587bhp Vauxhall, anyone? Grab it while you can
The end of an era. That phrase has been used more than once in the auto industry whenever the death warrant has been signed on a much-loved model.
Here’s another moment of fond regret: the end of the 13-year V8-powered Vauxhall era. Or rather the V8-powered Holden era.
The wind-down of the Australian car industry and the takeover of Vauxhall by the PSA Group have brought this about. To mark the occasion, Vauxhall is rebadging the maddest Holden Commodore and calling it the VXR8 GTS-R.
Just fifteen are being built, at a very limited edition sort of price – £74,500. Upgrades to the software and induction have boosted the supercharged 6.2-litre V8’s output by a relatively slight 11bhp, but the new figure of 587bhp has a nice ring to it. The maximum torque is unchanged at 546lb ft.
Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R
Engine: 6.2-litre, V8, supercharged, petrol
Torque: 546lb ft
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1880kg
Top speed: 155mph
CO2 emissions: 373g/km
Although the VXR8 is no lightweight at 1880kg, Vauxhall is claiming a 4.2sec 0-60mph time. The potential top speed is unknown: it’s been electronically limited to 155mph. It has a limited slip diff, torque vectoring, huge 410mm front brake discs – and a driving feel that’s quite different to that offered by other (principally German) super-saloon manufacturers, who generally go for four-wheel drive plus relatively small capacity twin-turbo V8s and paddle-shift transmissions.
The Vauxhall, by contrast, is resolutely old-school. You can get an automatic gearbox but our car had a good old six-speed manual. All the power goes to the rear wheels. That’s it.
The cabin is a bit retro too, but not necessarily in a good way. The plasticky feel is more reminiscent of a Cavalier repmobile than a near-£75,000 car, and a few bits of fake carbonfibre dash trim don’t really help to raise the ambience. Fortunately, all the basics – driving position, big, comfy, grippy seats, interior space, visibility and more than acceptable ride comfort – are all present and correct. The effortlessness with which you can make progress puts this car firmly into the short-list of choices for anyone seeking a great long-distance touring machine.
If you’re beginning to wonder where the edge comes in, it’s on a small knob on the centre console. Use this to engage Performance mode and you’ll enter the entirely different world of excitement and aggression flagged up by the lairy exterior styling. When the exhaust valves blow open at 4500rpm you’ll be forgiven for thinking that the entire exhaust system has detached itself from the car. Unleash that V8 blast within five miles of an English village on a sleep Sunday and you will not be popular.
In the right environment you’ll be having a whale of a time. The engine pulls the long gears with contemptuous ease, which also helps with traction: tyre melting is an option, obviously, but needn’t be a constant annoyance even in fast motoring. Despite its heft, the VXR-8 GTS-R barrels really well along twisty rural roads, displaying lots of grip and surprising pointability once you’ve adapted to the lazy rhythm of the chassis and given it a chance to recover between big attitude changes. This car makes you think about your driving rather than electronically dealing with every bit of daftness you throw at it. That’s refreshing.
A Mercedes-AMG E63 feels less ‘rubbery’ and ultimately more agile, and the new BMW M5 will most likely destroy it on any point-to-point route, but the squishy headroom in the Vauxhall’s responses won’t get in the way of a great drive as long as you’re prepared to go with its flow.
In the process, the VXR8 GTS-R will deliver big-style on character. We don’t expect to see any of these fifteen cars languishing in Vauxhall dealerships.