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Vauxhall Astra VXR

Click to view picture galleryExtrovert looks, blistering power,
  entertaining handling and, to keep
it all nicely on the boil, just a pinch
of hooligan. Thats the new VXR
  courtesy of family-friendly carmaker

THE LATEST ASTRA VXR based on the sleek two-door bodyshell of the Astra GTC now packs a knockout 276bhp wallop. Welcome to the hottest, most powerful Astra ever to escape the factory.

Curvaceous (in a very masculine kind of way), it flaunts its VXR-branded body accoutrements like Yakuza tattoos. Externally it features a VXR honeycomb sports front grille and air dam-cum-bumper, VXR side sills, VXR rear bumper with diffuser, VXR rear roof spoiler, smart LED tail lights, and a stand-out set of five-spoke 19-inch alloys.

So what else would I want to know? Only that it cracks the 0-60mph sprint in a class-leading 5.9 seconds, runs to 155mph, and costs a pint of Guinness less than £27K.

“It doesn’t take a rocket-
scientist to know
that putting 276bhp
through the front pair of
wheels is a recipe for
fireworks — of the
torque-steer kind.
No problem.
Vauxhall have got
that covered
For non-petrolheads the next few sentences might be too much information. If not, I can tell you that an all-new, state-of-the-art intake system was developed to feed as much air as possible into the VXR's turbo.

The turbocharger itself is also improved to take more charge-air pressure, which builds from as early as 1,400rpm for linear and strong acceleration. The maximum charge pressure is now 1.5 bar — the intention being, of course, to unlock the car's real-world, mid-range performance rather than focus on power alone. And with maximum torque produced on a broad plateau between 2,400rpm and 4,800rpm, VXR jockeys will never want for instant acceleration.

It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to know that putting down 276bhp through the front wheels is a recipe for fireworks — of the torque-steer kind. No problem. Vauxhall have got that covered. It's called HiPerStrut (High Performance Strut) front suspension and has previously seen active service in the Insignia VXR and Astra GTC. HiPerStrut provides greater driver control by filtering out unnecessary torque-steer under hard acceleration while at the same time enhancing steering feel.

Throw in a mechanical multi-plate limited slip differential (derived from that used in the Corsa VXR Nürburgring Edition) and you get enhanced traction on-throttle, when it's needed, and reduced lock-up off-throttle when it's not. The result? Optimum traction.

Without detailing every single thing that Vauxhall's engineers have done to make this VXR 'go', it's enough to know that the car's development was signed-off at the Nordschleife by VXR's lead engineer — ex-DTM star Volker Strycek. And if he's happy, well then you should be too!

Before you can 'go' you've gotta be in it. So, swing open the driver's door and drop down into the VXR leather-covered premium sports seat. Grip the flat-bottomed, three-spoke, leather-covered sports steering wheel (with, of course, a VXR logo, and remote controls for audio, voice, phone, cruise, and speed limiter), and cast your eyes over the unique VXR instrument panel graphics.

Your feet will be resting on VXR floor mats and using VXR sports pedals while your left hand will be orchestrating the gearbox while palming a shapely VXR leather-covered gear knob. Oh yes, getting in you would have swung your leg over the VXR alloy-effect door sill cover. Inside and out, this hottest of Astras has got the VXR lot!

“The all-black cabin is
dominated by big
front sports seats —
their semi-wraparound
supports add to the
feeling that you’re
strapped in for a
maximum-G moon-
Architecturally, the VXR's cabin is well proportioned and not restricted despite the curvy exterior. The enormous muscularly-bolstered front sports seats are as decidedly supportive as they are comfortable (the bolstering can be adjusted in and out for a perfect fit) and there's plenty of space for head, knees and legs.

All made even better by extendable under-knee support and built-in headrests — the seat's semi-wraparound shoulder-cum-neck support adds to the sensation that you're strapped in for a maximum-G moon-shot.

The dash itself is well arranged, with a centre stack that merges seamlessly with the main fascia; switchgear (lots of it but logically laid out) is all reachable and works precisely with a satisfying crispness. Especially well-liked is the digital road speed read-out between the main dials.

Also surprising is that the rear cabin is liveable for grown-ups. Behind the front seats there's room for a pair of near-six-footers, with ample knee and foot room; the inch of headroom is all you need thanks to the restful backrest angle. And although it's very cosy (not at all claustrophobic) it's fine for longer journeys with a wide, well-padded centre armrest.

Getting in and out of the rear cabin is easy enough: the doors are long, the rear belts don't get in the way and the slide-and-tilt front seats easily return to their original position. Oh yes... three on the back bench is definitely do-able.

Behind the rear seats is something else unexpected: 351 litres of luggage space. Versatility is boosted by a load-through hatch for skis and other long items. Fold the 60:40 split seatbacks down and you have a 1,216-litre loadbay. So, practical as well as pretty. In-cabin storage space is equally good, including a clever two-tier storage box under the sliding front armrest, and you can tidy away quite a lot of 'stuff'.

While this VXR is single-minded in delivering a 'hot' driving experience, it's no stripped-out trackday special adapted to the road — essential creature comforts (over and above all the unique VXR items already mentioned) include 3-stage heated front seats, AirCon (with excellent heating power and wide coverage through six vents), auto-dimming rear-view mirror, one-shot up/down windows, ambient lighting, electric parking brake, power mirrors, and Bluetooth.

So, ready to rumble? Fire her up and the satin chrome-finished twin exhausts boom — the performance-optimised exhaust system has been 'tuned' for sound. Immediate impressions as you engage first gear are promising: the clutch is pleasingly civilised; the steering feelsomely weighty even at parking speeds.

“From a standing start
you’ll scorch
through the defining
0-60mph barrier in
less than six seconds
and be up in the
naughty figures quicker
than you can say
‘Speeding? Moi?’
The turboed 2.0-litre lump dishes up its maximum torque between 2,400 and 4,800rpm, but it's spooling up from much lower, around 1,400rpm, so midrange pulling power is sustainably strong.

The six-speed manual 'box benefits from a slick and precise change action so it's easy to feed in the next ratio before the torque peaks; from a standing start you'll scorch through the defining 0-60mph barrier in less than six seconds and be up in the naughty figures quicker than you can say "Speeding? Moi?" And don't think your partner will take your points… we all know where that goes.

Accelerate hard with the front wheels pointing straight ahead and, in spite of all the technical wizardry, you'll find some torque-steer remains; just enough to jiggle the wheel — like a small child trying to get your attention by tugging at your sleeve.

No such distractions along a twisty road though, where the VXR is enjoyably rapid and you can sail through sharper kinks and corners at a high rate of knots — thank the Drexler mechanical limited-slip diff because it totally neutralises any off-the-centre torque-steer allowing you to pile on the power for fired-from-a-cannon exits. Factor in the seemingly endless supply of midrange grunt and it makes for a fast point-to-point express. In fact, sit a good driver behind the VXR's wheel and few cars will keep up across country.

Amazingly, the VXR rides very well — impressively even — for a hot hatch rolling on 20-inch alloys (part of the add-on Aero pack) wrapped in 'rubber band' 245/35 Pirellis (unique, by the way, to the VXR) and manages to smooth out lumpy, bumpy blacktop; even in the hell-for-leather VXR damping mode it's composed and far from crashy.

The VXR comes as standard with Vauxhall's adaptive damping system (called, appropriately, FlexRide). This gives drivers the choice of three separate chassis settings: Normal serves up predictable handling combined with a composed ride that's fine for all regular road work; Sport firms up the magnetorheological adaptive dampers for reduced roll and tighter body control for when you're pressing on.

The third setting — VXR — is the most extreme and is something many drivers may well choose to save, and savour, for a trackday treat. The first thing it does is switch the instrument backlighting from white to red; it also sharpens throttle response and gives you even tighter body control to minimise body lean through corners as well as under serious braking.

And it works. The sticky grip and minimal body roll combo makes fast cornering fun — because you can keep the power on longer during entry and get it back on again quicker as you exit.

“The third dynamics
setting — VXR — is the
most extreme and is
one many drivers may
well choose to save,
and savour,
for a trackday treat
Of course, the accurate and meaty steering helps too, as it should — on the VXR the assistance is electro-hydraulic as opposed to the pure electric assistance you'll find on lesser Astras.

The VXR's ESP also offers the keen driver three settings: a default mode prioritising maximum safety for everyday driving; a Competitive setting that raises the intervention threshold (it will still stabilise the VXR in extremis); and, for those who seriously know what they're doing, the final mode completely deactivates the ESP system. At which point you're totally on your own (and, hopefully, on a track).

The first safe opportunity you get, stamp the brakes as if your life depends on it. They're hugely powerful — as you'd expect from a set of bespoke cross-drilled and ventilated Brembo brakes; step on them hard and you'll be hauled down quicker than you thought possible. On the track, braking late is the only way to go!

If you like your power, you won't mind paying for it at the pumps. Equipped with Start-Stop technology, the VXR's official thirst for combined motoring is 34.9mpg. 'Fat chance' you say? Drive it like it's been engineered to perform and you're right, although we did see close to the mid-30s on long touring runs; overall, our week's average, including some bombing around, came in at 26.7mpg.

For a fully paid-up bruiser the VXR is surprisingly easy to live with day-to-day: it's comfortable, practical, and will pootle along in town as cheerfully as its seven-league gait lets it lope along motorways. And all the time that joie de VXR button is begging you to press it and unleash the beast. — MotorBar

Vauxhall Astra VXR | £26,995
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-60mph: 5.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 26.7mpg
Power: 276bhp | Torque: 295lb ft | CO2 189g/km