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The last all-Aussie VXR8 is the most powerful yet. But is it the best?

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So here it is: the UK’s cheapest way into the exclusive 500bhp-plus club; the most powerful car you can buy for less than £60k.

The Vauxhall VXR8 GTS qualifies just as well for either pitch, and by paragraph three of the press release, Vauxhall had gorged itself on both.

It'll do 0-62mph in around 4.8sec, which is impressive given that it weighs 1880kg

Who can blame it? Previous generations of the brand’s low-volume rebadged HSV models have prepped us well for such extravagance, but ‘576bhp for £54,999’ is such an unlikely collision of excess and affordability that it’s worth coming at it from all angles.

Vauxhall has been selling VXR8s in the UK since 2007 when the car effectively replaced the outgoing two-door Monaro. The model was based on the E-series HSV reworking of the Holden VE Commodore, a car underpinned by the GM Zeta platform developed exclusively in Australia.

It initially came with the 6.0-litre V8 LS2 before an upgrade to the 6.2-litre LS3 in 2008. The limited Bathurst edition was the first to introduce a supercharger to the V8 before the GTS was sold from 2011.

So, can the muscular new Vauxhall really rival the likes of the Jaguar XFR-S and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S? Let's find out.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Vauxhall VXR8 badging
New badging references the GTS' 6.2-litre supercharged V8

As has been typical of all VXR8s, any attempt to link this model to the immediate Vauxhall family tree is pointless.

In Australia, the GEN-F GTS is more obviously a hardcore version of the VF Commodore saloon; in the UK, it’s a standalone item, with improbable measurements that confirm its position as a one-off in GM’s UK passenger car line-up. Only the even more Australian Maloo UTE, with its 537bhp V8 and price tag that puts the pick-up within almost £1000 of the VXR8 can claim any relationship.

Expect the VXR8 GTS to average around 18mpg

Within the bow of this near five-metre car is a 576bhp, 546lb ft supercharged version of GM’s LS3 6.2-litre V8 – the same LSA variant used by the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and a cousin of the Corvette ZR1’s 638bhp LS9.

While HSV had the luxury of selecting the LSA engine from GM’s parts bin, it was not simply a case of fitting the supercharged V8 straight into a Commodore’s engine bay and closing the bonnet.

Despite sharing its platform with the Chevrolet Camaro, HSV was forced to mount the motor very low in order to fit the Holden’s specific architecture and then significantly re-engineer the rear sub frame, fit a unique propshaft along with larger diameter half shafts and massively upgrade the rear differential to accommodate the dramatic increases in power and mechanical stress.

Even then, meeting the V8’s cooling requirements was a challenge. Between the radiator, engine oil cooler, the standalone transmission and differential coolers and the intercooler, the car sports eight heat exchangers, all of which require access to clear airflow.

Space also had to be found for the LSA’s bi-modal air intake system, which feeds air directly to the Eaton four-lobe supercharger. The blower’s displacement (1.9 litres compared to 2.3 litres) is the single biggest difference between the VXR8’s V8 and the 638bhp LS9 used in the Corvette ZR1. The former’s lower operating pressure meant that it was able to do without the expensive titanium connecting rods and forged pistons of the latter.

For immediate context, that means buyers will enjoy a 150bhp and 140lb ft increase over the previous, LS3-engined VXR8. For a wider frame of reference, , it means that the car is more powerful than an Audi RS6 or a Porsche Panamera Turbo.

Unlike those cars, the GTS sends its power exclusively to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox and a mechanical limited-slip differential. If that set-up has you imagining a simplistic old nail, forget it: brake torque vectoring, electric power steering and selectable drive modes are all standard on the new model.

The latest magnetorheological dampers – dubbed Magnetic Ride Control – also appear on what is still a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, with slightly wider 20-inch wheels at each corner. More prudently, the front and rear brake disc diameters increase and forged six-piston calipers are fitted.

The most noticeable update is reserved for the nose, where HSV calculated that a total of 130,000mm2 of open space would be required to satisfy the new engine’s appetite for air. The new twin-nostril grille and huge lower intake are the result.

INTERIOR

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS dashboard
You won't want for space up front

It would be a cop-out to suggest that no one buying the VXR8 cares about interior quality; £55k is a lot of anyone’s money to spend on a saloon, and HSV doesn’t get a pass just because it’s based in Victoria, Australia, not Stuttgart, Germany.

That said, in all likelihood this is going to be a different breed of customer to one agonising over, say, the grade of leather in their Mercedes-Benz CLS. As far as luxury and style are concerned, the bar can plausibly be lowered, but there can be no mitigating circumstances for clarity, practicality functionality and finish. Thus the VXR8’s cabin triumphantly clears some hurdles and clatters others.

The VRX8 GTS is a big car but it's not difficult to maneuver

Clearly, there isn’t much wrong with the space on offer. With a wheelbase between a Ford Mondeo and a Jaguar XJ, you get an idea of the proportions we’re talking about.

The model’s separation from GM’s European offerings has at least preserved it from the dreary internal architecture we have been subjected to since the Insignia. Individual components are familiar, of course (the steering wheel controls, for example), yet the layout is not, and we won’t deny rather liking it.

Some of the worry dials are tucked away where you can’t see them and not all the brightwork is worthy of the description, but the buttons are distinguished by different shapes, sizes and locations depending on their purpose – and that’s a step up from some of its stablemates.

The GTS isn’t exactly short of multimedia options. Its 8-inch touchscreen display allows access to all the usual accoutrements, including a Bluetooth audio connection and a nine-speaker BOSE sound system through which to hear your streamed music.

The real attraction, however, is the latest generation of HSV’s Enhanced Driver Interface. Divided into Driver, Gauges, Fuel Economy, Stop Watch and Race modes, the system is capable of delivering a torrent of real-time information.

Most of it is reasonably obvious and self-explanatory, but click sufficiently deep into the deep reservoir of display menus and you’ll find enough in the way of slip angle gauges and G-meters to distract you directly into the nearest hedgerow — especially with the brilliantly optimistic oversteer monitor reading up to 100deg of tail-out tomfoolery.

Particularly narcissistic drivers can even avail themselves of the data-logging function which will download dynamic information out onto an external USB via a port in the glovebox.

Generally, the surfaces and materials are fine, too. Yes, there are hard plastics of the sort which wouldn’t be considered appropriate for the VXR8’s premium rivals.

But they never feel less than right for an expensive Vauxhall, and it’s that sense of identity which simultaneously keeps the car behind the pricier competition and proudly distinct from it.

As for standard equipment, there is the inclusion of dual-zone climate control, electrically adjustable sports seats, heated front seats and sports seats.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The 577bhp Vauxhall VXR8 GTS
The VXR8's 6.2-litre V8 puts out 577bhp and 546lb ft

From the moment the V8’s torsional imbalance rocks this car on its springs at start-up, it’s hard not to love the rogue, mischievous way the VXR8 does things.

It’s evident from the off that there’s not a lot of new-fangled, high-rev feel here, but around town and at low revs, there’s less outward exuberance than you’d think.

Strengthened half shafts and hubs help the back axle deal with all 546lb ft

This engine, remember, is marketed throughout the world and has to meet the most stringent noise and cleanliness levels California, Australia and Europe can throw at it. Its potency comes from its response to the throttle as much as from the muted woofle from its tailpipes.

But what potency. We lined the VXR8 up at the start of MIRA’s mile-long horizontal straight. This car may have a manual transmission of the beefiest, most positive order but there is launch control to go with it, so despite a damp surface, the VXR8 hit 60mph just 4.8sec after lifting the clutch.

And at 13.2sec it passed a standing quarter mile at 112.6mph. Those figures are a touch off the automatic BMW M5 (4.3sec and 12.4sec at 119.8mph), but that had better track conditions and dealt with its own gearshifts.

But what most defines the VXR8’s shove is a rolling start. It’ll accept being dropped into fourth gear at under 20mph. Do so from the start of a mile straight and within half a mile it’ll be banging on the limiter at 140mph before your kidneys have caught up.

It doesn’t matter what the revs are: you ask, it responds, with a deep, appealing V8 bark and accompanied by the whine of the supercharger. Driveability is superb.

The brakes aren’t half bad either, providing good repeated stopping power even on a (largely) dry circuit. They’re leagues better than the brakes on the previous-gen VXR8.

Don’t be tempted by the automatic. We’ll admit to not having tried it, but the bumf tells us it’s more expensive, slower, makes the V8 even less economical and it doesn’t get launch control. So no thank you.

RIDE & HANDLING

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS rear drifting
The GTS' steering is electrically powered while magnetorheological dampers govern the ride

The beauty of magnetorheological dampers, so the theory goes, is that they are able to provide the best bits of both a car’s ride and a car’s handling.

A multitude of sensors monitor wheel speeds, steering, throttle and braking inputs and the amount of travel on the dampers, and can then stiffen or loosen them, around 100 times a second, by magnetically adjusting the viscosity of the damper fluid.

There's pace and grip aplenty, but it's driver confidence and chassis poise that see it to within a hair's breadth of the M5

Sometimes such systems are a bit iffy, but HSV has tuned the VXR8 GTS beautifully. In recent times the VXR8 has been a good ride and handler, but now it can hold its head high among anything in the class. It steers fluidly and linearly (only a couple of spots of inconsistent weighing let it down) and it rides impressively in any of its various damper modes given the 275/35 rear tyres on which it sits.

But it’s the keenness that goes with these traits that genuinely impresses. It would be easy to think that a 1880kg, full-size Aussie saloon would feel bulky and awkward, but the VXR8 flows down a British B-road as if it were tuned for it.

Okay, we’re not talking Renault Mégane RS levels of chassis control, but the Vauxhall has the measure of a BMW M5 or, to our hands, a Mercedes-Benz E63 (although that car impresses more as a straight-line hot rod).

But this deftly controlled blend of ride and handling makes the VXR8 a remarkably appealing car to drive on all roads, twisty or straight – the latter where it steers calmly and is leggy enough to return 24.6mpg. And does it oversteer in the right circumstances? Of course it does.

You get a lot of poise and balance with a VXR8. It’s weighty, so it pays to trail the brakes into a corner to keep the nose planted, but if you do that right, the VXR8 allows you to play all the right tunes thanks to a surplus of power and a limited-slip differential.

Understeer is artificially reduced in Sport or Track mode due to torque vectoring by braking (an ESP extension that brakes an inside rear wheel), but only if you’re slightly on the throttle — which you won’t always want to be on corner entry.

Instead, brake on entry and get back on the gas on exit, to whatever extent you like. Oversteer, if you ask for it, is only as lurid as you expect. There’s impressive grip and traction, too — more so than a Jaguar XFR. Where the Jag wants to go sideways at every opportunity, the VXR8 only does so under severe provocation.

Get sliding, though, and the VXR8 will do so all day long. It’s a 5m-long, 577bhp rear-drive car, after all. Few big saloons are better balanced; fewer still are more enjoyable.

It’s worth noting that there’s also an automatic model on offer, but the £2000 extra on the price tag provides a slight numbing of the VXR8’s strengths, and it isn’t particularly recommendable compared to the manual.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Vauxhall VXR8
The VXR8 packs a supercharged 6.2-litre V8

The VXR8 is a comparatively cheap way to acquire seriously momentous power. Even if you were willing to sacrifice size and output to preserve a V8 engine and four doors, something like the Mercedes C63 AMG is still north of Vauxhall’s starting point.

And it’s hardly poorly equipped: the 8-inch touchscreen, 20-inch wheels, brake torque vectoring, dual-zone climate control, leather trim, BOSE audio system, reversing camera and adaptive dampers are all standard. The entire options list consists of a £1300 sunroof and £500 to add a steel spare wheel that eats into boot space. 

The Vauxhall isn't the £30k car that it once was but it still undercuts its rivals by a compelling margin

However, once the buying is complete, some of that saved money will have to be reinvested in running costs. Vauxhall quotes a combined economy figure of 18.5mpg (we averaged 17.9mpg). To put that into perspective, Ferrari claims 18.8mpg for the V12-engined F12.

The Vauxhall VXR8 GTS’ closest European rival – the equally powerful Mercedes E63 AMG S – manages 28.5mpg combined. During its time at MIRA, where not every minute is spent flat out, the V8 was emptying its 70-litre tank at a rate of 7.1mpg. That kind of thirst would run it dry in just over 100 miles.

It’s similarly expensive to tax, and while that will surprise to no one, it’s worth mentioning that most of its rivals are potentially only a facelifted tweak away from qualifying for the £285-a-year band K.

In contrast, the VXR8 is a massive 108g/km of CO2 beyond the point where the 255g/km band M even starts, meaning that from now on it’ll never cost less than £500 a year to keep on the road.

On the residuals front the GTS should prove a little more resiliant than the Jaguar XFR-S and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, due to its cheaper starting price, but it'll still lose nearly half its value in three years.

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VERDICT

4.5 star Vauxhall VXR8 GTS
A mega-saloon worthy of its place in Australian car-making history

Whatever your measure of cult status, it’s likely that the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS car qualifies.

HSV reportedly sold the idea to Holden by hand-building a mule using an off-the-shelf LSA engine, then it spent years secretly developing the car so it would not only pass GM’s strict reliability testing but also roll at least part of the way down the production line with all the other Commodores.

A rebellious streak is needed to buy one, but not to enjoy it. A class act and a singular joy

Come 2017, that production facility will cease to exist. And while HSV and Holden will march on, the GTS will be the last car of its kind to have been designed and built in Australia.

Had it been a dud, sentimentality wouldn’t have saved the car in the UK. But it isn’t. This final fusion of American muscle and Antipodean know-how is compelling not only for its speed or historical circumstance but also for its completeness and sense of down-to-earth congeniality.

It’s a fitting and pitch-perfect final innings. And the fact that the GTS is cheaper than the rest turns out to be incidental; the real kicker is that in all the ways that matter, it’s just plain better.

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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 GTS 2013-2017 First drives