind the latter figure is dependent on my charging the Astra's 12.4kW/h battery ahead of my 250-mile daily round trip, adding to running costs.
In hybrid mode, the Astra seems all too keen to prioritise electric running until the battery runs dry, rather than letting the petrol engine do the heavy lifting. If I set off from Mistley to Twickenham with a full battery, the electric range would reach zero by the time I reach Witham 30 miles down the road. I can't help but think the Astra's average economy during my ownership would have been better it took a leaf out of the HR-V's book and metered its electric reserves out a bit more thoughtfully; dipping into the pool when the engine load is light, and then topping it up when the engine has power to spare, in regular hybrid fashion.
To that end, I used the E-save feature to ring-fence 12 miles of range to be preserved at the Twickenham end of the journey – enough to cruise from Sunbury Cross to the office on electric power alone. However, while that no doubt helped the air quality in the borough of Richmond, it didn't seem to reduce my fuel consumption overall.
But it's the price that really slams the brakes on. Since I took delivery, the Astra PHEV, in my car's embarrassingly well-equipped Ultimate trim level, has risen to a huge £40,400. A range-topping Toyota Corolla hybrid – one of the most economical cars we've ever tested, and holder of a coveted five-star What Car? rating – costs around £5000 less.
Yes, the Astra PHEV's low 8% Benefit-in-Kind rating will be music to a company car driver's ears, but families would be much better off with the still-economical regular 1.2-litre petrol engined Astra, which costs £31,300 in Ultimate form, or just £28,185 in our recommended GS trim level. But it's still difficult to recommend the Astra over the more well-rounded Corolla or Seat Leon, let alone the Honda Civic – our reigning Family Car of the Year.
I feel bad saying all that, given how likeable I found the Astra in so many ways. But while it was such a personable companion day to day, thinking about my car's price tag has my blood pressure rising right now.
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