Vauxhall Astra VXR review (2004-2010)
The Astra VXR is every inch the no-holds-barred performance car, and keen drivers won't be disappointed.
The Astra VXR has been designed with a racy philosophy - something that its handling certainly embraces. Grip in corners is huge, but while turn-in is sharp, the steering isn't as fluid or as feelsome as a Golf GTI. On top of that, considerable power - 240bhp - and its sudden arrival means the Vauxhall relies heavily on its traction control, and follows cambers in the road under hard acceleration. There's also some kickback to be felt though the steering wheel, and while roll is well contained, the hard suspension means the ride is less forgiving and is fidgety over rough surfaces. The brakes also disappoint; although they are powerful, the pedal feels too soft and lacking in feedback. There is no shortage of firepower though. Once over 3,000rpm and on song, the turbocharged 2.0-litre is extremely fast. Throttle response isn't smooth, but given Vauxhall's determination not to compromise on performance, this hard edge is to be expected.
The hot hatch is hot property at the moment - and the Astra is the hottest of all. No rival matches it for power output, while Vauxhall also steals a march on the Golf GTI by undercutting it for price. It's only available as a three-door Sport Hatch variant - and only in four colours: blue, silver, black and bright red. It's well equipped and the styling oozes attitude. Pronounced bulges, large wheels, side skirts and the central-exit exhaust all set it apart and show it means business. But then, competitors such as the Ford Focus ST and that iconic VW are also purposeful, in their own way.
Providing you're in the mood, the VXR is great - it's punchy, aggressive and involving. But when you want to relax, noise on motorways and an unforgiving city centre nature prove tiring. The seats are comfortable but mounted too high, leaving the stubby, low-mounted gearlever a stretch away. And while material quality is excellent, the hot Astra suffers from a familiar failing of poor control layout - interior storage is minimal, heater dials are placed too low and are poorly labelled. The boot is on the small side too, and while rear space is adequate, small side windows make you feel hemmed in. it's also thirsty and insurance is hot hatch high, though 20,000 mile service intervals should offset part of the cost of all those front tyres it's likely to chomp through!