Wednesday, 13 June 2012 2:24 PM
It’s about as obvious as a clip round the ear with a nuclear knuckleduster that this electric-blue chunk of hunkered metal madness is the new Vauxhall Astra VXR. When Vauxhall pop a VXR badge on one of their mainstream cars they make sure that it deserves it. And they start by turning the styling volume up to 11, and then ripping the volume knob off and tossing it in the sea!
This is the second Astra VXR to come out of Luton; the first car, based on the previous, much more squarely-defined Astra, first hit the dealers back in 2005, packing 240bhp and a good dollop of attitude. It was an exciting car to drive – and look at – but, as I’ve said, and with a VXR fanbase to keep on the boil; the new Astra VXR brings more pace, performance and big-time look-at-me-factor.
So, after over 100 miles on the road and a couple of hot laps of the Rockingham race circuit, let’s break the new 280bhp Vauxhall Astra VXR down for you…
Vauxhall Astra VXR first drive review
The UK is Vauxhall’s number one market their Astra GTC – the 3-door coupe-looking Astra on which this VXR is based – and the new Astra VXR is expected to be the best-selling VXR-badged car in the UK, with a sales ratio of 3-to-1 Astra VXRs bound for the hot hatch-lovers of Blighty, compared to Europe. And, as such, the UK-based Vauxhall side of the whole Vauxhall / Opel operation got to call the styling and performance shots for the latest VXR.
The team at Vauxhall work hard to connect with VXR buyers and enthusiasts in the UK, and aftersales research and plenty of VXR-based trips, track days and owner meets have given the team at Vauxhall insight into what VXR fans and performance car fans want. And clearly they want it loud, fast and lairy!
For this Astra VXR launch, we’re presented with cars in red, white or a pulsing electric blue, but regardless of paint colour, there is absolutely no disguising the Astra VXR’s bulging bodywork.
Big wheels – 19-inch as standard, with 20-inch monsters included in the £995 Aero Pack, along with deeper sideskirts and a downforcing extension to the rear spoiler – and a wider track and more hunkered stance, all add up to what the Vauxhall PR peeps describe as a “far more hardcore” Astra.
You don’t need the red VXR badge to tell that this is the quickest Astra, and that’s what VXR fans demand, and if you want to make a sporting statement with your next sub-£30k quicker car, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more slap-in-the-face statement than this VXR. I like it a lot, and yes, I am a show-off!
Into the interior:
The new Astra VXR’s closest competition for price and performance is the Megane RenaultSport 265, and for around £27k – a little more if you spec-up the Renault to match the VXR – we’ll be expecting a rather tasty interior. However, remember; the Astra VXR is the most powerful in it class at 280bhp.
I tend to judge a hot hatch interior on its seats first – these are our greeters as we first open the door – and the VXR’s bucket seats are very handsome indeed. They come in half-leather as standard and full cow-skin can be optioned at extra cost; at two levels of price depending on how many motors make the seat adjustments. They’re a new design that’s lighter and stiffer in the backing shell than before, and feature adjustment in every direction. I found the low-in-chassis seating position that I like.
The smaller-than-standard VXR leather and stitched steering wheel slides and tilts to meet your grip and further adds to the sporting flavour of things, and there are Sport and VXR buttons to sharpen throttle and steering response in gentle increments depending on your sporting mood.
In all it’s a pukka VXR interior – perhaps the button-heavy centre console will take a little getting used to, but, according to Vauxhall, the average VXR buyer wants plenty of tech; like Bluetooth, sat-nav and USB connection. And they get it here.
Operatic, dynamic and bloody fast! That just about sums it up. There is indeed plenty of get up and go to the Astra VXR – 280bhp (with the turbo kicking off at 1400rpm) and 400Nm of torque (fully available from 2450rpm), but there is also the suspension, grip and composure to really max that potent power output.
It’s a front-wheel drive car, but the brand’s VXR experience shows with the right combination of (expensive) mechanical limited slip differential, already-proven-in-the-quite-hot-Astra-GTC HiPerStrut suspension, and big-brand Brembo Italian brakes. There’s a Remus-developed twin-exit exhaust, too. These are all brands that performance fans will recognise and respect.
The Astra VXR hits 60mph in 5.9secs and that sprint is accompanied by a roaring rushing noise from the exhaust that’s quite unlike any other tailpipe noise I’ve heard before. And it increases as the turbo spins harder.
At first I though this roar would get annoying after time, but when at full attack in the VXR I found it actually added to the overall speed-theatre. This is a no-punch-pulling hot hatch from every angle.
The car goes down twisting back lanes with impressive grip and composure and the harder you power through a corner apex, the tighter the differential pulls through. I had to tune my brain to the VXR’s fast cornering potential, but once I did, I found a car that's at the top of its driving game. It’s fast, super-fun and locked to the tarmac.
Sure, it’s firmly sprung, load and proud, but with CO2 at 189g/km and quoted combined economy at 34.9mpg from the turbo’d 2-litre motor, it’s still a real-world new performance car proposition for quite a few of us. In fact, around 1500 will be sold each year in the UK.
And before you wonder if it’s too stiff or if all that power will only end in flighty torque-steer, wonder no more; it’s not and it won’t. The firm suspension gives damn good grip and while there’s a little headshaking to deal with over really rough surfaces, the new Astra VXR makes an impressive performance case for itself. VXR fans won’t be disappointed and if you want something soft and spongy, go buy a dinghy.
Ten second sum up:
Fast; really fast. Looks wild and handles with impressive aplomb. Yes, it’s pretty hardcore, but that’s what VXR fans say they want and that’s what Vauxhall set out to engineer. You’ll know in an instant if it’s for you, and I think that’s a good thing when it comes to high performance hot hatches. It's a cool case of go hard, or go home!