As emissions formulae, tax systems and sheer emotional attraction to fresh models each influence car sales in the Golf segment, electrification strategies remain in flux. VW’s long-time class leader might still be number one across combined European markets but other brands keep attacking.

Toyota, with the Corolla, decided on a same-yet-different formula to the one pursued by Volkswagen, namely no EV variant of its best seller. The difference is giving buyers a plug-in hybrid Golf but no hybrid – the opposite of what Toyota Motor Europe offers.

Stellantis clearly looked closely for opportunities in the big-volume C segment before deciding on a PHEV-and-EV plan. The timing of the company’s STLA Medium platform wasn’t quite right for the Astra so it adapted EMP2, an IC-native architecture. This it has done this very well indeed. Enter the new-ish GSe, shorthand for a plug-in hybrid powertrain, with the Astra Electric recently complementing the PHEV.

Vauxhall is one of the big winners from buyers’ ever-growing appetite for plug-in cars, SMMT data for October showing an overall 60.5 per cent surge in PHEV registrations to 14,285 units. Yes, the small Corsa and its electric variant are better performers for the Griffin logo brand but Astra margins will certainly be far stronger.

Launched in the summer, the GSe is priced from GBP41,800 and comes in both hatchback and estate bodystyles. That might seem a lot yet Volkswagen charges a similar amount for its rival Golf GTE. It’s interesting too that the dynamics and appearance packages which apply to both have a strong emphasis on sporty looks and handling.

Tweaks made to set GSe model grade cars apart from other Astras consist of suspension lowered by 10 millimetres, eighteen-inch ‘Commodore’ wheels plus gloss-black paint for the roof and badges. Seats are unique too, these being trimmed in Alcantara, while the steering wheel is also a specific GSe one.

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Opel and Vauxhall chassis engineers specified Koni dampers for the sports PHEV, these being claimed to offer an eleven per cent change in stiffness. The steering has been fettled too, the rack having a nine-percent faster response. Finally, even the ESC has been recalibrated, engaging ever so slightly later than in other Astras.

It’s an intriguing idea to make the plug-in hybrid a driver’s car, given that the extra weight of the battery should, if anything, adversely affect the overall feel. Good work has been done, however, and the GSe, while having a fairly firm ride, handles very well.

The powertrain offers 165 kW (225 PS) and 360 Nm. Of that, 132 kW (180 PS) comes from the turbocharged 1,598 cc engine and 81 kW from the motor. Vauxhall claims up to 40 miles of EV-mode range (39 for the Sports Tourer), the battery’s capacity being 12.4 kWh. Drive is to the front axle only via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Thanks to 25 or 26 g/km CO2 emissions averages, Benefit-in-Kind rates of eight and twelve per cent respectively apply to hatchback and estate.

While it’s only a little longer than the previous shape model, the eighth generation model is mostly roomier, although space for legs in the back isn’t anywhere near best-in-class. Boot capacities are 352 litres for the hatchback and 516 for the Tourer. Those numbers are for the GSe, non-PHEV variants being 422 and 597 litres respectively.

Anyone who agrees with all the criticism presently being levelled at the Volvo EX30 will delight in finding a multitude of physical controls in the Astra. This safety-first approach sees lots of buttons on the steering wheel and even more to direct HVAC functions. You can also use the touchscreen to adjust heating and cooling functions.

The central display is complemented by a sort of twinned screen which sweeps across the dashboard directly in front of the driver, and a matching piece of black trim to surround a vent. It not only looks great, it all works nicely too, and feels more premium than a Golf.

As mentioned, this is hardly a bargain-priced car but then Vauxhall seems to be earning its new-found ability to justify higher brand aspirations. For those who prefer a PHEV over an EV, the Astra in sporty GSe form has much to recommend it.

Next for Opel / Vauxhall

Following the debut of the Mokka Electric earlier in 2023 – a new name for the former Mokka-e was accompanied by a better battery – now it’s the turn of the Corsa and Corsa-e for updates. Announced in May but only becoming available this month, the facelifted Corsa and newly badged Corsa Electric should greatly help both Opel and Vauxhall to finish the year strongly.

As part of the mid-cycle update, Opel dropped diesel engines, Vauxhall having done that in 2022. Meanwhile, the Electric can be ordered with 50 kWh (Vauxhall says 51 kWh) or 54 kWh batteries and 100 kW or 115 kW motors. There are also fresh powertrains for the IC cars including 48 V 74 kW plus 48 V 100 kW mild hybrids. Vauxhall further notes a 75 PS (55 kW) 1.2 non-turbo with a five-speed manual transmission, a 100 PS (74 kW) 1.2 turbo with six-speed manual or eight-speed auto, or a 130 PS (95 kW) 1.2 with an eight-speed auto.

Looking to 2024, we should see successors for both the Crossland and Grandland. The first of those will surely grow somewhat, though remain in the B segment, offering not only IC engines but an EV alternative. The same applies to the larger replacement for the Grandland, which should use the STLA Medium architecture.

Stellantis intends to keep Opel and Vauxhall in the D segment, though what comes after the Insignia is unlikely to be a conventional hatchback/estate. Instead, 2025 should see an electric crossover in the style of the Peugeot E-408 arriving (Stellantis’ CFO stated a September 2024 debut for that model a few days ago).

All next generation Opels and Vauxhalls will be on either STLA Small (Corsa, Mokka replacements) or STLA Medium (Astra-sized and larger). Further, only EVs will be launched from 2025 onwards, all models being electric in 2028.

The Vauxhall Astra GSe hatchback has a stated EV mode range of up to 40 miles, a 0-62 mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 146 mph.