MAY 13th 2014

Loud, thirsty, old‑school... Vauxhall's VXR8 is 'ripper mate'!

VXR8

VXR8Five hundred and seventy six horsepower for under £55,000? There’s only one place to look for that: Australia.

Melbourne via Luton to be precise. It is of course the latest hot Holden to arrive here, the most powerful ever, the last of its ilk and certainly the best, by Australian or any other standards, in ways that go way deeper than that bang-for-your-buck headline. The VXR8 GTS is an absolute ripper.

The story so far: hot Holdens are legendary Down Under and have been since the late Peter Brock built up his Holden Dealer Team, doing to the Commodore family sedan what in earlier times had made classics like the Torana XU-1 and A9X so lusted after. Brockie and co made some wonderful road cars: I know, as a road tester on Wheels magazine in Sydney at the time I used to fly down regularly to try them out.

HDT became Holden Special Vehicles in 1988, one Tom Walkinshaw in the chair, fresh from his Jag XJS racing exploits, at Bathurst and elsewhere. Tom died in 2010 but HSV is still a family controlled company, still in Melbourne and still making Commodore-based Aussie muscle cars – 75,000 of them so far. (You can watch a video on HSV’s heritage below, which includes an interview with Ryan Walkinshaw.)

Some (okay, a handful) of those 75,000 in recent years have come to the UK under the auspices of Vauxhall, all in the GM family. The VXR8 is the latest off the boat, and the last to make such a journey. With Holden manufacture in Australia ending in 2017, Holdens in general and hot ones in particular are likely never to be quite the same again.

Which means that anyone with even the remotest interest in a V8-powered musclecar able to mix it with the cream of Germany’s rocket-sled saloons for several tens of thousands of pounds less had better pay attention now. Mix it? Try beat. After a full road test going over, Autocar ranked the VXR8 ahead of Jag XFR-S, BMW M5, Merc E63 AMG and Audi RS6.

VXR8

Supercharged Chevy Corvette power

The new GTS version brings a lot of new stuff to the VXR8 party, including most significantly a supercharged LSA version of GM’s 6.2-litre V8 already used in the hottest Chev Camaros and Corvettes. The supercharger adds 150bhp and 140lb ft to what was already a potent engine, for new maxima of 576bhp at 6150rpm and 545lb ft at 3850rpm.

That’s a boost you are not likely to miss, even if the claimed 4.2sec 0-62mph time might be a tad ambitious (Autocar clocked it at 4.8, with 0-100mph in 10.2secs). It does weigh in at 1882kg after all. Top speed is artificially limited to 155mph. Very artificially; if it were allowed to pull max revs in fifth, as it probably could, the VXR8 would hit 173mph. Sixth is all about the cruising, just 2000rpm needed to serve up this country’s motorway speed limit. If it pulled top revs in this gear the thing would be doing 220mph!

A chunky six-speed manual ‘box and a mechanical limited slip diff complete what may seem an old-school picture. It is, but with a twist. Brake torque vectoring, to reduce understeer, is fitted, along with Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers, launch control, and drive mode options of tour, sport, performance and track. This is no backwoodsman. For track use especially, this VXR8 promises much improved stopping power with its new forged six-pot callipers and larger discs.

The car is not short of safety gadgets like forward collision warning and there’s a head-up display that I thought worked well. Inside you get leather, suede, heated sports seats and niceties like Bose stereo and satnav all included in the £54,499. The rise over the old one is just £5k, says Vauxhall, because the exchange rate has changed in our favour.

VXR8

Instant response, in any rev-range

The ad line for HSV models in Australia is “I just want one” and you don’t have to drive far to see where there are coming from with that. The things that get you to begin with are the big, welcoming seats; the deep bass exhaust rumble; perfectly weighted and precise steering; linear brake feel and an exquisite ride. And after that it all just gets better.

It certainly gets faster. Whatever gear, whatever speed, brush the loud pedal and away you surge. It’s not aloof performance, but comes with a connection with the real world you don’t always get in 500bhp cars. It’s as much to do with massive torque as massive power, instant response anywhere in the range, and traction so good you quickly take it for granted, even on damp roads.

Spot-on gearing helps too, so you can enjoy winding it out in second, feeling the thump in your back as you grab third and the mid-range torque hits, without being too antisocial. Managing gears and clutch pedal is far from the exercise in body-building you might imagine.

For one so fast, the VXR8 GTS makes a very spacious and comfortable four-seat saloon with no ill manners or refinement compromises that would rule out all-day drives across Europe. You could do that, and with the family aboard, without getting undue earache, though most certainly with a hit in the pocket. Having said that a light (ish) foot can pay dividends. Our 13.2mpg improved to 17 by the time the car went back, an improvement of almost a third! The fuel side of things doesn’t start well when you note that when the car is stationary the meter reads in gallons/hour which is surely more Sunseeker territory…

As well as the absorbent ride there’s good feel in all the controls and what is a big car quickly shrinks around you. It is very easy to place and never feels too big or unwieldy for winding British back roads. It will oversteer, spectacularly if you want it to, but the rear only steps out at your instruction. Overall the car fits in better here, is more everyday useable, than I ever imagined it would be.

VXR8

Inside it’s more Insignia than AMG…

What’s not to like? A little transmission shunt if you’re not careful with the clutch. An occasional skittishness at low speed as the LSD does its thing. That thirst. Rather too lairy looks to be a true Q-car (especially in the test car’s vibrant orange).

Then there’s the inside, which is as you may have already guessed is more Insignia than AMG. The leather, suede and carbon-look trim do their best, but the grain of the plastic would look more at home on an elephant’s bum than in a luxury car. The click-clack of the indicators (on the right-hand side, like Japanese cars once upon a time) is nasty, the two little ancillary dials a bit Astra GTE. No deal breakers here, not for me anyway. But the cheap and flimsy centre armrest is definitely one telltale of humble origins too far.

Rarity compensates. Seeing two in one place anywhere other than perhaps a Goodwood Breakfast Club meet is virtually unthinkable. Vauxhall believes it can sell around 30 a year in the UK (homologation rules mean it can’t sell more than 100 in a year). There are 15 orders already, and not just from Vauxhall dealers. From people I guess who “just want one”. Drive it, and it’s an easy feeling to have.

VXR8

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