We salute the VXR8 GTS-R, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin Vantage, Ford Fiesta ST200 and Renault Sport Mégane as they head out of production
10 September 2017

There’s a distinctive hissing sound at first, a kind of moody whoosh. Then follows a sudden and unexpected bwaaaaaa, delivered as a loud, mournful cry. The racket is actually made by the VXR8 GTS-R’s enormous pipes as the exhaust valves blow wide open at 4500rpm, but it could easily have been the sound made by yours truly the moment I heard the V8 bruiser was to be discontinued. A very sad day indeed.

With the demise of the Australian car manufacturing industry, the Holden Commodore – the car Vauxhall has been importing and rebadging for a decade – will soon be no more. On top of that, the Luton marque is now part of the PSA Group, which itself would have expedited the death of the mighty saloon anyway. Like a tubby old sow in a Danish food processing plant, the VXR8 didn’t stand a chance.

However, it will not depart this life with a whimper. Instead, Vauxhall’s last V8 super saloon, the consonant-pillaging VXR8 GTS-R, will be the brand’s most powerful car ever. Farewells don’t get any noisier than this.

This will, in fact, be the year that several of our favourite cars are finally put out to pasture. Some of them have served for even longer than the VXR8, others a little less, but all of them have been constant fixtures in our performance car league tables for as long as they’ve been around. Each and every one of them will be sorely missed. But there is a glimmer of hope: all but the Vauxhall will be replaced by new models in the coming months.

The VXR8 is the one we should feel most sorrowful for, then. Not because it’s pretty – its front end looks like the face of some terrible Antipodean spider seen through a microscope – but because it’s just so characterful. The GTS-R is the run-out special. Only 15 will be sold in the UK, each costing a good old fistful at £74,500.

A small number of induction and software upgrades have squeezed more power from the 6.2-litre supercharged V8, although you’ll need a very sensitive inbuilt gyroscope to identify the additional 11bhp over the VXR8 GTS. Not that you’ll feel shortchanged by 587bhp and 546lb ft. The GTS-R is furiously, rampantly fast. The big blown eight-pot overcomes the car’s 1880kg bulk with all the disdain of the All Blacks’ forward pack scrummaging against eight of Theresa May’s most bone idle frontbenchers. There’s actually so much torque on tap, and the gearing is so long, that you can get the thing shifting along much faster than the surrounding traffic without ever using more than 3000rpm.

Which would be a colossal waste. Much better to stretch the mighty engine all the way out, laughing involuntarily as the exhaust valves blast open so rudely, and feeling the panic-inducing, snowballing rate of acceleration as the engine thunders on through 6000rpm. What’s really remarkable about the GTS-R, beyond its staggering straight-line speed, is how game it is when you punt it along a winding moorland road. The vast body rolls and heaves and pitches like a fat drunk staggering home, but it’s actually very well controlled; it’ll roll in a corner but then settle right away, and it’ll sit down heavily into a compression but it’ll never boing up and down on its springs. It isn’t particularly sophisticated, but the GTS-R sure is a blast.

Vauxhall VXR8

Price range £15,000-£74,500 Price to pay £35,000 Best version A naturally aspirated 420bhp VXR8 at £15,000 is very hard to ignore, but the supercharged Bathurst S model represents the best value for money. With 564bhp, it has almost as much power as the GTS-R, but you can pick them up on the used market for about half the price. Find used VXR8s on PistonHeads here.

In modern technological terms, the Aston Martin Vantage isn’t very sophisticated, either, for there’s no downsized turbo engine or dual-clutch gearbox or active aerodynamics, but it’s no less brilliant because of it. What the Vantage lacks in whizzy tech, it makes up for in inherent rightness: aluminium body, transaxle, front mid-engined layout, double wishbones all round, limited-slip differential. It’s also gorgeous to look at.

The Vantage first arrived back in 2005 and, since then, Aston Martin has honed and refined the car year on year. There’s a certain weightiness to everything as you start it up and manoeuvre it: the heft of the clutch pedal and manual gearshift; the weight of the steering; the effort it takes to unhitch the flyoff handbrake. Initially, it makes the car feel like hard work, but it all comes together beautifully later on.

This is the limited-edition AMR, just 300 of which will be made. Aston’s new performance brand takes its name from Aston Martin Racing, the marque’s Le Mans-winning motorsport outfit. The AMR brand may one day denote Gaydon’s fastest and most focused cars, but for now it’s little more than a sticker set and some very loud interior trim.

That doesn’t diminish the car’s appeal, though. Whereas at low speed it’s awkward and discordant, like an orchestra playing without a conductor, with pace it starts to make sense. For the Vantage, speed is the conductor. With its arrival, the steering, ride and handling, gearshift and engine all begin to harmonise.

The V8-powered Vantage is not a particularly fast car (choose the V12 model if thundering performance is your thing), but the 4.7-litre engine is characterful and sonorous. The car flows along a road brilliantly and in corners it feels perfectly balanced, too, while the steering chatters away endlessly. There’s no other sports car experience quite like it. We’ll find out soon enough if Aston Martin has been able to preserve that unique character in a more modern package.

Aston Martin Vantage

Price range £27,000-£97,000 Price to pay £42,000 Best version It’s a very brave person who buys an early Vantage for less than £30,000. Better to spend a little more and buy a 4.7-litre version, introduced in 2008, which starts at a little over £40,000. The bigger engine is more powerful than the 4.3 and the later cars feel sweeter. Find a used Vantage on PistonHeads here.

Certainly, the Bentley Continental GT is not at all like the Vantage, despite both being V8-engined, British-built sports coupés. Yes, the 700bhp Supersports is probably the GT’s true farewell model, but it’s this more humble V8 S version that we’ll miss the most.

A staggering 14 years after it was launched, the Conti GT is finally being allowed to move on. It will be replaced by an all-new version next year, a technological tour de force that shares its underpinnings with Porsche’s Panamera. It’ll be a big step forward, if the day I spent in a development car was anything to go by.

But even knowing what I know about how superior the new car will be, I couldn’t help but be seduced by the old-timer. Its sumptuous cabin swings from hand-crafted luxury on one end (soft leather and perfect hand-stitching) to mass-produced and plasticky on the other (the clusters of buttons that litter the dashboard and centre console). No doubt it’s a very fine place to spend many hours, though. The Bentley was also the only car here that managed to smooth out a particularly lumpy section of moorland road, its body staying calm and unflustered when all others fidgeted and jiggled.

The reason the V8 model is so much more enjoyable than any W12 version is that it’s actually nimble and well-balanced, rather than clumsy and nose heavy. With 521bhp, the V8 S also feels extremely fast on the road. You’d need to be in a tremendous hurry to require more power and a further four cylinders.

Being the oldest car here, the GT is the easiest one to find fault with. The vague steering, dim-witted four-wheel-drive system and lofty seating position all frustrate, but each of those criticisms will be put right by the next model.

Bentley Continental GT 

Price range £20,000-£200,000 Price to pay £70,000 Best version Early W12s can be picked up for relative peanuts, but the V8 versions are better to drive. They were only introduced a few years ago, though, so you’ll be paying several times the price to get in one. If that puts the GT out of reach, low-mileage W12s start at £40,000. Find a used Continental GT on PistonHeads here.

Despite it being the cheapest car of the bunch, the Ford Fiesta ST200 is probably the hardest one to find fault with. The ride is very stiff and it never really settles at speed, the seats are set a little too high and the entire infotainment interface remains a mystery to me, even after many hundreds of miles behind the wheel of countless STs. Everything else is just about perfect.

The car has a very distinctive set of driving behaviours. First of all, the control weights and contact points are all perfectly matched: pedals to gearshift, steering precision to the peachy support of the Recaro seats. And then there’s the immediate way the front axle responds to inputs and the very natural, intuitive roll in bends. It’s all just so cohesive, more cohesive in fact than most cars costing ten times the price. Every young vehicle dynamics engineer should be made to spend a week in a Fiesta ST to understand just how all-of-a-piece a car can feel.

The ST is only four years old, but it’ll be missed as much as any car here because of how entertaining it is to drive. Its replacement probably has the toughest job to do because there is so little to improve on and, sitting here now, I just cannot fathom how the new ST will be as brilliant as the outgoing one.

Ford Fiesta ST

Price range £8000-£20,000 Price to pay £10,000 Best version Used Fiesta ST200s are still changing hands for more or less list price, so you’re better off looking at standard STs as a used purchase. £10,000 is a very healthy budget for an ST – it will buy a three-year-old car with fewer than 30,000 miles and full Ford service history. Find a used Fiesta ST on PistonHeads here.

Between them, the Ford Fiesta ST and Renault Sport Mégane prove that a modest price tag and humble underpinnings need not be a hindrance even in the most single-minded performance-driving terms. Offer me one last drive across Exmoor in any of these cars and I will walk towards the two hot hatches, then take an eternity to choose between them.

Just like the ST200, the 275 Cup-S is a farewell model – one last triumphant hurrah. This generation of hot Mégane first arrived back in 2010 and it’s only now, seven years later, that I’ve come across a similarly priced front-wheel-drive hot hatch that comes close to being as stupendously good to drive. But even the impressive new Honda Civic Type R falls short of the Renault.

There’s a singularity of purpose about the Cup-S that calls to mind a Porsche GT car. That can make it a little demanding over a long journey – the ride is firm and the seats unyielding – but the very instant you point it at a winding road, you’re reminded of how brilliant it is. This car’s Bridgestone tyres are more like performance all-rounders than ultra-high-performance rubber, but the Mégane works them so well, you’d swear they were semi-slicks. As well as massive grip, the car also has a very agile natural balance, rotating about the gear lever in the most exploitable way.

The moment you turn into a bend, you can also feel the outside rear corner propping the car up, which keeps the front axle locked onto a tight line. And in RS driving mode, the Akrapovic exhaust spits out the most hilarious torrent of pops and bangs, sounding for all the world like a rally car with anti-lag.

Renault Sport Mégane

Price range £8000-£25,000 Price to pay £14,000 Best version The key thing to look out for when buying a Renault Sport Mégane is the Cup option. The Cup has the more focused chassis, which is what makes the car so spectacular to drive. A 2012 265 Cup can be picked up for £14,000, almost half the price of the 275 Cup-S. Find a used Mégane on PistonHeads here.

And so, the time has come. We now commit their bodies to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, eat my dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Thanks for the powerslides.

Related stories: 

Fiesta ST200 review 

Renault Sport Mégane review

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R review 

Our Verdict

Seat Leon 5dr hatch

Seat's third-generation Leon is attractive and capable, but it can't quite reach the benchmark set by the imperious Volkswagen Golf

Join the debate

Comments
7

10 September 2017

Saddest for me is the big Vauxhall.

I see one of these every day and get woken by its bellowing start up each morning -  I stiil love it!

Steam cars are due a revival.

10 September 2017

It is indeed sad that the VXR8 is coming to an end here, but then we only ever bought 10-20 per year - but doubly sad for the Aussies who can no longer buy a V8 Commodore and then heaped with insults by badging the Insignia as a Commodore when sold down under.

Even the Yanks will miss it as the Commodore was built in LHD as well and exported to the States as the Chevrolet SS.

GM has lost the plot big time.

10 September 2017

Its diapointing that GM didnt make the commodore replacement on the platform used by the the Camaro in the US (the previous Camaro used the Commodore platform afterall), and then there would still have been a V8 RWD RHD saloon, no matter what badge ended up on its nose. I hope GM reconcider this for a future model, i cant see the Australians taking too kindly to the Insignia. 

10 September 2017
artill wrote:

Its diapointing that GM didnt make the commodore replacement on the platform used by the the Camaro in the US (the previous Camaro used the Commodore platform afterall), and then there would still have been a V8 RWD RHD saloon, no matter what badge ended up on its nose. I hope GM reconcider this for a future model, i cant see the Australians taking too kindly to the Insignia. 

American engineers, or more likely their managers, are unable to remember to allow for RHD - that's why there's no RHD Camaro to compete against RHD Mustang - or RHD V6T Insignia Grand Sport.

The new E2xx platform, used for the new Insignia Grand Sport was engineered by Chevrolet in USA, unlike the previous Insignia which used Epsilon II engineered by Opel in Germany - Chevrolet didn't account for RHD V6 turbo versions so the most powerful Vauxhall will be the 2.0TT - without UK sales, Opel had to cull the LHD V6T as well - so the Aussies get a choice of 2.0TT or V6 non-turbo - while the Americans can get a V6T in their Chevrolet/Buicks based on this platform.

10 September 2017

I enjoyed Dan Prosser's article on the Vauxhall VXR8 in the 30/8 issue of Autocar, I was  amused by his suggestion that the future of HSV could secured by dipping into the wider GM stable and importing Chargers & Challengers to convert to right hand drive,have I missed something? when gid The General own Dodge,last time I looked Dodge belonged to Fiat Chrysler. If the question needs asking what's going to replace the Astra & Insignia when GM sell Opel to PSA leaving another big hole in the Holden lineup

10 September 2017
ianp55 wrote:

I enjoyed Dan Prosser's article on the Vauxhall VXR8 in the 30/8 issue of Autocar, I was  amused by his suggestion that the future of HSV could secured by dipping into the wider GM stable and importing Chargers & Challengers to convert to right hand drive,have I missed something? when gid The General own Dodge,last time I looked Dodge belonged to Fiat Chrysler. If the question needs asking what's going to replace the Astra & Insignia when GM sell Opel to PSA leaving another big hole in the Holden lineup

The sale to PSA is done - the transfer completed on 1st August 2017 - PSA-Opel/Vauxhall will continue to build existing models under licence to GM who retain all IP rights for Opel/Vauxhall products - the deal includes PSA-Opel/Vauxhall's build of Insignia for Buick and Holden and Astra for Holden.

Many predict the end of the Holden brand before the Astra/Insignia end their current models.

11 September 2017
Ruperts Trooper wrote:

 

Many predict the end of the Holden brand before the Astra/Insignia end their current models.

Well, considering that even Vauxhall is just a badge on a range of Opels, and has been since the early 80s, the Holden brand may also live on in badge engineered Opels / RHD Chevrolets / Daewoos etc.

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Volkswagen Golf MHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    VW's 48V mild hybrid technology is still a few years away from production, but we’ve sampled a prototype Golf fitted with it and are suitably impressed
  • Jeep Compass
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Jeep enters the competitive compact SUV market with its new Compass, blending ruggedness with contemporary styling and tech
  • BMW 1 Series Saloon
    We had a short drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive BMW 1 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    A brief drive in a China-only front-wheel-drive model shows the future is bright for the 1 Series when it makes the switch from RWD next year
  • BMW 5 Series
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    The BMW 5 Series is top of the mid-exec pack, but is there still room for a diesel saloon in everyday family life?
  • Toyota Prius PHEV
    First Drive
    23 November 2017
    Does running a plug-in hybrid really make sense as a 500-mile-a-week driver? Six months with a Toyota Prius Plug-in should give a conclusive answer