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Tuesday 12th June 2012

Driven: Vauxhall Astra VXR

Vauxhall's new hot hatch gets a dose of handling sophistication as well as extra power



Torrential rain - sufficient to wipe away caravan parks and cause a severe weather warning in June across the south east - is perhaps not the best weather in which to test a new 280hp front-drive hot hatch.

Yet that's what we're faced with to try out the new second generation Vauxhall Astra VXR (most of these pics were taken during Vauxhall's much sunnier recce of the route a couple of weeks ago). But such tough conditions are maybe appropriate, because this car, in the tradition of the best Hollywood sequels, is 'Astra VXR II: This Time it's Serious'.


Serious hardware
The last Astra VXR (and indeed many of its fast Astra forebears) was certainly a rapid old Hector, but it rather lacked the manners to put its power down effectively. The new VXR, however, aims to redress that shortcoming. Yes, it has 17 per cent more power than before (280hp plays 240hp) and a chunky 25 per cent more torque (it's up to 295lb ft now), but that's partly to keep up with or slightly ahead of a group of rivals that now set 250-300hp as a hot hatch benchmark, rather than the 200-225hp of a few years back.

No, what you sense is really important to Opel and Vauxhall engineers this time around is that they come up with a dynamically polished car. They've deployed quite a lot of kit to achieve this, too. There's the Drexler limited-slip diff from the Corsa Nurburgring, while the HiPer Strut suspension from the GTC is accompanied by Vauxhall's Flex-Ride adaptive damping system. The springs have been stiffened by 30 per cent, too, and the ZF Sachs dampers get bespoke settings on the VXR.

The Astra VXR also uses a thoroughly clever 'floating disc' brake system. This involves A cast iron rotor, but mounted on an aluminium disc bell. This reduces heat build-up under heavy use and, crucially, cuts 2.8kg per caliper compared with the item in the GTC and 4.2kg per disc. The result is an impressive 7kg drop in unsprung weight per corner over the GTC.


Can they tame the beast?
The big question is whether this all translates into a car capable of taming all that power. The bumpy, sodden, puddle-strewn roads of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire will certainly challenge that. Early signs are good. I'm hardly going to be able to give you the definitive line on the VXR's dry-weather grip, but it is amazing how effective the differential proves itself in putting the considerable power down both out of corners and in a straight line on a road that's a chequerboard of bumps and puddles.

The hard work that's gone into the rest of the chassis is evident, too. The Astra VXR turns in sharply and with authority, the ride is controlled without being crashy or over-firm (in normal mode, at least; put it into sport or 'VXR' settings and it all gets a bit too uncomfortable and over-firm).

It's still not the most subtle of machines, however. There's clearly traction, grip and composure aplenty, but it misses out on the ever-elusive sensation of 'flow' - it just doesn't breathe with the road in the way that the very best performance cars do.


Essence of hooligan
Of course, you might not see that as a bad thing - the way it kind of beats the road up as opposed to working with it is really the dynamic manifestation of the VXR's traditionally slightly brutish MO, and traditional VXR buyers love that. It is worth mentioning, too, that the car we tried gets the £995 Aero Pack which includes, as well as side skirts, a bi-plane rear spoiler, 20-inch wheels as opposed to 19s, so perhaps those would help it to 'flow' more effectively. Mind you, 85 per cent of Astra VXR customers are expected to tick the Aero Pack option, so perhaps that's a bit of a moot point.

The essence of hooligan is definitely still there in the drivetrain, too. There's full boost from the turbo at 1,500rpm, and the full 295lb ft of torque from 2,500rpm all the way to 4,500rpm. It makes for a fearsomely accelerative car (although that 5.9-second sprint to 62mph is as much to with long gearing as it is pure power - it'll do it in second gear), and the experience is accompanied by a whooshing form the bespoke Remus exhaust that sounds like Darth Vader undergoing an alcohol breath test.


Inside, the cabin is typical modern Vauxhall, which seems to mean plenty of kit, but a slightly awkward and fiddly layout. The bits that are unique to the VXR are nice enough, though. The seats (developed in-house as opposed to with Recaro) for instance are good-looking, firm and supportive, with electrically adjustable side bolsters, and the extra-small steering wheel is a pleasure to use. Although the gearlever feels a bit awkward in the hand - though that's perhaps just me, as I've never got on with Vauxhall gearlevers. Still, the shift itself is sweet enough, if not the easiest to use.

At £26,995 the new Astra VXR isn't exactly a bargain (especially considering the new Focus ST pitches in at £21,995 in its most basic form), but it's competing in a market that's generally grown up in price power and capability over the past few years. And it acquits itself well. It's still not the most sophisticated hatch out there, but VXR buyers like a bit of bite to their cars. The wild child VXR has been tamed, but it hasn't lost its teeth.


VAUXHALL ASTRA VXR
Engine
:1,998cc 4-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp):280@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft):295@2,400-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.9 sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,475kg
MPG: 34.9mpg
CO2: 189g/km
Price: £26,995

Riggers
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Author Discussion

mickers70

Original Poster:

65 posts

60 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
The initial message was deleted from this topic on 12 June 2012 at 17:59

5harp3y

658 posts

79 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
3280 bhp!!!!! eek

davepoth

22,593 posts

79 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
200kg heavier than the old model though - bit of a lardy old bus.

anything fast

972 posts

44 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
so we are talking 0-60 in about 5.7 secs in a heavy FWD car loaded with kit..

That is impressive! Big fat thumbs up from me! The best Vauxhall ever (sorry chaps Lotus Carlton dont count!)

enroz

98 posts

45 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Erm...

I guess you need dry weather to make any compasrisons with the top runners, lets hope they've made a decent stab at it so the like of Renault will have to up their game( the Megane is probably the one to beat )and make something out of this world, say, a RWD hot hatch a la Chevette HS/Lotus Sunbeam??



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Riggers

1,851 posts

58 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
5harp3y said:
3280 bhp!!!!! eek
Sorry - think that's more down the Red Victor end of the power spectrum wink

tommy vercetti

6,260 posts

43 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Thats a sweet looking car, colour suits it as well.

LotusOmega375D

2,378 posts

33 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Riggers said:
5harp3y said:
3280 bhp!!!!! eek
Sorry - think that's more down the Red Victor end of the power spectrum wink
Watched that one at Santa Pod on Sunday. 1/4 mile in 6.6 seconds at 220mph. They claim the World's fastest accelerating road legal car. Made my Lotus look slow.

gforceg

1,388 posts

59 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
All together now!;

"£27K+ for a Vauxhaaallllll Astra??!!"

wink

DanDC5

8,244 posts

47 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Don't worry too much on the price, only a nutter pays full wack for a Vauxhall, the Corsa Nurburgring's were listed at £23k and were selling for between £18-19k. Give it a few months and these will be at £22-23k.

rmaurer

240 posts

150 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
20 inch wheels on a hot hatch, seriously?! How much do they weigh?
And full boost from 1500rpm on a petrol motor? Sounds more like diesel territory... Makes waiting for 3500rpm in my scoob sound medieval.

gforceg

1,388 posts

59 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
I was just taking the wee wee out of the people who constantly harp on about the once mythical £30k Golf. Too dry?

Mastodon2

7,865 posts

45 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Looks like a great car, and it's improvements all round so it seems, but I still much prefer the look of the old one, not that this isn't a good looking car, I just think the old Astra VXR in Arden Blue is a beautiful car.

Darren61

71 posts

36 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Awaits the comments of...

"You could get a decent M3 for that money etc etc"

Looks great though and it may be a renaultsport killer?

Riggers

1,851 posts

58 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
gforceg said:
I was just taking the wee wee out of the people who constantly harp on about the once mythical £30k Golf. Too dry?
Not for me - I like my humour like I like my red wine: dry and dark wink

Shall I link to a thread on the Golf now...?

MonkeyMatt

5,141 posts

87 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
A lot nicer looking than the Focus and I would imagine spec for spec will still be cheaper! I think the next S3 will be the one to look out for.

300bhp/ton

29,629 posts

70 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
That doesn't look bad for a hatch. Quite slick indeed. These hatches aren't getting an lighter though are they.

MonkeyMatt

5,141 posts

87 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
300bhp/ton said:
That doesn't look bad for a hatch. Quite slick indeed. These hatches aren't getting an lighter though are they.
The new VAG and Mazda stuff should be lighter! New A3 is a lot lighter

elvismiggell

1,243 posts

31 months

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Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Part of me is very, VERY tempted by this.

I've always said what my Astra needed was a bit more power, this could be the answer to it! smile

gforceg

1,388 posts

59 months

[news] 
Tuesday 12th June 2012 quote quote all
Riggers said:
Not for me - I like my humour like I like my red wine: dry and dark wink

Shall I link to a thread on the Golf now...?
hehehe, wind up the antis.

I'd still take a Mk1 GTE over any of the later models....

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