Why we ran it: To discover the similarities and differences between this plug-in hybrid Vauxhall Astra and the 1.2-litre three-pot petrol
Life with a Vauxhall Astra: Month 6
Did the plug-in hybrid get under our skin and restore belief in C-segment saloons?
It's the Vauxhall Astra Ultimate PHEV’s urgent body colour – called Electric Yellow – that I’ll miss most, but that comment is certainly not meant to denigrate a car I have enjoyed, will remember fondly and have happily used to amass 10,000 miles.
Apart from an embarrassing incident when, through inattention, I lunched two of its wheels and tyres by inadvertently running them hard against a kerb, the Astra has proved to be entirely reliable, impressively frugal and – without fail – fun to be in.
Yet my first yellow car in half a century has taught me interesting lessons about the power of colour: bright paint is so great for making your car look interesting that you’re more inclined to keep it clean, and it also gives you a huge practical advantage when you’ve parked your car among thousands of others, say at Goodwood.
This was my second Astra in a row, and the choice was made very deliberately. The first car was powered by a zingy 1.2-litre three-pot engine, which made it a decent and sporty-sounding performer through most of the performance envelope when allied with a six-speed manual gearbox.
The idea of the second Astra was to compare petrol with plug-in hybrid – on the grounds of efficiency and practicality – because much about the PHEV was different: more weight (1678kg against 1266kg), more cylinders from a bigger engine and an on-board electric motor assisting the 1.6-litre (and recuperating energy).
It was fascinating to discover, therefore, that these two diverse Astra models should congregate so closely in the same space. The first one struck me as a sweet and uncompromised vehicle, a great reason why a declining market sector (C-segment saloons) doesn’t deserve its demise. By comparison, I was pretty sure that the PHEV, around £8000 more expensive, would feel heavier and coarser.
Except it wasn’t nearly so simple. Without running the cars literally toe to toe, it wasn’t even possible to say which was best. They seemed that close. Of course, the PHEV had the better step-off performance, especially given the presence of electric assistance that more than offsets its extra weight. The cars seemed to ride about the same, with good body control supported by well-chosen damping. Both had crisp and positive steering with impressive turn-in.