This is the new Vauxhall VXR8. Woof. Only this is it in its natural habitat of Australia, where it’s built and badged by Holden Special Vehicles
HSV, the company created by the late Tom Walkinshaw’s and still owned by his family, is a completely independent company from General Motors’ Australian arm, Holden.
But HSV works so closely with Holden that it’s allowed access to plans and engineering prototypes five years ahead of launch; so when there’s a new Holden there is, at the same time, a new HSV.
And this is it. It’s the “Gen-F” variant, in what is HSV’s line-topping GTS specification (there are lesser variants, but let’s not worry about those). It arrives in the UK with Vauxhall badging in December 2013.
Highlights? The same basic architecture as the latest-generation Holden Commodore – technically a facelift, but with changes that run so deep it’s easier to think of it as a new model – and given HSV’s trademark treatments. Some are fitted in the Holden factory (electrics, drivetrain), with the rest fitted in HSV’s facility in the Melbourne suburbs.
In all, the changes are significant enough to mark HSV out as a manufacturer in its own right. And none is more significant than the obligatory V8, a 6.2-litre ‘LSA’ donkey, with a supercharger attached. It has 577bhp and 546lb ft. And I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of that. So. Shall we?
If you’re familiar with the previous VXR8 – which puts you in a particularly small minority – you’ll be blown away by the interior trim in here. It’s still among the roomiest saloons around (at 4988mm, the VXR8 is longer than a BMW 5-Series), but perceived material quality has been given a massive hike. There was a time when an imported HSV (the Monaro that is still slang for any of these cars), somewhere in the mid £30ks, was an outright performance bargain alongside European coupes and super-saloons.
The strength of Australia’s currency has put paid to that – the VXR8 GTS will cost £54,999 – but interior fit and finish has risen in line with the Australian dollar. Besides, compared to a BMW M5, a little the wrong side of £50k still looks like remarkably good value.
The technology count has been given a lift, too. Suspension’s by coil springs, but there are magnetorheological dampers of the latest-generation; quick to react and selectable in their stiffness parameters. There’s a “Driver Preference Dial” on the spangly centre console which, as you flick the settings through varying degrees of hardcore-ness, adjusts the stability control, electric power steering’s weight, exhaust sound and damper stiffness to suit.
The good thing is that it’s pretty easy to find a setting that works. Unlike, say, a big fast Audi, the VXR8’s body control is never poor, and neither is the ride. The tech has moved on, but that slightly old-fashioned, honest way it drives still underpins it. This is a pleasingly responsive car, straightforward and linear in the way it tells you what’s going on at the road.
It’s pleasurable to tool around at cruising speeds, riding that wave of torque, occasionally digging the throttle down to access some of that limitless poke and enjoy a trademark V8 backbeat, subdued as all these LS units seem to be, except at full throttle. It feels an easy car to live with.
What you really want, though, is space to enjoy it. Find that, and you’ll find this is a really good car. Okay, it’s not as composed as a BMW M3, but I’d pick one, to drive hard, over an M5. Genuinely. At times it might not feel as sophisticated, I grant you, and it’s a big old car, so it ain’t agile. But it is well balanced and rewarding.
The VXR8 has torque vectoring, braking an inside wheel to reduce understeer, but it only works in one of the chassis settings, and only if you’re on the power slightly: in other words, if you’re in a long sweeper, or being a bit hamfisted.
Better, instead, to ease down on the brakes towards a corner, keep them trailed in as you turn, to settle the nose and quell some of the inevitable understeer, and then get back on the gas. That’s how this car wants to be driven: the traditional, correct way. And driven like that, for a big saloon it’s particularly impressive. Oh, and if you want bit smokey skids? You can have them. Any time. It has cafeteria oversteer: help yourself.
It remains a physical car – the gearshift is meaty and the clutch deliberate – but that’s part of the appeal, too. It’s a big supersaloon, after all, not some kind of mid-point-pivoting, super agile rally replica or Germanic tech-fest.
It’s brawny and it’s as honest as ever, but behind it all, this latest-generation HSV is sufficiently advanced and luxurious that it feels so much more complete than before. So much more compelling that, if you’re in the market for a big fast car, you don’t have to choose a Vauxhall VXR8 because of the obvious, and compelling, reasons: because it’s a bargain; because there might never be another; and because if you don’t, who will? Good reasons all.
But there’s another reason. A better reason. You can choose one simply because it’s terrific.