The son of seven-time world champion Michael is edging closer to an F1 drive
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£72,445 when new
Bet that’s not hybrid… Of course it’s not. No, the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R is powered by a plain old supercharged 6.2-litre V8. It’s identical to the motor you’ll find in a Chevy Camaro ZL1, developing 587bhp and 545lb ft of torque. And not an electric motor in sight. Vauxhall claims it’s the fastest car it’s produced in its 114-year history. But that’s not right, Vauxhall didn’t produce this car at all… No, Holden did in Australia. Which brings us to a wider discussion point. Production of the Holden Commodore (this car’s name in its home nation) finishes this October.
In fact, Holden production full stop is being wound up. So, no more VXR8s after this for the UK, but far more upsettingly, no more Holdens at all for Australia. Bummer… It is indeed. And Vauxhall UK is only getting 15 of these to sell, priced at £74,500 each. That seems like a lot. It is, if your taste is defined by German precision engineering. For instance, on paper (and probably in the real world, too) this thing is slower than a £45k Audi RS3. Vauxhall claims 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and a 155mph top speed. A Mercedes E63 S AMG is a second faster to 62mph. The Vauxhall is a totally different experience of course. Rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual (an auto is optional), muscular, heavy – you know the sort of thing. Not exactly sophisticated? Well, you say that, but there is at least a fair bit of tech involved: brake torque vectoring, third generation MRC (Magnetic Ride Control), electric power steering and four drive modes (Touring, Sport, Performance and Track). Plus there’s a head-up display, blind spot alert, forward collision alert, lane departure warning etc. But in essence, the VXR8 still feels like an anachronism, an ageing gunslinger that hasn’t quite been run out of town. Yet. But it’s also up-front and honest, the kind of car you build a relationship with because it’s so good-hearted and eager to please. So here’s what it feels like if you drive it out of London in rush-hour. Heavy and wide initially, with slow steering and a lazy feel. The clutch is enormously heavy. But you can use the clutch in the same way you’d use the throttle in an automatic – as the only pedal you need to get you going. I don’t bother with the throttle in traffic, just lift the clutch in first or second and the car will pull. It rumbles and rocks and feels out of step with other traffic. Despite 20-inch wheels, it swallows speed bumps with a thick cushioning. And when you get out of town? Again, torque is what you notice. For 50 miles, I never went beyond 3,000rpm, because when you’ve got 545lb ft of supercharged V8 at work, tickover is pretty much all you need. In fact, to see just how much torque it’s got (and how robust the clutch is) I later tried pulling away in third. That was a doddle. Fourth? Yep, not much trouble. Fifth. Yes again. Really, on a level road and with barely any clutch slip (it was fully engaged by 10mph I reckon), it didn’t even stutter when asked to pull away in fifth gear. That’s ridiculous: a single gear that’ll cope with anything from 0-165mph. My kind of single speed transmission. It’s quite a party trick… What about at higher engine speeds? Well, as I said, I’d had no reason to venture up high until I got to emptier roads, so I sort of assumed I’d got the measure of this V8 – massive low-down torque, no need to go beyond 4,000rpm. Basically a diesel with a better engine note. So what actually happened when I kept my foot in came as a delicious surprise. Because at 4,000rpm, the engine goes from rumbly and grumbly to full NASCAR. You can actually hear the exhaust valves pop as the gases hit critical velocity and blow them wide open. The note becomes this savage roar, far less friendly than the cuddly burble of lower down, and there’s a big step in the acceleration, too. Now the GTS-R feels fast, close to E63 AMG pace. And it sounds tremendous. And when you get to a corner? You’re not going to get around it as fast as the Merc, that’s for sure. It may have new Continental CSC 5P tyres but the rears are relatively narrow 275/35 R20s, so traction is not its forte. Just too much torque. Get an inch or two too carried away with the throttle in second or third and you’ll very soon be wishing that the stability control was a lot faster acting. The angles you can get to before it steps in are alarming. But in its own way, even though the steering is slow and the suspension surprisingly soft, you soon have confidence in its movements. What you learn is not to get greedy with entry speeds, but to lean on the torque as you ride through the corner. There’s a surprising amount of feedback and information from the chassis itself and the suspension shrugs off mid-corner bumps. I wouldn’t say body control is exceptional, more that it feels relaxed and supple. In Sport the ride is actually downright soft, and even if you’d twisted the dial a couple more notches and found Track, I think you’d forget and just pootle around town without thinking it felt harsh in any way. What’s it like inside? Big, simple and comfy. Massive wheel, gearknob and seat, so you feel Lilliputian while driving, lots of grey plastic mouldings. An easy car to do distance in because the seat is well shaped and the engine room churns away at bass frequencies. A massive fuel tank means that even at 18mpg, you’ll go a long way. That’s a bit unkind – on a long, gentle haul you’ll get 24mpg. But 18.3mpg is what I got overall. So is it still relevant, would you have one? I wouldn’t have one. It’s good to be reminded of how big saloons used to be, but I think the likes of the new Merc E63 have moved the game on so much that this feels a bit of a pudding. But if you’re the kind of person that a Ford Mustang appeals to, but you want more practicality and speed, then head to your Vauxhall dealer. For once the statement ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ rings true. In a month’s time they really won’t.
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