Review and road test of the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R
They like their muscle cars in Oz and, courtesy of GM Holden, we can buy one of the best here in Blighty. Jonathan Crouch looks at the latest version of Vauxhall's wildest saloon, the VXR8 GTS-R
Ten Second Review of the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R
Rare, fast and frantic, Vauxhall's Australian-built VXR8 GTS-R is an expensive but highly addictive super-saloon with sledgehammer performance from its monster supercharged 595PS 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 595PS 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 then in 2015, uprated to a 576PS supercharged 6.2 for the improved GTS model that forms the basis for this last-of-the-line 595PS GTS-R variant we're going to look at here. This more convincing VXR8 also brakes better, looks meaner and has more equipment than earlier models in compensation for its fairly frightening £74,500 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 back in 2009 with a mighty 6.0-litre Chevy Corvette supercar-sourced V8. This is an engine we've seen in many forms over the years, five of them beneath the bonnet of this car. Having launched it with 411PS, then offered a frantic supercharged special edition Bathurst S model with 564PS, the Aussie engineers behind this thundering super saloon decided in 2011 to settle on a mere 425PS, 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 BMW M3. Hence the decision in 2015 to bring back the supercharger and add it to the 6.2-litre engine, so re-launching the car in 576PS GTS form. That car forms the basis for this one, the GTS-R, which uses the same engine but uprates it to 595PS.
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. Rest to sixty occupies just 4.2 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 around £75,000 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. Byers also get three-stage adaptive dampers, an electrical power steering setup and the same torque vectoring system as was developed for 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 has bold graphics and shallow ramp angles that emphasise width and stance. The focal point of the new look is a 'twin-nostril' grille that helps to cool the huge LSA V8 engine. At the rear, the VXR8 GTS-R has distinctive LED tail lamps, while the 'diffuser' rear fascia houses quad exhaust outlets finished in shadow chrome. A unique body-coloured performance rear spoiler with black accents helps set the GTS-R apart still further. Inside, the VXR8's cabin design has undergone a raft of design changes. An upgraded instrument panel with suede-style inserts, a new instrument cluster, gauges, centre console, appliques and door trims combine to deliver a more premium look and feel. 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 difficult to achieve. 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.
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 £74,500 asking price for the manual GTS-R saloon model (add another £1,700 if you want the automatic) will probably still save you a little 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. Equipment includes electrically powered leather/alcantara-trimmed sports seats, climate control, keyless entry, 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. All this is standard, as are the gorgeous 20-inch forged 'Blade' 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 595PS 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-R variant (20.9mpg falling to 18.5mpg for the auto and 18.0mpg for the manual) don't seem to bear this out. To be fair, I suppose that 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 363g/km for the auto and 373g/km for the manual, so it'll still leave a bit of a dent in your tax return, around 170g/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.
Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R review by Jonathan Crouch