Vauxhall VXR8 review
The flagship Vauxhall VXR8 hooligan supersaloon has now got an even bigger engine – and an inflated price
The phrase 'not for the faint-hearted' often crops up in classified secondhand car adverts, but it's often applied with considerable optimism to fairly mundane cars. Not so the VXR8. This loud, brash rear-wheel-drive monster really will not suit anyone of a nervous disposition – particularly as it puts 425bhp to the road through its rear wheels. It's built by Holden, the Australian division of Vauxhall's parent company General Motors, and offers the sort of raw, old-fashioned driving thrills that are fast disappearing from the new-car market these days. But all that fun comes at a price when you go to fuel, tax or insure it. And if the saloon isn't brash or practical enough for you, it's also offered as the VXR8 Maloo pick-up or a Tourer estate version.
Our choice: Vauxhall VXR8 Clubsport
The Vauxhall VXR8 doesn't do subtle. It's most frequently seen in bright yellow or red, and there's no mistaking its huge alloy wheels, aggressive rear spoiler or deep, chunky bumpers. European rivals like the BMW M3 or Audi S4 are far more classy and sophisticated, but they also won't attract nearly as much attention as this car. The cabin has been improved a little over the previous VXR8, but it's still pretty workmanlike, with the cheap-looking handbrake being a particular sore point. Interior updates have instead focused on gadgets: trackday fans will enjoy the ability to view g-force and laptime data from the on-board computer.
With no fancy dual-clutch gearbox or complicated turbochargers to get in the way, the Vauxhall VXR8 offers a very raw, thrilling driving experience. With the traction control turned off, it's a genuinely tricky car to control in the wet or on twisty roads, and you really need to know what you're doing to make the most of it. There is an automatic gearbox available, but it's slow-witted and dulls the car's exhilarating character. The presence of a limited-slip differential and clever Magnetic Ride Suspension means that, in addition to its blinding straight-line pace, the VXR8 is rewarding to drive on twisty roads, plus smooth and comfortable on the motorway.
The General Motors V8 under the bonnet is a well proven, simple and straightforward engine design, and it's so unstressed by everyday driving that problems are very rare. With so few examples on the road, it's difficult to build up a picture of just how reliable the VXR8 is, but it will not be as expensive to repair as more exotic rivals if something does go wrong. The car's low-volume production also means it misses out on a Euro NCAP crash test, but you do get six airbags (including side curtain bags) and three Isofix mounting points for child safety seats.
With a four-door saloon like this, practicality is a given: the Vauxhall VXR8 is a family-friendly supercar beater in the tradition of the Subaru WRX STi and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X. Five large adults will fit comfortably in the comfortable seats, and the boot is reasonably large, too, at 496 litres. One thing that is lacking is a folding rear seat, so the VXR8 is not equipped to handle oversize loads from the DIY store – if you're thinking of loading up on a regular basis, try the VXR8 Maloo pick-up. Overall, the VXR8 makes for very rapid family transport.
This is where the case for the Vauxhall VXR8 begins to unravel. Fuel economy is a lowly 21mpg – and that's assuming you drive with a bit of restraint. Insurance will be sky-high, too, and you'll be paying the top rate of road tax thanks to 320g/km CO2 emissions. Crucuially, Vauxhall has changed the one aspect of the VXR8 that made financial sense – its list price. The first-generation model cost less than £30,000 – a relative bargain for such a fast and powerful car – but this updated version sees the price climb to £45,000 for the base Clubsport version and almost £50,000 for the higher-spec GTS.