They like their muscle cars in Oz and, courtesy of GM Holden, we can buy one of the best here in Blighty. Jonathan Crouch samples Vauxhall's wildest saloon, the VXR8 GTS.
Ten Second Review
Rare, fast and frantic, Vauxhall's Australian-built VXR8 GTS is an expensive but highly addictive super-saloon with sledgehammer performance from its monster supercharged 576bhp 6.2-litre V8. Subtle it isn't, but fun? Oh yes......
Vauxhall has form when it comes to ridiculously fast four-seaters. Back in 1911, ordinary folk were horrified by the huge performance of the marque's 1911 Prince Henry model. Just as planet-loving people were, in equal measures, appalled and secretly fascinated by the 170mph potential of the Griffin brand's 1980s Lotus Carlton saloon. As they will also be by this car, the model they call the 'thunder from down under', Vauxhall's VXR8. 'Down under'? Ah yes, didn't I mention that? This car may wear Vauxhall badges but it actually started life as Holden - a Commodore E3 HSV to be exact. No, didn't mean anything to me either, but such a car is a big deal if you're an Aussie, a proper no-nonsense hell yeah super saloon tough enough to make an M3 or a C63 seem ever so slightly Sheila. Not perhaps in terms of sheer power - though 576bhp ought to be enough for anyone - but more in terms of the way you get it. Which is via a big, brash all-American V8 lifted straight from the Chevy Corvette, 6.0-litres in size in the original 2009 version of this car but uprated to a supercharged 6.2 in the improved GTS model we're going to look at here. This more convincing VXR8 also rides better, looks meaner and has more gadgets than earlier models in compensation for its fairly frightening £55,000 price tag.
Just as in Europe we see a furious power struggle between the German prestige makers, so in Australia the fight is ferocious between Ford and Holden and it's one of power, noise and not a lot of subtlety. It's also a fight GM reckoned to have decisively won when their Holden brand first announced this car with a mighty 6.0-litre Chevy Corvette supercar-sourced V8. This is an engine we've seen in many forms over the years, four of them beneath the bonnet of this car. Having launched it with 411bhp, then offered a frantic supercharged special edition Bathurst S model with 564bhp, the Aussie engineers behind this thundering super saloon decided in 2011 to settle on a mere 425bhp, uprating the engine to 6.2-litres in size to achieve it. It wasn't enough, especially if this car was really to court customers looking at cars like the Mercedes C63 AMG or a Jaguar XFR. Hence the decision to bring back the supercharger and add it to the 6.2-litre engine, so re-launching the car in 576bhp GTS form. On the road, not too much happens below 3,000rpm, but once you get beyond that, this Aussie beast really starts to move, thanks to a thumping 740Nm of torque (up from 550Nm). Rest to sixty occupies a fraction under five seconds as you rev up to the 6,500rpm red line on the way to an artificially limited top speed of 155mph. There are plenty of ways you can go that quickly for £55,000 these days - but few of them feel quite as extreme as this. A significant feature on this VXR8 is the availability of a 6-speed automatic gearbox as an alternative to the rather clunky 6-speed manual. Then there's the latest generation of GM's three-stage adaptive dampers, an electrical power steering setup and the same torque vectoring system as fitted to the McLaren 12C. As for driving modes, well there are four to choose from - Touring, Sport, Performance and Track - each one selectable via a dial behind the gearlever. Every twist of the dial adds weight to the steering, slackens the ESP, sharpens throttle response, stiffens up the dampers and activates the torque vectoring system in Performance and Track modes.
Design and Build
This is one brute of a saloon. The menacing front end with its twin bonnet air scoops features what Vauxhall calls a 'Shockwave' grille around which sit LED daytime running lights and big wing-vents. There's more shockwave stuff around the rear bumper, which sits below a 'Superflow' twin-post spoiler and sports-style so-called 'afterburner' LED tail lamps. And there are twin exhaust tips that mimic the shape of the front grille. Inside, build quality feels a lot better and thanks in part to lashings of leather trim and carbon fibre, it's probably a lot nicer than you might be expecting from the Vauxhall badgework. All right, the materials used are more American than European, but the instruments are neat, the switchgear smart and the central EDI 'Electronic Driver Interface' display clean and integrated. It offers displays for everything from oversteer and understeer to torque and power usage, G-forces and laptimes. And if all that isn't enough, gauges for battery voltage, oil pressure and temperature on top of the centre console to give a retro, racecar feel. All of which would be superfluous if a decent driving position was as difficult to achieve as it was in this car's predecessor, the Monaro coupe. Fortunately, it isn't, though it is a pity that the wheel is so big, that it's so hard to see rearwards past the teatray-sized boot spoiler and that the steering wheel stalks haven't been Europeanised, so you spend the first few days at the wheel foolishly switching on the wipers when you're trying to use the indicators. But never mind the quality, feel the width. Get out of a C63 AMG or an M3 saloon then try one of these and this Vauxhall will feel enormous. Especially in the back where, uniquely in this class, three adults can be accommodated, provided that the middle occupant is prepared to straddle a bulky central transmission tunnel. The boot's bigger than you'll find in any German rival too, only Jaguar's XFR able to rival the 496-litres on offer.
Market and Model
When this car was first launched in 2009 for around £35,000, it was very good value indeed on a power-for-pound basis. Sadly, pound to Australian dollar exchange rate changes have scuppered much of its value proposition. Still, the £55,000 asking price for the manual GTS saloon model (add another £1,700 if you want the automatic) will save you £20,000 over a comparably sized and similarly performing BMW M5. Of course for this kind of cash, you'll also be expecting not to have to tick too many options list boxes. And there should be no need to do so. Vauxhall claims that this GTS variant offers around £20,000 of extra equipment over its direct predecessor. So expect to find electrically powered leather sports seats, climate control, sports pedals, a high quality stereo with aux and USB inputs and controls on the leather-covered flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, auto lights and wipers, parking sensors and Bluetooth 'phone compatibility are all standard as are these gorgeous 20-inch alloys. There are no deadlocks on the doors though - which I'd find a bit of a worry if I were an owner. Safety kit runs to the stability control system I think you'll need in slippery conditions as well as the usual electronic aids for braking and traction. You also get six airbags, anti-whiplash front head restraints and a Side Blind Alert System to stop you dangerously pulling out to overtake in front of someone else.
Cost of Ownership
In theory, this Vauxhall's 576bhp 6.2-litre V8 petrol engine can be reasonably economical if you drive it gently. Or so I'm told. The official combined cycle fuel figures for this GTS variant which have fallen over those of its direct normally aspirated predecessor (20.9mpg falling to 18.5mpg for the manual and 20.6mpg for the automatic falling to 18.0mpg) don't seem to bear this out. To be fair, you're only looking at 3-5mpg less than you'd get from obvious rivals, which I suppose isn't bad given the fact that at 1.8-tonnes, this is predictably the heaviest car in its class. In reality, assuming you drive this car for at least some of the time in the manner it was designed for, 13-15mpg is probably a more realistic average. There is, you see, no way of getting round this. Even by the expensive standards of the super-saloon category, this is going to be a very pricey car to run. Depreciation will be painful. Insurance is a top-of-the-shop group 50. The CO2 return is also down over the previous version, now set at between 363-373g/km, so it'll still leave a bit of a dent in your tax return, around 100g/km worse than say, a BMW M3. And if you regularly use of the performance on offer, you might well face a sizeable tyre bill for replacement 20" Bridgestone Potenzas too.
Here, without doubt, is a car of its country. Although it offers four doors and a big boot, in every other way, this Australian muscle car rips up sense and sensibility and spits it out through its huge exhausts. If you find yourself comparing a VXR8 to more ordinary rivals or agonising over fuel figures, then to be honest, you've missed the point entirely. This is a car deliberately built to challenge convention. It isn't supposed to be an M5 or an E63. And it won't suit shrinking violets. Which is why I like it. In an age of stifling political correctness, it is, after all, rather refreshing to find a car that doesn't take itself too seriously. Yes, this Vauxhall is pricier than it should be and the thirsty 6.2-litre V8 will make it frighteningly expensive to run. But against that, it's concussively quick, offers better handling than its image might suggest and has been built to entertain rather than to provide the right corporate image. It's an old school approach to driving fun, but it's still a highly addictive one.