GSe, or Grand Sport Electric, is a brand new sub-division that'll focus on producing electrified performance models. Enthusiasts will know all too well that Vauxhall has form when it comes to spicier models, with its GTE, GSi and hardcore VXR models.
Although it may sound new, the GSe badge has been seen before though if you're familiar with Vauxhall's sister firm Opel. It denoted a sportier version of the Opel Monza in the mid-1980s, and was used more recently on the Opel Manta GSe ElektroMOD – a stunning 'restomod' that reimagined the classic 1970s Manta into a modern-day electric car.
The GSe badge is also being launched on the Astra Sports Tourer estate and the Grandland SUV – a four-wheel drive, twin-motor PHEV packing 300bhp. All three GSe models receive tweaked exterior styling and chassis and suspension changes for a more sporting drive.
The Astra GSe hatchback is arguably the most intriguing as Vauxhall claims it has some of the panache of GSi and VXR Astra hot hatchbacks of yore, but with a new focus on zero emissions driving that comes from plug-in hybrid power.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Styling
We think the latest Mk8 Astra is one of the best-looking hatchbacks on sale right now, and marks a real return to form for Vauxhall. The Astra and Mokka were the first models to be launched with Vauxhall's new 'bold and pure' design language which features, among other things, a highly distinctive 'Vizor' front-end, hockey stick-shaped LED daytime running lights, and a 'Pure Panel' twin-screen set-up inside.
While the GSe is a new sub-brand for Vauxhall, the styling treads a familiar path by nearly every carmaker when the desire arises to build a sportier version, not least Vauxhall in the past. Take the standard car, fit a set of more aggressive looking bumpers, and top it off with a set of in-your-face alloy wheels – which, in the case of the Astra GSe, are 18-inches in size. A black painted roof is standard and completes the design overhaul.
Despite our test car's loud 'Arctic White' paintwork, it's a subtle makeover that just adds to the already good looking Astra design. However, some might long for the days of ridiculous wings, big spoilers and overly large alloy wheels that were a hallmark of Vauxhall's hot VXR models in the past.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Technology
The GSe becomes the range-topping model in the Astra line-up, and therefore boasts an appropriately boastful spec. Just like the Ultimate model, the GSe gets Vauxhall’s showcase ‘Pure Panel’ which comprises two screens mounted in a curved display, along with a colour head-up display. Wireless smartphone charging, Matrix LED headlights and a 360-degree parking camera also feature, as does a suite of driver assistance functions including lane-keep assist, blind spot assist and adaptive cruise control.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Interior and Practicality
Along with a dramatic new design on the outside, the eighth-generation Astra also got a classy-looking interior that was a far cry from the rather dour cabins of earlier Astras. The GSe gets those twin 10-inch screens that look good and work fairly well – the infotainment screen in particular, thanks to a row of physical buttons and a proper knob for the volume button.
There’s a nice mixture of quality feeling materials all around the cabin, and it’s easy to get a great driving position, especially as the Astra has a normal sized steering wheel unlike its Peugeot 308 sister. For this version, there are GSe-branded sports seats and steering wheel. Both are heated and the seats have been approved by a German organisation for healthy backs; they are tremendously comfortable on long journeys.
Up-front space is good and while space in the back seats could be better, it’s not too bad for this class of car. Boot space, meanwhile, is the same as the regular Astra PHEV so it’s a little down on the petrol and diesel versions by 70 litres, but still large enough for most families. If more space is required, there’s a GSe Sports Tourer estate with an impressive 548-litre boot which can expand to 1,574 litres with the rear seats lowered.
Overall the interior is a lovely, calming place to be. Sadly it doesn’t differ too much from the regular PHEV model, though, which for a sports model is a disappointment. Yes, there are those high-backed GSe-branded seats, but more splashes of colour would have been welcome.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Performance and Driving
So, we’ve concluded that the sportier exterior styling has worked if you like subtle makeovers while the interior is a little lacking. For a new sporty sub-brand to work it needs to be more than all mouth and no trousers. Happily, Vauxhall’s claims of offering a sportier, electrified driving experience have mostly worked.
The GSe features essentially the same 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine and 12.4kWh battery pack as the regular 180bhp Astra PHEV, but it’s been tuned to give 222bhp. It’s exactly the same set-up as the Peugeot 308 Hybrid 225 GT. Paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, 0-60mph in the GSe takes 7.5 seconds which is pretty much identical to its Peugeot sister, and it feels pretty quick.
The GSe is no Vauxhall-badged 308, though, as the brand’s engineers have worked on the chassis and the oily bits to offer a sportier feel. The GSe gets Koni suspension with – forgive us for going a bit technical here – frequency selective damping. Essentially, this means the suspension is more sophisticated than the standard Astra PHEV’s, promising a more cushioned ride at low speeds, stiffer body control during cornering, and better handling thanks to allowing the wheels to have more contact with the road. Overall, the new suspension is 11% stiffer and lowers the car’s ride height by 10mm. The steering system has also been revised – it’s 9% faster and quicker to react, according to Vauxhall, and gives a better ‘feel’.
You wouldn’t call the standard Astra PHEV an entertaining steer, as it gives an enjoyable, cosseting driving experience that falls short of exciting you. The GSe certainly feels keen from the get-go with that stiffer suspension impressively shrugging off potholes. Pick up the pace and the ride comfort softens up further, but this doesn’t translate into loose body control. The GSe feels agile and quick to turn into corners and feels noticeably more dynamic than the regular PHEV, but this is a car that feels at its best after you’ve prodded the drive mode button into ‘sport’. The engine is at its most alert and the steering in its sharpest setting, which is what you want from a performance hatchback. In fact, we feel ‘sport’ should be the default mode for the GSe.
But, like the regular PHEV, the standard default mode for the GSe is hybrid. Here the car flits between petrol and electric power just like any other hybrid, while ‘electric’ mode locks the car into electric driving for up to 40 miles. This silent running, front windows that have thicker glass and supportive seats means the GSe is also a hushed cruiser.
To improve its green credentials, Vauxhall has fitted normal tyres that offer a good blend of grip, better fuel consumption and safety. And while you can take manual control over the gearbox, the ‘box will intervene if it feels the car is in too low a gear or you’re straying too near the red line. Consequently, drive the GSe with some vigour, and the car washes wide in corners due to the standard tyres, and the gearbox can have a mind of its own. This and the fact that the 1.6-litre engine sounds strained and harsh when the car is driven hard are things that blunt the GSe’s sporty aspirations.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Range and Charging
Despite the improvement in performance and the engineering tweaks, the GSe carries over the same benefits of zero emissions driving the regular PHEV offers. That means a 12.4kWh battery that offers a claimed 40 miles of pure-electric driving, which in our experience of the regular Astra PHEV will be nearer 30 miles in normal motoring; there’s also a similarly overly optimistic fuel consumption figure of 256.8mpg. CO2 emissions of just 25g/km means the GSe falls into the 8% BiK company car tax bracket.
That 12.4kWh battery comes with a 3.7kW on-board charger meaning a full recharge from a home wallbox will take four hours. A larger 7.4kW charger can be selected halving that top-up time.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Pricing
For such a sports-oriented model, it’s perhaps a surprise that the GSe costs just £150 more than the regular 180bhp Astra PHEV, especially considering the extra chunk of power and chassis and engineering tweaks. It sits in the same BIK band as the regular PHEV at 8%, but for company car drivers the GSe will still be very cost efficient. Those looking for a sporty hatchback that can be run cheaply as a company car will no doubt also be looking at the Cupra Leon e-Hybrid. The Cupra has 25bhp more power and has a starting price of around £3,000 less, but go for a high-spec model equivalent to the Astra’s specification roster and both are around the same money.
Vauxhall Astra GSe Verdict
Vauxhall is making a great deal about the launch of its new GSe sub-brand, and on paper it almost stacks up. Since its launch last year, there has been room for a sportier, more performance-minded derivative – and that’s exactly what the GSe is, a derivative. We feel the GSe is more of a trim level than the start of a performance renaissance for Vauxhall, and when viewed like that the Astra GSe offers an appealing blend of driver fun and wallet-busting running costs for company car drivers. Overall, there’s still a lot of room for Vauxhall to create a hot Astra, which the GSe simply doesn’t achieve. Perhaps an Astra Electric VXR could be the answer to our prayers.