From £26,965
The VXR is a slightly manic but very capable way to cover ground, with an almost racecar way of doing things
  • First Drive

    Vauxhall Astra GTC VXR

    The VXR is a slightly manic but very capable way to cover ground, with an almost racecar way of doing things

What is it?

The return of the Vauxhall Astra VXR, with 276bhp putting it among the most powerful front-drive hot hatchbacks in history. That is, if you want to call it a hatchback: Vauxhall, like Renault with the Megane, sees the 3dr Astra as a coupe and sees the VW Scirocco R coupe as one of the VXR's main rivals. 

Either way, this new VXR is at the most serious end of front-drive performance, and it gets all the right mechanical hardware to go with it: a 2.0-litre, turbocharged engine, a mechanical limited-slip differential, Vauxhall's HiPer strut front suspension (meant to reduce torque steer) and a return to hydraulically-assisted power steering (instead of electrical assistance; with the intent to give more feel). At under £27,000 at launch it's decent value, too.

Unlike the previous Astra VXR, upon which the hand of Lotus performed some of the chassis development, this Astra is entirely the work of Opel’s team, led by Volker Strycek (former DTM champion and Nürburgring 24 hour winner). In fact, much of the development has been completed on the Nürburgring itself. Is that a good thing? We'll see.

What's it like?

Inside, it's not unlike other Astra GTCs: it feels solid, not overtly flamboyant or special, but there are a few flourishes like (at times) red backlit dials, the seats are fine and there's a sound driving position.

And, there's no denying, the Astra VXR is a fast car. Vauxhall reckons it's the quickest-accelerating hot hatch currently around, ducking under the six-second barrier in a sprint to 62mph, and with a fulsome 295lb ft at 2450-5000rpm to back up the power at the higher end.

In regular driving, I think you can feel its German influence; it steers positively, with good weight and much stability around straight ahead. You could imagine driving it at proper autobahn speeds for hours at a time. There’s a touch of turbo lag at low revs - it really gets going about 3000rpm or so. But it's pleasingly accomplished.


The VXR gets magnetorheological dampers with three settings. In standard form the ride is good, while there’s a halfway Sport setting too, which has slightly firmer dampers but leaves the throttle response in ‘ordinary’ mode. Then there's a VXR button that stiffens them further but also sharpens the throttle. All three are usable settings; to their great credit Vauxhall/Opel has resisted the temptation differentiate too much between. There's something for all occasions.


And so in faster driving? Well, it makes an extraordinary noise: lots of whooshing and sucking and a bizarre but compelling high-pitched whistle as the revs wind around. It’s quick, too, there’s no denying. It wouldn’t surprise me if, over a lap, it had the measure on all of its rivals over a lap. The steering is quick and the Astra fairly dives at a corner; there’s precious little roll but what there is comes fast, and from that point on the VXR is poised and capable. 

But its steering isn’t overtly talkative and neither is its chassis responsive to changes in throttle position. From the moment you run fast through a single corner or two, you begin to sense that there’s less interaction between man and machine allowed here than in the best in the class. There’s less finesse than, say, in a Renaultsport Megane with a Cup chassis. 

Up to a point (with VXR mode engaged to get the sharpest throttle response), you can use the accelerator to tuck the Astra’s VXR's nose towards a corner as you approach the limit. Give it just a touch too much though and it runs wide at the front and, even if given a lift, or what’s affectionately known as “the send” on the way in, it’s the front end that makes the rules. There's more throttle adjustability, and engagement and neutrality, in a Scirocco R or a Megane.

Should I buy one?

Maybe. It’s good, the Astra VXR, make no mistake. A really, solid, rounded product that’s far more complete than the car it replaced. To an extent it's ultimate lack of engagement is forgiveable too, especially once you factor in respectable responses elsewhere (a brake that’s over-eager at the top of its travel excepted). The VXR is a slightly manic but very capable way to cover ground, with an almost racecar way of doing things: impeccably fast, but with little natural reward. It's just that, for us, it could just use a little more finesse.

Vauxhall Astra VXR

Power: 276bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2450-5000rpm; Economy: 34.9mpg; CO2: 189g/km; 0-62mph: 5.9sec; Top speed: 155mph

Join the debate

Comments
14

11 June 2012

Bit disappointed, maybe Vauxhall have toned it down, maybe because it's White, i don't know, but, it doesn't say VXR to me.

Peter Cavellini.

11 June 2012

Most people said th elast one was chavvy so vauxhall have toned it down.

Still want one - and prefer this to the focus st thats also been driven recently.

One day!

11 June 2012

gazza5 wrote:

Still want one - and prefer this to the focus st thats also been driven recently.

One day!

 

I prefer the fact that you can get it in 3 door format. .    but  .     do I prefer it to cost £5k MORE  ?    Not on your life .  

 

Appreciate it has hardware closer to the Focus RS underneath, but I think that's what's so impressive about the Focus ST.   Bang for your buck .  

 

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12 June 2012

If Vauhall would put a more Sport looking face on it instead of color matching it to the bodywork it would be an improvment, to safe?.......oooh yes.

Peter Cavellini.

11 June 2012

Shame it looks like a SWB/chopped Insignia. Also looks chuffing wide - too wide for B-road action?

And how long will those fancy dampers last - and how much will they cost to replace?

11 June 2012

Much better than the Focus ST looks wise, and go by the look of it. Sub 6s 0-60 with 35MPG from a petrol engine isn't to be overlooked either.

11 June 2012

I think the GTC is a fab looking car, better looking than the Megane and Scirocco, both of which I think look great anyway. The VXR mods just heightens the appeal of the Vauxhall.

However, as good as this VXR it just goes to show that Vauxhall still have a lot to learn about producing excellent performance cars. A bit more finesse and total driving involvement to match the performance.

11 June 2012

Is it just me or does it look like its been out in the sun too long

 

http://i45.tinypic.com/1ep440.jpg

11 June 2012

The looks are a bit of a let down for me. Where is the aggression?

 

Looks like a cracking drive though.

DriverVIBE.com

....Celebrating Great Cars & Great Writing....

12 June 2012

This looks much better than the previous generation, although it does ape the Megane somewhat. Overall it's a big step forward for the Astra.

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