Vauxhall’s new Astra GTC VXR is now on sale and wheelworldreviews editor DAVID HOOPER is one of the first journalists to road test the car and review its performance on road and track.
VAUXHALL’S eagerly-awaited new VXR sports coupe is now on sale – and I was one of the first journalists to road test the car – and compete in it on Europe’s fastest race circuit, the Rockingham Motor Speedway, in an event run by the Motor Sports Association.
Rockingham is the first purpose-built circuit in Britain since Brooklands in 1907, making it the ideal venue for the launch of what is a hugely-important car for Vauxhall, as the UK is the biggest market for the VXR sub-brand.
As soon as you set eyes on it, you know it means business – powerful styling with flared rear wheel-arches covering its 19in alloy wheels, a roof mounted spoiler, large alloy wheels and on the cars we tested, the optional aero kit (£995) which adds extended side skirts, a bi-plane spoiler at the top of the tailgate to improve high-speed stability and 20in alloys.
Open the door and you are met by a pair of very inviting sports seats, designed and built in-house by Vauxhall. The car’s steering wheel is also smaller than the norm, enhancing the sporty driving feel.
Under the bonnet, there’s a powerful 280PS petrol engine, with an incredible 400Nm torque. With 200Nm of torque per litre, the VXR goes to the top of its class, and because that torque is available from just 2,450rpm, the Astra VXR is easy to drive, with plenty of pulling power throughout the rev range, meaning the car doesn’t have to be revved hard to find its sweet spot – in-gear acceleration is always available.
To get all this power onto the road, it comes with a Drexler mechanical multi-plate limited slip differential to maximise its traction.
The engine is based on that of its big sister, the Insignia VXR, but on this car a humidity sensor adjusts the combustion depending on ambient humidity, which ensures the engine is always developing the maximum power possible, whatever the weather conditions.
Vauxhall’s says its engineers perfected the VXR over 10,000kms of race conditions at the Nurburgring, so I couldn’t wait to review the car on road and track.
First up was the road route. Once the seats were adjusted and the steering perfectly positioned, off we went. The car is easy to drive at low speeds and is no more difficult to drive in urban areas than a Corsa, although the ride is considerably harder thanks to its sporty suspension.
Empty country roads are where this car excels though, and wow, does it come alive when the right pedal meets the carpet. Feed the power in progressively and you can actually feel the diff pulling the car into a corner under power. There is some torque steer, but it’s not too intrusive.
A sporty exhaust note, not dissimilar to the sound of jet engine, emanates from the exhaust during bursts of hard acceleration, but when driven gently, the engine is very quiet, so not too noisy and tiresome.
There are also three driving modes to select, Normal, Sport and VXR, which tweak the car’s throttle and steering response. The suspension and chassis settings are unaltered. If you’re feeling brave, the ESP’s electronic aids can be turned down or completely off.
On my road test, a relatively sedate first section saw the car return a reasonable 29.1mpg, while on the quicker return leg, where it was driven more quickly, it only managed 21.4mpg, so as usual, the official figures don’t tell the full story. Unusually on a car of this type, there is even a Start/Stop system, to turn the engine off in traffic.
The afternoon gave us the chance to test the car on Rockingham’s infield track. After a briefing by British Touring Car racer Paul O’Neill we were let loose. I did my two laps in the middle of the afternoon when the car already had several laps under its now fading tyres.
After a high-speed sprint from the line around the banked oval to the point where our circuit turned into the infield section, there was heavy braking from well over 100mph, punishing the four-pot Brembo brakes still further. The track work took its toll on the car’s braking performance, meaning braking distances became longer which ultimately compromised the lap times.
Apart from the need for some competition brake pads, the VXR handled beautifully and is completely at home on a race circuit where its hard suspension set-up comes into its own. It would make an exciting and safe track day car and Vauxhall expects many of its enthusiast owners to put the cars through their paces in race circuits around the country.
The Astra VXR is cheaper to buy than a Golf R, but slightly dearer than the Renaultsport Megane, but that would need a lot of extra cash spending to match the VXR’s equipment inventory.
At the time of writing, Vauxhall had already taken 621 orders for the VXR, with the most popular accessories being the alloy wheels and aero packs.
Customers will also benefit from Vauxhall’s Lifetime Warranty which covers the first owner for up to 100,000 miles.
THE VITAL STATISTICS
MODEL: Astra GTC VXR
BODY STYLES: 3-door coupe
ENGINES: 2.0i 16v Turbo
PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph: 5.9 secs; Top speed: 155mph
MAX TORQUE: 400Nm
ECONOMY: Urban 28.8, Extra-urban 39.8, Combined 34.9
C02 EMISSIONS: 189g/km
PRICES: From £26,995
IN THE SHOWROOM: Now
• All data correct at time of publishing.