Vauxhall Astra VXR road test reviewBy Philip Shoulder
December 28, 2012
In 2004 VXR replaced GSi as the badge that high performance Vauxhalls wore. Since then VXR models have been associated with extrovert looks, plenty of power, but also a tendency to be a bit unruly with it: the bad boy division of Vauxhall if you like.
The first generation Astra VXR fell into this category. It was loud (in more ways than one) and fast, but also had a decided behavioral problem with regards to how it handled its power. A lot of show and go, but with it, a lack of restraint finesse and refinement.
Fast forward to 2012 and the arrival of the second–generation VXR. Like the first car it still has bad-boy looks and now packs even more punch with 276 bhp, making it the most powerful Astra ever.
Although visually more restrained than its predecessor, thanks to prettier swooping curves of the GTC coupe on which it is based, this new hothead of the range nevertheless leaves no doubt about its intentions. But if the standard car still isn’t hardcore enough for some – VXR owners aren’t typically shrinking violets - further visual enhancements can be had by fitment of the Aero Pack, which for just under £1000 adds a biplane rear spoiler, even more muscular side skirts and whopping 20-inch alloy wheels.
ON THE ROAD
Upon turning the key you’re greeted by a bassy soundtrack from the stainless steel twin exhausts, leaving you under no illusion that this car means business. The sporty theme continues through to the steering which is weighty even at manoeuvring speeds. However the rest of VXR’s controls belie the high level of performance on hand: both the clutch and gearbox are easy to operate, with only the slightest evidence of notchiness evident changing down into
The 2.0 litre turbocharged motor doesn’t have the low-down torque of a diesel, instead liking some revs to deliver the goods. Between 2500 and 5000 rpm is where the bulk of the power is to be found. If you stomp on the throttle and hang on to each gear, you’ll be travelling at highly illegal speeds rather more quickly than you can believe.
The claimed figures corroborate this, with a 0-60mph time of 5.9 seconds and top speed of 155 mph. Yet despite the performance gains, thanks to the use of new technology including Start/Stop, economy and emissions have improved over the old model. Fuel consumption is now 14 percent less, meaning a combined 34.9 mpg, while emissions are now down to 189g/km.
The previous generation VXR’s biggest flaws were in handling and refinement. Unleashing its 237 bhp was rarely a satisfying experience, primarily due to severe torque steer – where the steering wheel tugs left or right under acceleration – and a chassis that felt stiff and wooden on anything other than a straight road.
Vauxhall claim this new model is vastly better to drive, thanks to a completely re-worked suspension set-up.
To overcome torque steer a new HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut), which has been used to such good effect in the less powerful Astra GTC, has now been adapted for the VXR.
The system reduces front wheel camber changes during cornering, enhancing steering feel and filtering out unnecessary torque-steer under hard acceleration. Well that’s the theory anyway, what about in practice?
No matter how clever the front suspension set-up, 276 bhp is a lot of power to feed through the front wheels.
Hard acceleration on a wet road still causes the wheels to spin as the car searches for grip, before order is restored by the traction control system.
We also found the VXR still had a slight tendency to wiggle the steering wheel under full straight line acceleration, although compared to the old car it’s very mild and doesn’t hamper steering control.
On the subject of the steering; it’s accurate, make no mistake, but you don’t get the subtle feedback and feel that you would in a sports car, for example.
As far as handling goes the new car is a much more capable performer.
Fast cornering can be relished thanks to huge amounts of grip and minimal body roll courtesy of the well sorted chassis and the fitment of a mechanical limited slip differential.
Despite the huge wheels, VXR’s ride is also very good, and thanks to the adjustability on offer from the FlexRide adaptive damping system, can be largely tailored to suit.
Three settings are available. Standard offers the best judged compromise for general road use, with Sport stiffening the dampers for reduced roll and tighter body control.
IN THE CABIN
It’s safe to say that the interior of Vauxhall’s hottest Astra is rather less dramatic than the exterior. # This is no bad
thing as the standard Astra and GTC models have a well proportioned cabin with well laid out dash and quality
Features unique to the VXR include various bits of trim emblazoned with the VXR logo.
These include the gear knob, square-bottomed steering wheel and big leather bucket seats, which provide good comfort and support, albeit slightly hampering over-the-shoulder rear vision.
Coupe curves somehow fail to impinge on the cabin space, with plenty of leg and headroom available.
Luggage compartment and storage areas are also generous, with a 380 litre ‘seats-up’ boot capacity exceeding that of both Volkswagen Scirocco and Renault Meganne coupe, by 68 and 36 litres respectively.
Vauxhall pulled out all the stops with its most powerful Astra, and it shows.
True to the breed the new VXR is loud and proud; but without the unruliness and harshness of its predecessor.
Instead it manages to blend exhilarating performance with practicality, refinement and everyday usability.
Only a rather high list price of £26,995 and slightly uninvolving steering mar an otherwise exceptional hot-hatch package.
* Vauxhall Astra VXR
* Price: £26,995
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
* Power: 276bhp at 5500rpm
* Torque 295lb ft at 2450-5000rpm
* Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
* 0-62/top speed: 5.9 seconds/154mph
* Economy/CO2: 34.9mpg/189g/km
* Equipment: Air-con, 19-inch alloys, sports seats, DAB, electric windows, FlexRide suspension
* On sale: Now