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.
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.