New Vauxhall Grandland GSe 2023 review
The most powerful version of Vauxhall’s mid-size SUV offers a decent amount of performance, but it’s more likely to appeal to company car drivers rather than all-out enthusiasts
Vauxhall's latest performance flagship makes more sense as a tax-busting fast SUV rather than a truly sporting one. The Grandland GSe could surprise many hot hatchbacks on the right road, but despite the reworked dynamics, it can't shake its flat-footed feel on more challenging tarmac. It's not the most practical offering either, but the comprehensive kit list, plug-in powertrain and straight-line pace could sway company car buyers.
Such is the state of the car market, the most powerful Vauxhall on sale today is a tall, hybrid-powered SUV with more torque than a Porsche 911 Carrera. The Vauxhall Grandland isn’t the obvious choice for a performance flagship, but with 296bhp and four-wheel drive, the GSe has the raw power to justify that title.
In 2023, Vauxhall is re-entering the performance car space to coincide with its push towards electrification, and its new GSe – or Grand Sport Electric – models will take the spotlight from here on in. The badge recalls cars such as the Manta GSi coupe and Carlton GSi sports saloon from years gone by, but the Grandland GSe takes on a very different form to these traditional offerings in both layout and conception.
The Grandland launched six years ago as Vauxhall's largest SUV, and a heavy facelift in 2021 brought the Nissan Qashqai rival back into contention, with revamped tech and a new look centred around the firm's ‘vizor’ design language. The GSe effectively replaces the 296bhp plug-in hybrid variant, using the same powertrain but with a series of styling and chassis upgrades to match the grunt.
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From the outside at least, the changes are subtle. There's a tweaked front bumper, a new set of alloys, GSe badging and a unique rear apron to distinguish the flagship, but the design is very familiar. Thanks to Vauxhall's signature black grille panel which spans the width of the nose, the Grandland hides its age well but reveals little of its performance credentials.
The cabin gets a similarly understated makeover, with bespoke Alcantara sports seats and a chunkier steering wheel lifting the ambience. The dashboard is dominated by Vauxhall's dual-screen Pure Panel infotainment set-up, which combines a 10-inch touchscreen with a 12-inch digital instrument panel in the GSe. Both displays are crisp and responsive enough, and the interface is mostly easy to decipher.
For a starting price of £43,700, the GSe receives a host of standard equipment that includes sat-nav, a wireless smartphone charger, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with a 360-degree parking camera and the brand's IntelliLux Pixel headlights. As you'd expect for the price, it's the most generously kitted out Grandland available.
One or two oddities, such as Vauxhall’s older steering wheel design and temperature displays which repeat on the climate control panel and infotainment screen, stand out amongst the modern tech, but the cabin feels pretty robust on the whole. The gloss black surfaces might attract scratches and fingerprints over time, though, and some of the plastic trim doesn’t feel especially premium.
Tall adults in the rear won’t be wanting for headroom thanks to the Grandland’s upright stance, but long-legged passengers might be tight for knee room compared with some of the Vauxhall’s more spacious rivals. Packaging the GSe's hybrid battery and rear motor also eats into boot space, which stands at 390 litres, down from 514 litres in combustion-engined models.
Nevertheless, other Grandlands can't hope to match the GSe's straight-line pace. Sport mode draws the most power from the petrol engine and twin e-motor set-up, resulting in a genuinely rapid turn of speed for a crossover. We'd say it feels Golf GTI-quick, but that'd be unfair as the Grandland reaches 62mph a few tenths faster than Volkswagen's hot hatch, in an impressive 6.1 seconds.
Unfortunately, the nature of this delivery doesn't encourage you to tap into it very often. Left to its own devices, the eight-speed gearbox clumsily shuffles between ratios, although the considerable pure-electric power does cover for the transmission's delayed reactions. When it does respond by dropping a cog or two, the engine lunges for the redline and doesn't sound particularly pleasant, even though the level of performance is strong.
To make the most of it, the GSe's chassis has been reworked with firmer springs and a new set of dampers, which are designed to strike a better balance between comfort and body control. The electric power steering has been recalibrated for extra precision, too, although low-friction Michelin e.Primacy tyres have been fitted with efficiency in mind.
Ultimately, the Grandland's tall body and 1,867kg kerb weight dilute any sense of agility on winding roads, and the mass needs to be managed with slower inputs to keep the GSe within its limits. The car generates decent grip once the weight has settled on the outside tyres, but you get very little sense of the load building through the steering wheel. Unless you drive with serious commitment – which feels out of step with the car's character – it's difficult to alter the SUV's trajectory with the throttle, and the handling is largely one-dimensional.
For most buyers, though, this simply won't matter, and the Grandland counters with staunch four-wheel drive traction in the dry. Switch back to the Hybrid drive mode and the GSe is still able to cover ground swiftly, but it builds a much better case for itself. The coarse engine note settles into the background, the transmission operates more smoothly and the broad spread of electric torque allows you to easily build speed.
The lack of steering communication is no longer a hindrance while mooching around, but the stiffer chassis is occasionally caught out by rough tarmac, feeling brittle and fidgeting over less than smooth surfaces. Still, the extra control is appreciable over bigger bumps at speed, reducing the distant, floaty feel that plagues some SUVs.
Thanks to its 14.2kWh battery, the Grandland can achieve 40 miles of pure-electric driving, placing it in the eight per cent Benefit-in-Kind tax bracket for company car buyers. Replenishing the battery takes four hours, but the optional 7.4kW on-board charger slices this time in half. Up to 235.4mpg is possible according to Vauxhall, but in real terms, this figure is only achievable on short journeys with a full battery.
Vauxhall Grandland GSe
1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol + 2x e-motors
Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Now read our review of the Grandland GSe's hatchback sibling, the Vauxhall Astra GSe...