Speed meets sophistication as GM’s brute matures
I never mind being in a minority of one in this business. The entire global motoring press can think one thing of a car, but if I think something else entirely I’m secretly rather pleased. It reassures me I’ve not yet slipped into lazy, weak ways where it’s easier to parrot someone else’s opinion than define your own.
But sometimes, if you stay outside the bait ball of popular opinion for long enough, human nature will make you wonder if they all know something you don’t. And for years I’ve felt this way about the big Holden Special Vehicles, Commodore-derived saloons and coupés built for the Australian market but rebadged as Vauxhalls and sold here in small numbers. They’re relatively cheap, fast and already right-hand drive: I’ve never doubted the bang for buck, but was put off by the crude execution.
The latest is this new Vauxhall VXR8 GTS and, as ever, if you only looked at the specification sheet you’d think it the best-value performance saloon you can buy. Thanks to GM’s parts-bin supercharged 6.2-litre V8 motor in its nose (which it shares with the Chevy Camaro and, in modified form, the Corvette ZR-1), it provides 576bhp backed by a Tarmac-melting 545lb ft of torque in a car weighing 1880kg. That’s more power, more torque and less weight than a BMW M5, but whereas the VXR8 can be yours for £54,999, the BMW costs almost half as much again.
So far, so very familiar. What the numbers never reveal is the clunky ride, meat-and-potatoes handling and the awful interior quality that turned me off its many predecessors.
But to my surprise and delight, interior aside, for once they’re not here.
In the context of its predecessors it seems an almost absurd word to use, but there’s real sophistication in the way the VXR now delivers its performance. The six-speed manual gearbox (it’s now the only car in the class with a three-pedal option) and strut-type front suspension are hardly state of the art, but the engine is smooth and sonorous, the ride fluently controlled on magneto-rheological dampers and the handling remarkably composed, at least in the dry conditions I encountered. Of course you can disable the electronics and slide from here to Brisbane, but while that was once the only fun to be had driving earlier versions, now this bare-chested ability is little more than a sideshow.
Beneath that brash exterior lies a car of not just outrageous performance (the 4.2sec 0-62mph time is traction-limited), but real ability. It rides well, steers splendidly and has the best brakes of any big saloon I can recall. It’s quiet too, and were it not for its still grim interior and catastrophic fuel consumption, it would be a pleasure to drive daily.
I still don’t think they’ll sell many because it’s a £55,000 Vauxhall, but that says far more about snobbish tastes in this part of the market than this finally excellent super-saloon.
Engine: 6.2 litres, eight cylinders, supercharged
Power: 576bhp @ 6150rpm
Torque: 545lb ft @ 3850rpm
Transmission: six-speed manual (auto available), rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph