New Vauxhall Astra Electric 2023 review: smooth and quiet, but expensive
There's much to like about the new Vauxhall Astra Electric, but it's hefty price tag means it has to compete against some talented rivals
For existing owners of petrol and diesel Vauxhalls looking to make the switch to electric, the latest Astra has much to like. It drives a lot like any other Astra, except it’s smoother, quieter and more responsive. However, at this price point, it has to compete with a range of rivals that offer more range, more performance or both. Unlike its Sports Tourer estate sibling, whose body style enables it to offer something that at this moment in time is unusual among EVs, the hatchback fails to offer any outstanding qualities.
Vauxhall’s expansion into the all-electric segment continues apace with the introduction of the Astra Electric. By the end of next year, the brand will be welcoming new versions of both the Crossland and the Grandland to the market, at which point there will be an electric version of every car in its range.
As it stands, the newcomer joins the already popular (and recently refreshed) Corsa with battery power, while sitting in a lineup alongside more traditional petrol-fuelled rangemates. But while very few of the Corsa’s traditional rivals have made a battery-powered alternative so far, the Astra finds itself wading into an already crowded part of the market.
Car group tests
The Volkswagen ID.3, plus its VW Group cousin the Cupra Born, the recently price-slashed Renault Megane E-Tech, and the MG 4 all offer very compelling packages in this space already. Those who fancy a higher-riding option can turn to the Hyundai Kona or the Volvo EX30. Then there’s the revised Tesla Model 3. More efficient and more refined than ever before, it sneaks a smidge under £40,000 for the entry-level model, which is almost identical to a mid-spec Astra Electric GS.
So on paper, at least, the Astra has its work cut out, and that shaky ground doesn’t firm-up much when you jump into the car’s technical specs. The Astra uses a powertrain option that has been recently introduced across a wide range of Stellantis products, including the Jeep Avenger, the Peugeot E-2008 and even the latest Corsa electric. A single motor drives the front wheels, but with 154bhp and 270Nm, it falls a little short of what rivals from MG, Renault and VW offer for similar (or less) cash.
At 100kW, charging speeds are decent, but again, not class leading. The one advantage of a slightly smaller-than-average battery is that charging it up doesn’t take very long, with a 20-80 per cent top-up taking 26 minutes.
Vauxhall argues that all of this manages to help efficiency. A smaller battery means less weight, and the fact that the Astra’s roofline is also fairly low - at 1,441mm tall, it’s 123mm lower than a VW ID.3 - it means that it's fairly slippery though the air. This all adds up to a claimed 4.2 miles per kilowatt hour, enabling even the modestly sized battery to carry the Astra 258 miles between recharges.
Our time behind the wheel showed that figure to be not a pure flight of fancy, either. We didn’t quite match those claims, but with an estimated range of around 240 miles, we weren’t far off, and unlike the previous generation of Stellantis EV powertrains found in the earlier Corsa-e, the range doesn’t seem to nosedive once you edge towards motorway speeds. A standard heat pump should ensure that range isn’t compromised too severely when the weather turns chilly, either.
Indeed, the whole Astra driving experience is quite pleasant. In terms of ride and handling, it sits between the agile Megane and the smooth-riding ID.3, but runs both close enough that it’s the best compromise of the three. Throw in the fact that it’s better than either at muffling suspension knocks and road noise - sounds that become all the more obvious alongside an EV powertrain - and it’s a relaxing car to live with every day.
Compared to current EV standards, the Astra isn’t especially quick. But as a family car that’s designed to get from A to B, a 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds is more than adequate. Indeed, the thing that has a greater bearing on the Astra’s lack of enthusiasm compared to its rivals is the amount of delay between pressing the throttle and getting any response. It’s surprisingly laggy for an electric car.
The brakes give enough power when they’re called upon, but the calibration needs a little more work. The first part of travel, which deals with motor regeneration, feels a little soft and mushy under foot, but the pedal then stiffens up appreciably when the mechanical brakes kick in. The level of maximum regen - accessed through the B mode on the drive selector - doesn’t offer anywhere near the one-pedal driving levels that many rivals provide. When just the traditional brake discs are used at low speeds, the response can feel a little grabby, too.
Vauxhall has learned lessons from the Corsa Electric’s high prices and steep depreciation, and is trying to mitigate costs for buyers this time around. Among the myriad methods to trim the monthly payments are lower APR interest rates on the brand’s electric models, the option to extend any PCP deals to five years, and by offering the electric Astra in a base Design trim to make the entry point lower. Currently, a £2,750 deposit contribution sweetens that deal further.
The net result of that is that the Astra becomes reasonably competitive on monthly payments. Place a £5,000 deposit on a three-year PCP finance agreement on that Design model, and the range kicks off from £495 per month. That still can’t match the Renault, though - the base Megane model, which has more power and range, plus slicker in-car tech, undercuts that figure by £39 per month on matching terms. Like the Astra, the ID.3 also comes with a strong deposit contribution just now (£3,000, in this case) and as such it also undercuts the Astra at £475 per month.
|Vauxhall Astra Electric Ultimate
|54kWh battery/1x e-motor
|Single-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
|100kW (20-80% in 26 mins)