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Vauxhall Astra 2023 long-term test

New-era hatch arrives in 1.2 guise before design boss oversees a swap to the PHEV Why we’re run...

  • Mar 22 2023
  • 87
Vauxhall Astra 2023 long-term test
Vauxhall Astra 2023 long-term
New-era hatch arrives in 1.2 guise before design boss oversees a swap to the PHEV

Why we’re running it: New-era hatch arrives in 1.2 guise before design boss oversees a swap to the PHEV

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Vauxhall astra caffiene and machine

Life with a Vauxhall Astra: Month 3

Luckily, no leakage issues - 18 March

The Astra plug-in hybrid isn’t alone in this, but it always worries me that its on-board charging port points more or less to the sky. Raindrops fall unimpeded onto the (happily watertight) connector and water gathers in the bottom of a surrounding seal. I can’t help thinking that a better-protected socket would make sense.

Mileage: 7772

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We’ve made a right mess of our PHEV that not even a deep clean can put right - 1 March 

It was entirely my own fault. I was driving the Astra well inside the speed limit along a semi-rural road with a low kerb close to the edge of the Tarmac. Instead of watching the road, I reached across to the central screen to select a map or change the radio station (can’t remember which).

The inattention caused me to miss a gentle but vital kink and sideswipe the kerb, enough to scuff both nearside alloy wheels and scar the tyre sidewalls. Instantly I felt the flood of guilt that goes with doing needless damage to a car, together with the feeling that in today’s alloy-wheel age you can do lots of damage with little effort.

The impact had seemed severe, and I feared the worst as I stopped for an inspection. It wasn’t pretty, either, but at least the rims were scraped rather than cracked or buckled. Both tyres had a chunk removed from the protective rubber buffer that Michelin moulds into its Primacy 4 tyre walls just above the wheel rim. They clearly did their job. As I drove on, the car steered straight, hands off, so I felt okay about driving home.

The next day, I confessed to Vauxhall, volunteering to back my contrition with plastic, but their fleet people did what they could to assuage my stupidity. “Happens every day” etc. The car was still safe, they said, so after the early-morning fitment of new hoops at Stellantis’s big fleet base outside Coventry, I drove to my next appointment – with care and attention. I had bitterly estimated a retail cost of £900 to put things right, but they wouldn’t take my money. There’s no mechanism when we own the car anyway, they said. I protested but, in the end, not very hard.

The feeling of stupidity was worst. It’s a long time since I’ve done such a thing, and you can bet I’ll be more careful in future. Some will say the seductions of a modern car’s central screen can promote such happenings, but there’s really no avoiding rule number one of driving: watch the road.

Away from all this, the Astra has been doing really well. The easy thrust of engine and motor makes it a fundamentally effortless car, and the low seating and well-damped suspension mean it corners neatly and grips well. I’ve learned to ignore Sport mode, except on special occasions, mostly for the effect it has on braking. Whereas the Hybrid mode (with ‘B’ for stronger engine braking selected on the transmission display) allows strong, predictable braking, in Sport under brakes the transmission changes down through its eight speeds in the background, making the level of retardation less uneven and less intuitive.

As discussed in my last report, arriving at an expected average fuel consumption in plug-in hybrids is problematic, because it depends on two big variables – how often you charge it and how long your journey is. I seem to do journeys of either 100 miles and charge, or 200 miles and charge. The former nets petrol consumption in the 54- 56mpg range, but you should also factor in 12kWh of our household power, which adds around £3.50 (or the price of two litres of fuel) into the journey cost. So my total fuel mileage is somewhat less impressive – more like 45-47mpg.

Criticise me if you will, but I’ve only just become concerned about this following the urging of a clearer-minded reader than me, Philip Dickinson, and will attempt in future to put more accurate calculations together. It’s just a few months since the electric power fed into cars, especially small-battery plug-in hybrids, felt inconsequential. But that’s not the case now. Is there anyone out there running a PHEV who can show us their better-founded calculations?

The mileage is mounting and my time with this petrol-electric Astra is now well past halfway – a matter of regret. As you might remember, I ran a 1.2-litre petrol triple previously, another car I thoroughly enjoyed. Together, they feel like good and sophisticated machines, and you can somehow feel they are founded on the latest Stellantis running gear. Their look and feel make me believe that Vauxhall deserves to prosper.


Great chassis

The steering and damping are especially excellent in this well-rounded car. It’s easy to drive briskly and neatly, which suits the Astra’s business-oriented persona


No tacho

I know it’s not strictly necessary in the old sense, but there’s still something in me that needs to know how fast an engine’s turning. There’s no clue on the dashboard.

Mileage: 6898

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Life with a Vauxhall Astra: Month 2

Its real-world range is a quarter of the official figure – and that’s pretty good going - 15 February 

It’s odd how long it has taken me to find the correct answer to the essential question that springs from running a plug-in hybrid: what’s the fuel consumption really like?

The difficulty results from the fact that, if you want to be literal about it, there are multiple answers – all incorrect. For short hauls, the consumption can be zero. And if you’re talking WLTP, the official figure is also magnificently daft. For this 178bhp 1.6-litre Astra, it’s 256mpg. See what I mean?

At last, however, I’ve done enough miles over a big enough variety of journeys to have found the answer. And it’s good news. If you start with the Astra fully charged, then take it on a typical 220-mile British round trip, mixing city and town driving with some 70mph motorway stints and the occasional enjoyable back-roads thrash, you will achieve 62-64mpg at the end.

Double the distance without charging and your mileage will have fallen to the mid-50s, little different from what I was getting from the 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol Astra that I ran before this one.

The message is that in some conditions you can spectacularly beat the figures offered by an efficient petrol car, but over long distances you won’t. Thus, whether or not as a private buyer you choose PHEV or conventional – the price difference is £7000 to £10,000 – is more about principle than money-saving. If it’s a company purchase, the benefit-in-kind tax savings on PHEVs (8% versus 29%) are a no-brainer.

One property has become pleasantly clear: there’s no reduction in driving enjoyment if you choose the PHEV. In the first 1000 miles, knowing my new Astra had a relatively complex driving system, I was always straining my ears to hear what was going on. But the system’s various components are so well integrated that you might as well give up. In any case, you can hardly hear the powertrain above the wind and road noise – not that either is excessive. It’s wisest simply to abandon yourself to the easy availability of creamy power.

The Astra PHEV isn’t hugely quick, though the 0-60mph time of 7.7sec certainly makes it brisk. The big appeal is the easy and precise availability of thrust at all speeds. There’s a more effortless response out of bends than if this car had merely been powered by a 178bhp ICE engine: these days, pure petrol-burners need an extra instant or two to respond, so as not to chuck out too many pollutants. In the PHEV, if you decide to overtake someone, the car responds as quickly as your foot can move.

Talking modern gadgetry, two more Astra properties come to notice, one good and one bad. Bad first: the mandatory lane assistance system. It’s more intrusive than many, and even with a shortcut set up on the central screen, it takes a four-stage operation (find, press, confirm, return) to kill it. And you must do that whenever you drive. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to have some phantom know-all in the steering rack trying to stop you steering around potholes that might otherwise damage your wheels and tyres.

On the other hand, the adaptive LED headlights are superb. They show more of the road (and verges) more of the time, without annoying opposed traffic. The system must already have prevented dozens of injuries and hundreds of bent wheels and fenders. It’s a pricey option if not included as standard (ours is) but worth it.

In sum, the Astra has been performing extremely well. The PHEV is low, sporty, comfortable, economical and effortless. And I always look forward to driving it, which is the biggest plus point of all.

Like it

Snappy styling

Our Astra feels satisfyingly low and sporty, which is how it handles. Car lovers see echoes of the revered Opel Manta, too, which is a positive.

Loathe it 

Lane-keeping assistance

Sure, this is a mandated item, but rival car makers do it a lot better – both from the switching on and the performance. Needs fixing.

MIleage: 5777

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Plug-in range is off the mark - 8 February 

I’ve not yet approached the 42-mile battery range claimed in the specs, but I’ve only driven the car in cold weather. The instruments promise 21-23 miles at this time of year, but it delivers closer to 30, which is reasonable and enough for short- haul, home-charge drivers to use no fuel at all. Overall economy (with lots of long-distance cruising) is 56mpg, which is pretty good. Fundamentally happy with this car. It suits me.  

Mileage: 5349

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Life with a Vauxhall Astra: Month 1

Benefits arise from the low-rise body and the fine plug-in hybrid powertrain - 25 January

One of the nicest things about both Vauxhall Astras I’ve run (a 1.2-litre turbo petrol triple and today’s 1.6-litre plug-in hybrid) is the low-set seating. It makes such a nice change to sit securely down among the wheels instead of being elevated by today’s usual drivers of seat height: an SUV body or a big battery underneath.

This lowness makes the Astra feel distinctly sporty, and if I’m not mistaken, it also helps reduce the car’s frontal area, which is important in cutting aerodynamic drag. In an average public car park, the Astra’s roof is lower than most – just another reason why it’s handy for my 1.6 PHEV Ultimate to have Electric Yellow flanks: I can spot it easily among the grey hordes.

The Ultimate’s driving position is especially nice, what with its grippy Alcantara seat trim and the sporty shape of the buckets.

These two things encourage you to use the performance, of which it has plenty. The combined power of the 1.6-litre petrol engine and the assisting electric motor runs to 178bhp, a thoroughly decent total, despite the car’s generous weight of 1678kg.

The performance is about more than that stopwatch time, however. The motor delivers generous torque from the ground floor, so the step-off from a standstill is even brisker than the claimed 0-62mph of 7.7sec promises. And it’s very clean: there’s no time lost while the clutch engages or the petrol engine ingests.

The combination of this low-speed power and the high-geared smoothness of the ZF automatic gearbox gives this Astra a truly fine powertrain. If you have time, amuse yourself trying to feel the gearchanges; it won’t be easy.

I do have complaints. Finding the digital dial screen’s full capabilities still defeats me. Every night, I get out of the car promising myself to learn it tomorrow, but somehow I’m too busy. Knowing a car can do more for you saps your enjoyment.

However, the big Astra advantage for me remains its sheer dynamic competence: the ideal steering, powerful brakes and, above all, the flat, firm ride.

As I say, it’s always a pleasure to get back into this car. In fact, I’m already eyeing the ‘give it back’ day with a good deal of foreboding. Maybe they will forget…

Like it

The body package

It looks funky and it affords a low and sporty driving position, which I relish.

Loathe it

Digital dial display

It’s probably fine for those who can figure it out, but I’m not among them.

Mileage: 3638

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Screens are proving useful - 18 January

I’m still not entirely on terms with the extent of the Astra’s screen functions, even though it has built-in tutorials for Luddites. But the bits I use I like, and it tells me everything I need. The traditionalist in me misses a tachometer, but it wouldn’t make any difference to the way I drive this eight-speed hybrid. Whenever I drive it, I enjoy it, which is a big plus. 

Mileage: 3643

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Welcoming the Astra to the fleet - 11 January 2023

Not sure why this is, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Vauxhall. Perhaps this is connected with the fact that reaching my London roost involves frequent trips across Vauxhall Bridge, close to where the venerable marque had its beginnings in 1903.

Whatever, I’ve always liked the workaday image of the cars, which have stayed successful and competent all these years without help from premium pricing (which maintains the health of some marques whose cars are no better). In recent years, I’ve approved of its ‘world’s only German-British marque’ mantra, which has seemed appropriate to the modern range.

Things have changed, of course. Having been long associated with General Motors, Vauxhall and its German associate, Opel, have been acquired by Stellantis, a move that has required their long-time staple product, the Astra, to adopt this mammoth group’s EMP2 platform, most prominently shared with the Peugeot 308 but by Citroën and DS models as well. That means the powertrains and running gear are all new, too.

This makes running a new-generation Astra especially interesting and the most interesting of all is the 1.6-litre PHEV model. We were keen to try such a car, but production schedules meant the mid-spec (and likely very popular) GS Line model was the first available, powered by Stellantis’s 129bhp 1.2-litre turbo three-pot. We resolved that I’d run one of these for a while, timing my move into the 1.6 PHEV model with the availability of Vauxhall’s long-serving design director, Mark Adams, whose key job has been to ensure this new car continues to have the soul of a Vauxhall- Opel, while progressing in all the directions an all-new car should take. We decided to meet at Caffeine & Machine, the buzzing hub for car enthusiasts just off the Fosse Way at Ettington, south of Coventry, and had both cars along for the ride.

Adams is one of those industry leaders who’s both approachable and an expert explainer. He made it crystal clear that Vauxhall’s positioning would need to be carefully restated because there were now more family marques in the Stellantis group, and the plan was to position Vauxhall at the same place in the spectrum as Peugeot (at the quality end of mainstream) while ensuring that there was no visual conflict and that buyers would see those two marques as entirely distinct.

We did the classic Adams walk-around, during which he pointed out how familiarly Vauxhall design features – such as the Vizor grille and lights treatment, the central ridge of the bonnet, the strong rear haunches and the flared wheel arches – all strongly maintained the Vauxhall look but had all been “progressed” to make the point about modernity. In my time with the 1.2 GS Line, I’d already checked the effectiveness of the car’s looks with friends and family members and established that they were content that these cars were very much fresh-faced new Vauxhalls.

This aligns with my own views. I’m especially impressed with both cars’ low seating position and sporty stance. Also the ‘detox’ principles of the simplified but inviting interior design. These are unashamed hatchbacks (offering the benefits of lower weight and lower frontal area) in an era when most designers are keen to blur the barriers between hatches and SUVs.

I also approve of Vauxhall’s willingness to build colourful cars – the Electric Yellow of the Ultimate PHEV is a definite improvement on the Vulcan Grey of the 1.2 GS Line – and combining bright body colours adds another level of distinction. The only issue (as I’m finding) is that keeping a colourful car looking good in winter can be quite a chore.

I’ve been surprised by the driving similarities between the 1.2 and 1.6 PHEV. Their steering, braking, ride qualities and handling balance are pretty similar. The steering is quick and heavier than many. The ride is firm but very well-damped (and I’ve yet to notice a weight drawback in the PHEV, although the difference is a whopping 412kg). Both roll a bit on corners but not uncomfortably. They offer a tinge of stabilising understeer and throttle steer a bit but never get close to oversteer.

I’ve yet to do many miles in the 1.6 PHEV, but I’m already at odds with the 42 electric miles officially claimed for it. In the dead of winter, ‘my’ car offers 18-20 miles via its own trip computer and delivers about 25 if you’re careful. I’m sure it’ll improve in warm weather, but I’m confident it’ll never reach 42 in my real world. Because I live 90-odd miles from the office, the PHEV is currently showing 59.9mpg over 1500 miles, not so much better than the basic 1.2 turbo’s early 50s. My routine isn’t ideal for PHEVs.

So far, I’m impressed with my Astra experiences. The car that Adams and his team have designed is perfectly credible as a Vauxhall and it competes pretty well with rivals in the patch. And the PHEV is a car I look forward to driving, which, you could argue, is the most important thing of all.

Second Opinion

Mark Adams’ bold overhaul of Vauxhall’s design has been well received round these parts, and no model wears the new look better than the Astra, to my eye. Encouragingly, its premium-flavoured makeover is matched by a cushy ride and a decent tech offering, which means the Golf and Focus really do have something to worry about.

Felix Page

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Vauxhall Astra 1.6 Turbo PHEV Ultimate specification

Specs: Price New £36,115, Price as tested £39,415 Options 7kW on-board charger £500, two-coat premium paint £700, nappa leather seats with heating, ventilation and massage £2100

Test Data: Engine 1.6-litre 4 cyl turbocharged petrol with electric motor Power 178bhp Torque 265lb ft Kerb weight 1687kg Top speed 140mph 0-62mph 9.3sec Fuel economy 201-256mpg CO2 24-26g/km Faults None Expenses None

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