A beast, but no beauty

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End of the line for Vauxhall’s traditional performance yardstick

A big Holden masquerading as a Vauxhall has been such a long-time presence in back-of-mag listings that I must have subconsciously presumed it would go on forever. I think I drove my first back in 2004, when it was an enormous coupé called the Monaro, but ever since the formula has been the same: take one big Aussie V8 bruiser, plant a Griffin on the front and sell it to the Brits. And rarely has there seemed much wrong with that.

But now it really is all over, or is soon to be. The double whammy of Holden giving up car production in Oz by the end of this year, and Vauxhall being sold to the PSA Group (whose Peugeot and Citroën brands wouldn’t know a V8 from a flat 12), means what you see here is the very last of the line.

In the UK it’s called the VXR8 GTS-R, which sounds like something spat out by the Enigma machine. In fact it denotes a limited edition model – limited, indeed, to just 15 cars, making it more than twice as rare as a Ferrari 250 GTO – with some fairly predictable accessories, such as a new front bumper and splitter, rear diffuser and a carbon rear spoiler. Somewhere deep in the electronics a further 11bhp has been found, bring the total output of GM’s supercharged 6.2-litre LSA crate engine to a still pretty lazy 587bhp.

It is a car that withstands little cold scrutiny, and that’s without considering the absurd £74,500 price. Vauxhall has managed to make an ugly car even uglier, and that’s before you open the door and see an interior with all the plushness of a brick privy. The six-speed gearbox has seven-league ratios and a rather awkward shift quality, while the chassis serves up an only adequate ride and handling that requires quite a lot of management if you are to progress only reasonably quickly from one point to the next. But if you commit the road tester’s only cardinal crime and park your objectivity, you’d not believe how much fun you can have here.

The engine is not smooth, it is not sophisticated, but if when the exhausts open up at 4500rpm you don’t find yourself hooting with laughter at the sound of Santa Pod’s greatest hits turned up to 11, you might want to check your pulse.

It’s comically fast too, its 4.2sec 0-62mph time being massively traction limited. It feels like a 3.5sec car. And despite the fact it’s not that capable in corners, that’s not to say it has no capacity to entertain. Indeed the very fact that you have to get stuck in and wrestle with it makes it far more fun than if it were pin-sharp on turn-in, beautifully damped through corners and capable of accepting full throttle from the apex. It is none of those things. Instead, if you disable the traction control it is every inch the old-fashioned oversteer addict its shape and specification suggest, inclined towards the lurid unless kept on a very tight rein.

It offers a sense of achievement you just don’t get in a hot-rod BMW or Benz. A day in the VXR8 is like meeting up with one of your dad’s old beer buddies, the one who had everything required to make something of life but decided to go to the pub instead. The years have not been kind to him: he’s no longer as handsome as once he was, he’s put on quite a bit of weight and next to today’s young and ambitious types you might think he cuts a slightly forlorn figure. But put him in the right environment and he can still be the life and soul of the party, the one with whom you’d most like to share a pint. For all its failings I, for one, am going to miss it.

FACTFILE

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R

Price £74,500 Engine 6.2 litres, 8 cylinders, supercharged Power[email protected] Torque 546lb [email protected] Weight 1880kg Power to weight 312bhp per tonne Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive 0-60mph 4.2sec Top speed 155mphEconomy 18mpg CO2 373g/km