Vauxhall VXR8

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Vauxhall VXR8 6.2 V8

Road Test

Vauxhall VXR8 6.2 V8

Driven January 2009

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It should be a rather embarrassing relic, the VXR8: a car so far removed from the economic and environmental Zeitgeist that it'd be no surprise to find it propping up the bar, telling slightly racist jokes and pinching ladies' backsides, before staggering off home to complain about how much better things were before turbochargers and direct injection and global warming.

The big, brutish Aussie rear-drive saloon has never been at the forefront of political correctness, and these mid-life revisions won't help matters. Evidently deciding that a 6.0-litre V8 was a bit modest, Vauxhall (OK, Holden, but let's not split hairs) has treated the VXR8 to GM's new ‘LS3' V8, as found in the Corvette C6.

So that's 6.2 litres and 425bhp of hormone-fuelled rage, up 14bhp on the old VXR8. Chuck in some bright white paint, 20-inch alloys and a pair of tailpipes big enough to lose small children in, and you've got yourself a super-saloon to provoke more disapproving stares than Jonathan Ross cavorting naked through a Press Complaints Commission meeting.

But here's the thing. Spend any time in the VXR8, and it's impossible to hate its earthy, unreconstructed honesty. It's not as clipped or as snappy as anything from AMG or the M-Division, but instead there's a rough-round-the-edges willingness that's as endearing as a Doberman puppy armed with a lump hammer.

Though the bigger engine doesn't cut the VXR8's 0-60mph time, mid-range punch is noticeably improved, meaning you can now happily lollop around in almost-subtle short-shifting fashion, pretending you actually do care about emissions or, y'know, other people. Fear not, though, the VXR8 is still hellish quick when you give up that pretence. Traction levels remain trivial, but it gets slidey in such a gentle, progressive way that you don't feel like it's trying to kill you (much) while the steering and gearchange have a pleasing weightiness. Oh, and the new exhausts sound like the early throes of an interplanetary disaster.

Of course, this wouldn't be a true VXR8 review if I didn't tell you the cabin isn't up to Merc/BMW standard (though, in truth, overall design is pretty good - it's the bizarre menus and interface that really irk), and then tell you that you that, hey, you couldn't expect much else for such a modest list price. So I just have.

No, your bigger worry is the risk of fire-bombing if you fall for the charms of the VXR8. If they show signs of getting upset, just remind them that your V8 is still - technically - a small-block engine. That'll keep 'em quiet.

Sam Philip

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