The Vauxhall VXR8 is an unsophisticated sledgehammer that is engaging, entertaining and very different from the German super-coupés that it rivals
What is it?
This is the Holden HSV GTS, an Aussie-built supersaloon with a 423bhp 6.0-litre V8 under the bonnet. And in all but name, it’s the new Vauxhall VXR8.
What’s it like?
It’s the subtleties of this big saloon that I couldn’t quite believe. Not given its size, the punch and the mass of its 423bhp nose-mounted V8, the aggressive styling and the fact that the whole thing has to be built tough enough to cope with some of the world’s worst roads.
Yet in a brief shakedown drive on a selection of lumpy Oxfordshire back-roads the car displayed a delicacy and accuracy in the steering, a flatness and control in its firm ride and a general, impressive stability in tough conditions that would have done credit to one of Europe’s best sports saloons.
Not for nothing does the Holden GTS’s builder, Holden Special Vehicles in Clayton, Victoria, seek comparisons with BMW.
“We reckon it’s as quick as an M5 at half the price,” says Englishman Phil Harding, HSV’s managing director this past six years. He’s not the only Englishman involved, either; since 1987, HSV has been owned by Tom Walkinshaw, formerly of TWR and Arrows F1 fame
The GTS we drove briefly near Tom Walkinshaw’s Oxfordshire HQ wasn’t quite the car we’ll get here in May, but it’s close, especially under the skin.
The UK-spec car — badged Vauxhall VXR8 and priced to start at just £34,995 in base form — will come with 414bhp, a standard six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed auto is optional), a limited-slip diff, a specially tuned all-independent suspension and four big-diameter discs with four-pot calipers.
Performance is in the seriously brisk category: 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds, 0-100 mph in around 11 seconds and a top speed of 170mph.
The biggest visual differences between Holden and Vauxhall are badges, a few body bits and 20-inch wheels. The Vauxhall will come with 19s as standard. However (along with even bigger brakes and a supercharger conversion) owners will be able to specify the big wheels.
On the road, the car’s 406lb ft of torque and huge power to weight ratio ensure instant thrust, yet it also revs smoothly beyond 6000rpm, not something 6.0-litre pushrod V8s used to do.
But the best bit is the car’s stability and accurate steering, which means it seems to shrink around you. In Britain, given the car’s bulk and raw performance, that may be one of its most vital characteristics.
Should I buy one?
The VXR8 should be near-identical to this Holden to drive. If it is, it’ll be a bit of a bargain.