What is it?
Vauxhall’s Oz-born super-saloon, the VXR8. This 425bhp brute is being reintroduced to UK showrooms after an eighteen-month absence, and suddenly has it all to prove. Not just because this latest version of the rebadged ‘HSV’ Holden is billed as the fastest and most focussed VXR8 yet, but because it’s now got a proper price tag to match.
When this magazine road-tested Vauxhall’s first officially imported Holden back in 2004, the 5.7-litre 329bhp Monaro, it cost a seriously tempting £28,600. At the time it delivered two additional cylinders, and had fifty horsepower more, than pretty much any other performance car for the money.
When the Monaro’s UK successor, the original 411bhp VXR8 saloon, came to the UK in 2007, Vauxhall’s price had gone up to a more considerable £35,105. The car still seemed compelling value.
But today, when a British pound buys you about 40 per cent less in Australian dollars than you got at the end of 2008, Vauxhall is asking fully £49,500 for the new range-topping, 425bhp VXR8 GTS. Which, we need hardly point out, looks dangerously close to what Mercedes charges for a 451bhp C63 AMG, let alone what BMW asks for its ever-popular M3.
This plucky Aussie import, it would seem, has had the rug pulled out from under its feet by the plunging value of the pound. Still, Vauxhall isn’t about to let it go down without a fight.
What’s it like?
This new VXR8 is based on Holden Special Vehicles’ ES GTS Commodore; the outgoing one, which you’ll still be able to buy in updated form for £45,000, was the more lowly ‘HSV’ Clubsport R8 in Vauxhall garb.
So this time around, in return for your fifty large, Luton will supply you with a VXR8 with full leather upholstery, a proper ‘HSV’ interior, bigger brakes (at 365mm up front, the biggest discs ever fitted to a production Vauxhall), a mechanical limited slip diff, a more focussed chassis featuring active magnetic ride control dampers and launch control. Our test car also came with a six-speed automatic gearbox, pushing its price beyond the £50k barrier.
With that tauter chassis, the new VXR8 GTS is certainly a more focussed, 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, when you really begin to deploy that considerable power on a cross-country road, than you would have found in the old model. 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 level; but it also causes the VXR8 to crash a little through sharper-edged dips.
That 6.2-litre V8 is at once smooth and vocal. It’s got every bit as much aural interest-value as an AMG or M-Division lump, even though, measured by the high standards set by the very latest European performance engines, it lacks both a wicked-strength, force-fed mid-range and a banshee-like top-end.