This plucky Aussie import, it would seem, has had the rug pulled out from under its feet by the plunging value of the pound. Still, Vauxhall isn’t about to let it go down without a fight.
What’s it like?
This new VXR8 is based on Holden Special Vehicles’ ES GTS Commodore; the outgoing one, which you’ll still be able to buy in updated form for £45,000, was the more lowly ‘HSV’ Clubsport R8 in Vauxhall garb.
So this time around, in return for your fifty large, Luton will supply you with a VXR8 with full leather upholstery, a proper ‘HSV’ interior, bigger brakes (at 365mm up front, the biggest discs ever fitted to a production Vauxhall), a mechanical limited slip diff, a more focussed chassis featuring active magnetic ride control dampers and launch control. Our test car also came with a six-speed automatic gearbox, pushing its price beyond the £50k barrier.
With that tauter chassis, the new VXR8 GTS is certainly a more focussed, controlled car to drive quickly. The dampers continually adjust very effectively to rein in body movement, although they don’t dial it out completely. And they have two switchable control settings: ‘performance’ and ‘track’.
Even in the former of the two settings, there’s much less pitch and roll in the VXR8 GTS, when you really begin to deploy that considerable power on a cross-country road, than you would have found in the old model. Better grip, traction and steering precision too. In circumstances where the old car would have been a willing if slightly ragged entertainer, the new one’s got poise and purchase to spare, as well as power. And ‘track’ mode adds even greater damper control, bringing the car’s reserves almost up to BMW M5 level; but it also causes the VXR8 to crash a little through sharper-edged dips.
That 6.2-litre V8 is at once smooth and vocal. It’s got every bit as much aural interest-value as an AMG or M-Division lump, even though, measured by the high standards set by the very latest European performance engines, it lacks both a wicked-strength, force-fed mid-range and a banshee-like top-end.
The best news, however, is that the VXR8’s benign and wonderfully entertaining dynamic character is still here to be enjoyed – even in GTS form. The VXR8’s relatively long-travel suspension combines with its neutral chassis balance and well-weighted steering and allows you to take liberties with this car that you’d rarely contemplate in other cars of the size. In both automatic and manual forms the VXR8 is instantly throttle-steerable in 2nd and 3rd gear bends, and seldom fails to serve up wonderful driver engagement, as well as added speed and composure, from apex to apex.
By comparison to other fast rear-drivers, the VXR8 remains an armchair of a sports saloon: it’s comfortable and flattering, and yet game and responsive at the same time.
Should I buy one?
As fast, poised and entertaining as the new VXR8 GTS is, here we come back to the same stumbling block that we started on. Much as you love the way it drives, this is never a £50,000 car. It’s good: a more purposeful driver’s car, sure, as well as a slightly more expensive-feeling way to travel. And it’s as hilarious as ever on a quiet hairpin bend.
But it’s not significantly better than the £35k VXR8 of four years ago. And it’s not quite fast enough, special enough or sufficiently well-appointed to tempt people away from the German performance options.