Impatiently waiting for Ford's new GT and Focus RS? See their forebears battling it out in the south of France...
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this is the latest hot Vauxhall?
Exactly. It’s called the Astra VXR, it
costs £26,995, and it’s a hot hatch heavily based on the three-door Astra GTC.
We love the latter, so things bode well for the VXR.
should it be so amazing?
Well how does 276bhp and 295 ft/lb of
torque grab you? Plus a 0-62mph time of 6.0 seconds. Those figures from the
2.0-litre turbocharged petrol put it right at the top of the hot hatch power
stakes, but for all of you with memories of the last VXR - the king of torque
steer - fear not! This is a far more civilised beast.
This is because Vauxhall has fitted the VXR
with some sophisticated chassis upgrades – this car might be based on the GTC,
but virtually everything has been altered. It’s got hydraulic rather than
electric steering and a mechanical limited slip diff. It sits 10mm lower, has
30 per cent stiffer suspension and tougher bushes, plus different valves in the
dampers. It also comes as standard with FlexRide, gets the Insignia’s clever
HiPer Strut front suspension, and
even has an aero kit that not only reduces lift but also produces downforce. Need
we go on? And of course there’s the obligatory lairy body additions and loud
You can make it look even punchier by
opting for an appearance pack, which gives you 20-inch wheels, side skirts, and
the twin-plane rear wing – all for just £995.
all that, does it work?
In a word - yes. Things are very different
to the last VXR because the wretched torque steer seems to have disappeared. Or
at least it felt like it when we got the chance to try the VXR on some pretty
smooth German roads – we’ll reserve final judgement until we try it on UK
Anyway, the point is that Vauxhall has
worked really hard to eliminate torque steer, so this VXR now has a more
rounded feel. You can imagine taking your gran to the shops in it. The ride is
comfortable (in part thanks to FlexRide, in part thanks to the unsprung weight
saving of 7.5kg per corner), and the steering is sensible.
Of course, it can still do the loony stuff.
Switch it to VXR mode, and the dials glow red, the suspension is stiffened, the
steering gets heavier, and the throttle response is sharper. Don’t tell May,
but we had a go around the Nurburgring in it, and it was epic there – fast
enough to worry a well-driven Audi R8.
There’s just a lovely balance to the VXR.
When you turn into a corner, you don’t feel like you’re being led by either the
nose or the rear: it just follows the line you pick. There’s plenty of grip and
the brakes are really strong. The steering and chassis give you the feedback
you need, and the wheel never bucks in your hands. In short, it has a more
reassuring temperament, and it’s more confident in itself. Like a teenager who
has actually worked out what they want to do in life.
At the finer edges, there is a bit more
squidge than in something like a RenaultSport Megane, but the trade off is a
more comfortable car for the 364 days of the year when you’re not driving like
is there anything wrong with it?
really, bar a slightly notchy gearchange. And yes, I know the Focus ST starts
at just £21,995, but that car only has 247bhp, and by the time you get the spec
to the same level as the Astra, it’ll be much closer on price.
based on this first drive in Germany, the VXR feels very well sorted. An 8/10,
I’d say. You’ll have to buy this month’s Top Gear magazine for the definitive
verdict on what it’s like on UK roads, but it certainly bodes well…