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Vauxhall turns its smartly styled new family hatchback and estate into an electric car

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Vauxhall might just have been paying attention when, in reviews of its new Vauxhall Astra Electric earlier this year, we recorded that a £40,000 starting price looked a bit steep.

More likely is that customers have been saying the same thing. That’s why, thanks to a new entry-level Design trim, you can now order an Astra Electric hatchback for less than £38,000 or the Sports Touring estate version from £39,995.

That’s still money you might otherwise spend on some quite practical family EVs, of course. But, in that vein, the Sports Tourer might seem to offer a more competitive set of qualities than the regular hatchback. Longer of wheelbase, it supposedly has more occupant space than the regular Astra, as well as a boot some 30% larger.

The hatchback version of the car is available for delivery now, before the estate arrives in showrooms in spring 2024. And the addition of the Design trim level is all about driving the monthly cost of finance on the car down towards parity with Vauxhall's combustion-engined models.

It isn't quite there yet; but even so, with a decent but pretty typical deposit and over a five-year term, Vauxhall can now do you an Astra Electric from around £400 a month, where a petrol-engined one might be had for a little less than £300.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 24 panning side

The Astra Electric is a 4.4m-long, mid-sized hatchback, just like the petrol and plug-in hybrid versions.

The H-shaped battery pack carried under the seats and along the transmission tunnel has 51.5kWh of usable capacity; and while the associated high-voltage gubbins steal a little space under the boot floor (although you still get 350 litres), it adds torsional rigidity to the Astra's platform (Vauxhall's second-generation battery pack is also marginally lighter than the one that powered the original Vauxhall Corsa Electric).

Entry-grade Astra Designs tend to ride on 17in wheels, but the electric models get 18s across the board.

The Astra is front-wheel-drive and has a 153bhp, 199lb ft, electrically excited drive motor, giving it a modest 0-62mph time of 9.2sec

The Sports Tourer weighs 49kg more than the hatchback, is about 270mm longer and is just under 60mm longer in the wheelbase. It shares the standing-start performance claimed for the hatchback. 
 
Early in 2023, Vauxhall said it would like to be perceived as sitting at the upper end of non-premium brands. Given that you might perceive everyone from Skoda to Hyundai as one of those these days, it's debatable if the Astra quite delivers on this aspiration. But the exterior is sleek and smart, while the interior is bold.

The bonnet looks a bit odd when you look down it from inside the windscreen. Instead of beefing up the wheel arches to add muscle, its prominent centre line is reminiscent of some curved-hood 1950s Americana.

INTERIOR

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 28 dash

Until recently, Vauxhall continued that central exterior feature line into the interior, but not on this car. The Astra's dashboard is broad and boldly accented horizontally, with two clear 10in displays (one for instruments, one an infotainment touchscreen) and soft-touch materials above but hard materials in the lower cabin.

The generously sized and firmly comfortable front seats are some of the best in the class, and the driving position is good. Ergonomically, this being a Stellantis product on a group platform, it’s mixed. The temperature controls are buttons, as they should be, but changing the air distribution – notably disabling a centre vent that seems keen to blow air on somebody, anybody, and whose breeze can’t be stopped in isolation – is on the screen, as it shouldn’t be. The button to flit between two levels of regenerative braking is too small, too, given how often one uses it. Wheel paddles would solve that.

In the second row, space is tighter - and, a little annoyingly, the extra second-row space promised by the Sports Tourer doesn’t exactly transform it for passenger comfort. Astras used to be among the roomier cars of their kind, but now - after Vauxhall decided to prioritise design appeal and leave customers who want a roomy second row to seek out an SUV, basically - they are no longer. The second-row seats are still only suitable for smaller-of-stature adults and kids, despite the dose of extra leg room, and if you do need to carry adults back there regularly, you will risk shouts of complaint. 

The estate car's boot, however, may well be worth the price of admission. It’s 516 litres by volume up to the window line (the EV loses the underfloor storage of the 597-litre ICE car), with a lower loading lip than the hatchback, a wider loadbay and 40:20:40-split folding back seats as standard.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 35 motor

The Vauxhall Astra Electric is a calm if slightly unremarkable car to drive. Step-off is relaxed, rather than insisting on giving you a notable nudge in the back, so it eases away pleasantly.

This isn't one of the most powerful EVs available for the money - and, while most of the time performance is perfectly adequate, you may want more urge when departing a roundabout onto a dual carriageway, even if you've chosen the sportiest driving mode. 

Most of the time, though, around town and on A- and B-roads, the Astra Electric gets along just fine. It's simpler to drive than some EVs, and while those familiar with the tech might prefer to have more accessible manual battery regen control, others will value the directness of the car's ease of operation.

RIDE & HANDLING

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 42 touring

The Astra Electric's extra-rigid chassis makes for an impressively settled, fairly quiet ride, with quite crisp handling response. 

Steering is pleasantly smooth, and even on the longer-wheelbase Sports Touring, has a way of making the car handle precisely and with assuredness. This isn't one of the EV segment's more exciting cars to drive, and it is a bit short on dynamic character; but if you want an affordable EV that's more supple and refined than many and that handles in the same straightforward, fuss-free style that it performs, you will like what you find.

There's certainly none of the sense of dynamic compromise here that you will find if you compare an ICE Corsa with its EV sibling. The Astra Electric's body control is just as good as most other derivatives, it steers just as well and its higher-speed ride is just as well-isolated and settled. The fact that the car carries a weight penalty of only 68kg compared with an Astra plug-in hybrid may well help to explain why.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 23 cornering front

The Vauxhall Astra Electric makes plenty of usable range from a relatively modest battery pack. The hatchback is rated for a WLTP combined range of 258 miles, the Sports Tourer only two miles less.

In clement conditions, we saw 4.3mpkWh from the hatchback without trying, which equates to an easy 220-mile range; and, in much chillier test conditions, still 4.0mpkWh, so more than 200 miles of range, from the estate. 

Showroom prices on the car have come down with the addition of the Design trim level, which still comes with a full suite of active safety systems, a 10in touchscreen system with sat-nav and wireless smartphone mirroring, climate control and 18in alloy wheels.

If you want Vauxhall's excellent AGR-approved, adjustable front seats, though, you will need GS trim; and for its equally impressive Intellilux 2.0 matrix LED headlights, a powered tailgate and a panoramic sunroof, you will need Ultimate trim.

VERDICT

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vaxuahll astra electric review 2023 44 static

The Vauxhall Astra Electric looks stylish, ride and handles creditably, is well-equipped and has an efficient, easy-to-operate electric powertrain that gets respectable daily range out of a fairly lightweight, modestly sized package.

Like its ICE rangemates, it's not an Astra quite like we've come to know them in recent years. Sacrificed for the sake of those good looks, the car's practicality has taken something of a backwards step since the last General Motors-engineered generation of the car, and even in Sports Touring form, it still only really has a second row fit for growing kids.

It's also inevitable when an electric version of a car we feel we know as well as this comes along to take a bit of a sharp intake of breath when you read the pricetag. The truth is, even among mid-sized EVs, the Astra Electric is a little highly priced. That it would seem all the more so, however, may be because history leads us to expect this car to offer particular value for money – the kind that, in this particular zero-emissions context, only Chinese brands are currently offering.

The estate treatment doesn’t quite turn the Astra Electric into something capable of rivalling a crossover SUV for cabin space, either, but this a surprisingly refined, efficient, agreeable EV to drive, with a dose more carrying capacity for those who might need it.

The bottom line here is that if you - or, as likely, somebody who works for you - decides you ought to have one of these cars, it should be an easy and efficient, if slightly unmemorable, EV to own and drive.

Additional reporting by Matt Saunders

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes.