Piers Ward 11 June 2012

Driven: the new Vauxhall Astra VXR

Piers Ward reports back on the latest hot-hatch contender. Can this one handle 276bhp through the front wheels?

Astra VXR first drive

So 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.

Why 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 exhaust.

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.

Click here for all the pictures of our Astra VXR first drive 

Given 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 tarmac.

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 a hooligan.

So is there anything wrong with it?

Not 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. 

So 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…

Click here for all the pictures of our Astra VXR first drive 

 

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