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Vauxhall Astra 1.6 Hybrid Ultimate review: perky performance

The eighth incarnation of this big seller is definitely different and here's the plug-in hybrid version

Astra review
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Vauxhall is ramping up its plan for electrification with more models on the way and, in the meantime this; the new Vauxhall Astra Ultimate plug-in hybrid. It’s a great mid-point. The eighth incarnation of this big seller is definitely different; featuring as it does a dramatic exterior design that, in the right colour really pops. Inside, there’s a funky new interior complete with a decent level of tech.

Meanwhile, the new Astra is built on the Stellantis Group’s EMP2 platform, which adds to the appeal. This is mainly because the Astra has gained plug-in hybrid power, which in the example we’ve just driven combines a decent 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine that works alongside a single electric motor to deliver a beefy 180bhp.

Thanks to the plug-in part of the Astra equation, you can also look forward to getting around 43 miles of electric-only drive, thanks to an on-board 12.4 kWh battery, right on up to 88mph in EV mode. You should be able to charge it, at home, in under six hours too. So, it’s an ideal solution for anyone keen to dabble in the benefits of an EV before they commit to a full-on electric car with the added purchase cost that comes with it.

Styling

Vauxhall has done an excellent job with the new Astra and this car really does pack a neat identity, one that was enhanced by the striking metallic Electric Yellow exterior of our example. It looks great from the front and just as good from the rear too. View it side on and there’s a low-slung, purposeful stance, which is enhanced by a clever use of colour, especially with the black upper areas complimenting the main body colour.

Back at the front, things are dominated by the ‘vizor’, which is Vauxhall’s headlight and grille styling mission to do things a little bit differently. It works to great effect and the lower grille and side flourishes compound the look, all of which produce an angular appearance that makes you think the Astra means business. Vauxhall has also done a fab job on the less obvious stuff, like the close-fit shut lines of the bonnet and the doors that add a more streamlined flow to the bodyline.

While the sides bulge out slightly and could be deemed the less successful part of the Astra’s design evolution, the whole thing works thanks to the way the black trim highlights take the edge off the bulginess. Add the tasty black and chrome alloys into the mix and the latest look Astra is a success in profile. However, it gets even better as you stroll around the back. Here, Vauxhall has worked wonders by giving the rear end a very neat and pretty unique touch of flair.

The secret to this appears to be the crosshair-esque styling of the long and lean taillights, which are intersected at the top by a spoiler over the rear window topped with a vertical third brake light. The Astra typography on the badging fits the bill too and again, the fit and finish of the composite tailgate signifies just how nicely the new Astra has been screwed together. Vauxhall’s tweaked Griffin badge flips to open the tailgate too. Overall, it’s a real success story.

The drive

We got to spend some quality driving time with the Vauxhall Astra plug-in hybrid and it manages to pack in a few surprises to compliment the excitement produced by the fizzy looks. Taking it easy initially, you get the obvious benefit of electric power, which makes the driving experience simple and silent. There’s an eight-speed auto box too, which really does add to the seamless drive. The seats hold you tightly, the view out of the front is good and the overall vibe is a positive one.

There’s a fairly firm ride to be had though, which in our opinion adds to the lean feel of the Astra. However, anyone buying their Astra for family duties might find it attracts some grumbles from those in the back. Nevertheless, the suspension seems ideally suited for helping you wend your way around the many and varied corners found on UK backroads. Add it all together and the Astra turns out to be more of a driver’s car than many might be expecting.

We were also impressed with the performance capabilities of the 1.6-petrol engine too. If you’re on a motorway or dual carriageway there’s plenty of power to hand when you need it. Equally, the Astra cruises along nicely without fuss or bother. Stab the accelerator and you can get from 0 to 62mph in an acceptable 7.7 seconds. A top speed of 140mph is more than you’ll ever need from an Astra too.

The technology

You get a real treat as you enter the interior of the new Vauxhall Astra. The biggest treat is the Pure Panel, a duo of 10-inch displays that have been fused together, almost seamlessly to create an impressive end result. This area is your go-to for all of the main instrumentation and infotainment options. Our relatively short time with the car revealed this to be a reasonable success in the usability stakes, though time will tell just how good it is to live with.

We also got to experiment with the voice recognition control, which initially responds by saying ‘Hey Vauxhall’ to it. This seemed to work well enough when carrying out basic more obvious commands. We’ll have to see how well it fares with more demanding tasks when we’ve had longer to live with it. If you prefer more conventional manual options there is also an array of traditional buttons that let you access core controls underneath the central touchscreen area.

The journey was further complimented in our Ultimate model thanks to funky front seats that came with the benefit of ventilation as well as massage, both of which provided welcome relief in heatwave conditions. Seats in the back get the bonus of heat too, which will also be welcomed by rear occupants when winter rolls along.

Verdict

We’re really smitten with this latest, low-slung incarnation of the Vauxhall Astra. It really does feel all new, with so many highlights. Some are a little harder to spot on first impression than others. The plug-in potential of this car definitely makes it worthy of closer inspection if you’re aiming to cut your fuel expenditure down to size, with a combined official 256mpg supposedly possible. Used around town, for those regular short journeys or one-off runs, the potential of doing it using EV power only makes the Astra really useful.

However, there’s also the 1.6 petrol engine, which gets the job done on a longer excursion. Comfort levels are solid, as is the ride provided by the fairly stiff suspension. That gives the Astra a sense of fun though, while driving it couldn’t be easier thanks to that eight-speed automatic transmission. We’re also loving the new styling too, which really looks the part. Amazingly, it manages to make the Astra stand out from the crowd. Not bad for a model that has been around in various incarnations over the years, many of which were pretty faceless, it has to be said. Well done, Stellantis.

Tech specs

Motor1.6 litre petrol / 1 x 81kW electric
Battery12.4 kWh
Power180bhp
Torque250Nm
0-62mph7.7 seconds
Top speed140 mph
Range256 mpg combined
Kerb weight1,678kg