The Vauxhall VXR8 is an unsophisticated sledgehammer that is engaging, entertaining and very different from the German super-coupés that it rivals

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The Vauxhall VXR8 is familiar in parts and all new in others, but while it used to be a £35,000 bargain, the price has crept up to more than £50,000 for some versions, and that puts it straight in the path of the BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG.

Does this diminish the ultimate Vauxhall’s appeal? Not one bit: fast saloons have always been cooler than their two-door counterparts, and with genuine room for four the VXR8 has all the makings of a cut-price BMW M5 or Audi RS4 alternative.

Slightly crude, but a hugely characterful muscle saloon

It’s certainly more exclusive. Vauxhall expects to sell just a handful of the VXR8 GTS saloons in the UK, and a few less of the special order VXR8 Clubsport saloon and estate, and the VXR8 Maloo pick-up.

Based on Holden’s latest VE series Commodore, the VXR8 benefits from improved weight distribution (51/49 per cent front/rear), a five-link rear suspension, a stiffer bodyshell and quicker-witted steering.

Turning the workaday Holden saloon – where even the entry model gets a 3.6 V6 – into a super-saloon falls to Holden Special Vehicles, which has upgraded the brakes, engine and suspension, and fitted aggressive bumpers and an indiscreet boot spoiler.

Vauxhall claims the first UK buyers are coming from Subaru Imprezas and Mitsubishi Evosentirely understandable when you see the VXR8 in profile. There’s no question that it comes from the ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ school of styling.

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Yet for all the talk of new-generation Commodores and multi-link suspension, the VXR8 remains a steel-bodied car powered by an engine producing just 69bhp per litre. Effective and characterful, perhaps, but hardly cutting-edge.


Vauxhall VXR8 front end

There’s nothing subtle about the Vauxhall VXR8, least of all the way it looks. However, strip away the big body kit, aggressive intakes, fancy alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights, and you’re left with a fairly ordinary saloon.

But this is the essence of a muscle car – hotting up a standard rear-drive saloon with a big engine and wild styling is what it’s all about.

The optional sports exhaust adds bass to the standard car’s muted voice, without becoming too intrusive

Think Ford Mustang and Lotus Carlton, and you’re on the right lines.

The entry-level VXR8 Clubsport is effectively the pre-facelifted version left behind when the GTS model was launched. The look is far more subtle, with a deep front spoiler packed with vents to feed cool air to the radiator, a rear spoiler that seriously compromises visibility and LED rear lights that Vauxhall says are designed to look like fast-jet afterburners.

The Clubsport is available as a special order only, in saloon and estate body styles.

The biggest-selling version is the VXR8 GTS, not least because it’s the only model Vauxhall promotes, but even then you’ll need to dig inside Vauxhall’s VXR microsite to find any information.

The GTS looks even more outrageous, with a different grille and bumper treatment, but to our eyes it’s all a little too much. If the saloon or estate models are just too ordinary, Vauxhall can supply the VXR8 Maloo, a V8-engined pick-up.


Vauxhall VXR8 interior

At 4.9m long, the Vauxhall VXR8 is a big car10cm longer than a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class – so it’s no surprise that there’s plenty of cabin space. So much so that with the driver’s seat set all the way back, a six-footer would struggle to drive the car, and yet there’s still room behind for the same adult to sit comfortably.

The rear has a fixed bench with space for three and adequate support for all. This, and the cavernous 496-litre boot, should help justify the VXR8 as transport for the family man with a big enough wallet for the fuel bills.

When released, handbrake fits flush with console. Slick, and free of the finger-trapping problems of the Saab 9-3

Other than the offset pedals, the driving position is excellent. The VXR-branded, half-leather seats are electrically adjustable in eight directions, and the steering column for reach and rake.

Equipment is generous. Dual-zone climate control, a CD changer, automatic wipers and lights and parking sensors are standard. The optional sat-nav is better than on other Vauxhalls, even if the graphics don’t match those of premium rivals.

The VXR8 is a major step forward in quality over the Monaro, and we could happily live with its cabin, but in material quality and construction rigour the Vauxhall still lags behind the equivalently priced, if slower, BMW 335i and Audi S4.

Our biggest concern is the VXR8’s poor visibility. Thick A-pillars restrict the view at junctions, the spoiler interrupts the rear view and the tiny side mirrors create a huge blind spot.


Vauxhall VXR8 front quarter

A 6.2-litre engine, 437bhp, rear-wheel drive… pre-drive billings don’t get much more intimidating. The reality is nowhere near as daunting. The Vauxhall VXR8 is a rapid car, but it’s no vicious animal waiting to bite your hand off, and it’s a darn sight easier to drive than the Monaro.

There’s the same mechanical ’box, needing a positive movement from the shoulder rather than a deft flick of the wrist, but it’s smoother than before. The clutch is also lighter, but the VXR8’s unexpected friendliness comes most from the power delivery, building progressively with no nasty surprises.

Those huge front intakes aren't just for show - they channel air to the radiator, important with a hard-working V8

At idle, just the right level of V8 rumble is present (the standard exhaust is actually quite muted – we prefer the optional sports system) and a stab of throttle sends the big saloon rocking.

Despite the billing, the LS3 remains an old-school engine, preferring capacity over revs, and yet it is prepared to use everything it’s got, revving smoothly right up to its 6600rpm redline, where it’s far from strained, but leaves no doubt you’re asking a lot from a big engine.

In reality, you needn’t try so hard. The engine’s most content running between 2000 and 4600rpm, where peak torque is produced and the soundtrack is at its most delicious: a deep V8 thrum overlaid with a hard metallic beat. Vauxhall claims the VXR8 will hit 60mph from rest in 4.9sec, although admittedly with a well run-in engine.

The large-diameter ventilated disc brakes front and rear stop the VXR8 quickly in dry or wet conditions, and stand up well to hard use at the track. For smooth road use the pedal feel is excellent. In fact, so strong are the brakes that they can, under the harshest of stops, cause the rear suspension to judder.



Vauxhall VXR8 hard rear cornering

Super-saloons have it tough. They need to be supple for the saloon day job, but also taut enough for the times the ‘super’ alter ego gets loose. Accordingly, Vauxhall has fitted the VXR8 with magnetic ride control based on the system from the Corvette ZR1 and launch control.

Over a typical B-road, where the surface refuses to level and there’s the odd crest and compression, the VXR8 remains unfazed, the long wheelbase and weight helping to isolate the worst intrusions. It’s also decently comfortable for long-distance cruising.

Mega-quick, but sometimes a touch nervous

With the tauter chassis of the latest model, the VXR8 GTS is certainly a more focused and controlled car to drive quickly. The dampers continually adjust very effectively to rein in body movement, although they don’t dial it out completely. And they have two switchable control settings: performance and track.

Even in the former of the two settings, there’s much less pitch and roll in the VXR8 GTS than you would have found in the old model. There’s better grip, traction and steering precision, too. In circumstances where the old car would have been a willing if slightly ragged entertainer, the new one’s got poise and purchase to spare, as well as power.

And track mode adds even greater damper control, bringing the car’s reserves almost up to BMW M5 levels; but it also causes the VXR8 to crash a little through sharper-edged dips.



Vauxhall VRX8 2011-2012

As fast, poised and entertaining as the new VXR8 GTS is, here we come back to the same stumbling block that we started on. Much as you love the way it drives, this Vauxhall is never a £50,000 car.

It’s good: a more purposeful driver’s car, sure, as well as a slightly more expensive-feeling way to travel. And it’s as hilarious as ever on a quiet hairpin bend. But it’s not significantly better than the £35,000 VXR8 of four years ago.

The VXR8 has become a pricey victim of exchange rates

And it’s not quite fast enough, special enough or sufficiently well appointed to tempt people away from the German performance options.

You suspect Vauxhall knows that much, which is why Luton’s expecting to sell just 25 new VXR8 GTSs every year – and even fewer Clubsports and Maloos – exclusively to dyed-in-the-wool Holden enthusiasts.

Thanks to the dollar-pound exchange rate, a car that was once a sensationally good buy in the UK has become a bit-part player.

And then there are the day-to-day running costs. We managed 17.1mpg in our VXR8 Clubsport test car, although cruising at 70mph in sixth returns a more affordable 31mpg. Servicing is every 10,000 miles, and is sensibly priced.


3.5 star Vauxhall VXR8

The Vauxhall VXR8 picks up where the tearaway Monaro left off, except with a welcome dose of maturity; the four-door body is more usable, the clutch lighter and the chassis balance more sophisticated. Except you can’t domesticate an Aussie bruiser that easily.

For all the improvements, the VXR8 remains a rough diamond. The clunky gearbox and poor visibility are reminders that the car still has a lot to learn in refinement terms.

Good balance, brutish engine. Unrefined, but value counters this

While we can live with most of these compromises, the rear axle judder under braking does give us cause for continuing concern.

Yet despite the odd rough edge, the thirst and the fact that despite the huge engine and meaty soundtrack it isn’t that quick, it’s difficult not to fall for the big Vauxhall. It deserves praise, because what it’s not short on is character. Sometimes that matters more than ride quality or interior plastics.

With the financial climate being as it is, however, we should celebrate the fact that Vauxhall is offering the VXR8 at all, and that a handful of people every year will get to take delivery of a car with such a uniquely engaging character.

Pricey it may be, but this is still a fantastic and fast alternative in the category.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Vauxhall VXR8 2011-2012 First drives