When the Vauxhall VXR8 defeated the Mercedes E63 AMG and BMW M5 in our recent road-test shootout - on sheer, simple delivery of performance - I was as astonished as anyone, despite the fact that I work in the same office as all the people involved. Truth be told, that VXR8 even shocked the blokes who delivered the verdict.
So when a big, orange VXR8 arrived this time last week to be my smoker over the Easter weekend, the prospect was enthralling, especially since this car is really a Holden, the GM-owned marque I proudly remember as “Australia’s Own” back in the day. Spent my earliest road-testing days in big-torque V8s like this, though I have to admit none of them had quite 577bhp to burn, or a fat supercharger. Then again, none of them weighed two tonnes.
The VXR8 brings together a Mexican-made engine and an Aussie body/suspension. It is badged Chevrolet, Vauxhall or Holden depending where you are in the world (in New York last week, I read a USA Today test of this car, which they called the Chevy SS). Every October the VXR (called the Holden HSV) spearheads GM’s assault on the Bathurst 1000, one of the world’s great races staged on the fearsome Mt Panorama circuit 100 miles west of Sydney. In a way few Holden execs ever anticipated, this is a true world car.
Anyway, this car arrived last week and of course it was hugely quick. Because the engine is so strong from 1500rpm to redline, every gear has a stupendous available speed range - in third gear you can drive comfortably from 10mph to 110mph. However, just as our road test made clear, it was this car’s cheerful simplicity, combined with a near-magical ability to tame bad bumps while delivering near-perfect body control, that impresses most. Chuck in the space, the comfort of the huge and sumptuous seats, the unexpectedly good build quality and the implied unburstability of that understressed engine and you have a hugely desirable car.
Bad bits? Well, that slow-changing, old-tech “rock crusher” gearbox doesn’t deploy the torque nearly as effortlessly as a German paddle-shift transmission. And you definitely notice the car’s sheer size as you’re connecting ports of call in the city. The real-world fuel consumption of 17.5mpg isn’t exactly brilliant, either, although I discovered a sure-fire way of putting it out of your mind. You just toe the throttle again…