It’s an automatic version of Vauxhall’s much-admired, grin-inducing supercharged saloon, the VXR8 GTS.
We’ve always had plenty of time for the GTS, in part thanks to the fact that on the scale of bang-for-buck it represents something of a limited nuclear exchange for a few cents.
Key to its appeal is its supercharged 6.2-litre ‘LSA’ V8. Thanks to a four-lobe, twin-rotor Eaton supercharger, which crams nine pounds of boost into the all-aluminium V8, peak power is rated at a hefty 577bhp. Likewise, torque is an equally impressive 546lb ft.
Compared to the similarly priced four-star Mercedes-AMG C63, it outmuscles its twin-turbocharged German alternative by 108bhp and 67lb ft. Not the be-all and end-all, by any stretch, but nevertheless impressive - and that’s before you start taking into account the myriad, affordable and almost limitless tuning options for the LS range of engines.
As standard, the rear-wheel-drive GTS comes with a stout six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual gearbox. Those in the market for an automatic, however, can opt for a version that replaces the Tremec and its associated twin-plate clutch with a heavy-duty GM-sourced 6L90E automatic gearbox.
This traditional torque convertor-equipped transmission commands a £1725 premium over the manual version, but it does also come with wheel-mounted paddle shifters for easily commanded manual shifts.
Durability hasn’t been overlooked either, as - like the manual version - a transmission cooler is also included. This should help keep the gearbox's fluid temperatures at sensible levels and prolong the life of both the fluid and the transmission.
What's it like?
The manual VXR8's Tremec gearbox wasn’t the slickest unit around but it was accurately gated and easy to use. Missed or incorrect shifts were rare as a result while factory-fit launch control made standing starts a doddle.
Consequently, opting for a conventional torque convertor-based automatic feels somewhat of a retrograde choice. It's a good transmission, make no mistake, but its softer, tardier delivery and automated nature predictably detracts from the GTS' core driver appeal.
If you dropped from fifth to third in the manual and pinned the throttle, you could indulge in the sensation of the Vauxhall's tail squirming as the boost built; the engine would bellow, the LSD would frantically attempt to meter out the torque between the rapidly spinning Continentals, and a gratifying surge of acceleration would ensue.
Attempt the same in the automatic and you'll find that the whole experience dulled a little, because the transmission softens the power delivery. Also, in some cases, the necessity for a kickdown leads to a noticeable delay in acceleration. Once you've got the Vauxhall rolling in gear, however, the transmission feels suitably direct.
The automatic does have other appealing facets. In manual mode, it won't shift up automatically when you hit the limiter while driver-commanded shifts are carried out quickly. It's also as fast as the manual, on paper, with Vauxhall claiming a 0-60mph time of 4.2sec for both versions, despite the automatic not having launch control. No doubt repeatability on that front would lie in favour of the automatic, once off the line, particularly in inclement conditions.
The paddles have a snappy, precise action, and the transmission is quite happy to engage fifth from as low as 30mph, allowing you to roam around on the LSA's stout seam of mid-range torque. A low neutral rev limiter kills some of the static entertainment, but we suspect most won't lose sleep over that particular point. It's predictably less efficient than the manual, too, but not by a noteworthy amount.
It's still an unquestionably fast car, especially when the blower's built up some boost and the V8's spun above 3500rpm, but frequently it doesn't feel as potent as the figures suggest. That is in part due to its weight and isolated cabin, but also due to the fact that it's comparatively quiet and gentle unless you stand on the throttle and wind the motor out, at which point you'll very quickly be well beyond the legal limits. Cruise around town and the GTS will softly burble along in relative anonymity, unlike, say, a raucous F-Type or C63.
You could argue that the automatic VXR8 would make a great luxury saloon, as a result, instead of an outright super-saloon, but it's one that'll struggle to better 17mpg in restrained everyday driving. Few will find that a tolerable proposition, especially when the likes of the BMW M3 - a car that will go from 0-60mph faster in the real world - can achieve almost 30mpg in conventional conditions.
The Vauxhall’s otherwise impressive credentials remain unchanged. Thanks to stacks of performance-oriented kit, including MagneRide electronically adjustable suspension and torque vectoring, the VXR8 can deploy its power with aplomb. It’s capable of muscling through corners with surprising deftness for a nigh-on two-tonne saloon, to boot. So much so, in fact, that when we last ran a manual one at Coombe, it lapped the circuit 1.9sec faster than a BMW M4.
The steering could do with more linear and consistent weighting, though, in order to more accurately judge its responses and hold your desired line, but it's more than precise and quick-acting enough to place the GTS where you want it. Or, as is often the case, to hold your desired angle. It's easy to engage in gratifying sideways antics with a stab on the loud pedal, but even with myriad electronic safety system switched off, the GTS remains a surprisingly docile and easily controlled car, in part thanks to the automatic's ability to hold a selected gear.
Inside, there's supremely comfortable seating for four adults and plenty of equipment, while the ride is plush in all but the most aggressive of suspension settings. It's a thoroughly well designed and built affair, too; while the interior might not have the showroom appeal of a new Mercedes-Benz C-Class, it certainly feels more solidly assembled and durable. The only prominent negative is that, on coarser surfaces, road noise is particularly intrusive.
Should I buy one?
If you love the idea of a 'proper' rear-drive saloon, with a well-equipped cabin and plenty of punch, then you'll adore the GTS. You'll have to be capable of stomaching a sub-18mpg average, though, as well as the concept of an £80 tank of fuel lasting 280 miles at best. Drive it in anything resembling in anger and you'll see both those figures tumble considerably.
The economic realities are admittedly unlikely to prove much of a stumbling point for anyone looking at a supercharged £56k saloon, although the range may annoy, but there are other foibles here that cause the GTS to lag behind its rivals.
Buyers expecting a soulful, baritone V8 that turns heads for a mile, for example, will find the Vauxhall disappointingly quiet for the most part. The GTS's sheer bulk and occasionally inconsistently weighted steering will cause others to swing towards keener-handling, more invigorating alternatives like the BMW M3.
Opting for the automatic GTS, while making the car more tractable and easy-going in day-to-day use, also cuts down on some of the entertainment. Unless you really need or want an automatic, we’d pocket the £1750 and revel in the unadulterated and increasingly rare joy that is a V8 coupled to a manual gearbox.
That saving could also go some way to granting the VXR the aural presence it really needs. Marque specialists Walkinshaw Performance will be importing some sports exhaust systems in due course, which will set you back around £2500. It'll void the factory exhaust warranty but, once you've heard it, we suspect you won't care.
2015 Vauxhall VXR8 GTS automatic
Location Bedfordshire; On sale Now; Price £56,245; Engine 8 cyls, 6162cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 577bhp at 6150rpm; Torque 546lb ft at 3850rpm; Kerbweight 1892kg; Gearbox 6-spd automatic; 0-60mph 4.2sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 18.0mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 373g/km / 37%