It’s not dead. That’s the official line about VXR, Vauxhall’s performance brand of the past 14 years.
But, well, doesn’t it somewhat feel like it is? GSi is back, after all, the model derivative that gave its life so VXR could be born in the first place. Albeit, now, GSi is reserved for Vauxhall’s lukewarm rather than entirely hot models. So, officially, VXR lives on.
Except that the only places it still lives on are the ancient Corsa VXR plus, according to the price lists, the GTC (the even older three-door Astra) and the VXR8/Maloo, which I doubt is true unless there’s a stock of unregistered ones somewhere – great, but unlikely – because it ceased production in Australia last year.
In Australia, the Commodore, which we know as the VXR8, has been replaced by a new Commodore based on the Insignia we get here. That’s available with a V6 – like our old Insignia VXR was – so the new Insignia could, theoretically, have such a performance flagship. However, we’re told with some fanfare, to prove the new Insignia GSi’s performance credentials, that it’s considerably faster than the previous Insignia VXR around that German racetrack you weren’t going to take either of them to anyway, so you can forget that shonky old version.
Which leaves what? A VXR website that doesn’t seem to have been updated in two years (“We are now pleased to announce details for the 2016 VXR Track Experience”) and surely the most convoluted back catalogue of initialisms in motoring by which to identify Vauxhall’s performance products.
Over the years, we’ve had SRi, GTE, Turbo, GSi and VXR. What do they each mean? What does each do?
In some ways, it feels unfair to add HS or HSR to that list, given that they were versions of a car as old as the Chevette. Until you remember that the Chevette HS was created two years after Volkswagen launched the Golf GTI, a brand, model and performance derivative you’ll know about – that everyone knows about – because they still make it now.
And that’s my point: all of Vauxhall’s derivatives have been created with the best intentions, but – and I mean this in the literal, not derogatory sense – who cares? Most people do not care about cars, and those who do will not always care about a brand. And of those who do, there are fewer still who care about individual models and derivatives.
To get VXR into people’s psyche, then, Vauxhall spent more than a decade shouting it from rooftops. It branded its BTCC team VX Racing. It created a competition to find a racing driver. It imported Australian cars and re-engineered the VX220. In marketing, advertising and in dealer and customer support, it will have spent millions building up a new performance brand when it already had several perfectly decent ones. And, ultimately, for what? To say that the new GSi is better than it anyway? In marketing, as in management, in politics, in so much in life, indecision is worse than a suboptimal decision. Once you’ve got a brand, stick with it.
Perhaps VXR will race back, but with Vauxhall now owned by PSA, who knows what form, if any, a true performance flagship would take? If VW or Peugeot or Honda were bought out tomorrow, you’d know what their fast cars would be called.