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Monday 11th June 2012


With a new VXR on the way it's worth taking a look at how the hot hatch Griffin got here

Pity the fast Astra. In four generations, history and journalists have not been kind to the poor Vauxhall hot hatch.

Mk1 was a short-lived car
Mk1 was a short-lived car
Ever since the first Astra GTE appeared in the early 1980s, Vauxhall's offering has been the perennial bridesmaid, the also-ran in many a hot hatch battle. Opel and Vauxhall know this, though, and the new Astra VXR, despite being the most powerful front-drive Vauxhall ever, has had some serious engineering thrown at it. We're at Rockingham today to find out just whether Vauxhall can consign the fast-but-unruly rep of the Astra to history - and we'll tell you whether it's succeeded or not on PH soon - but for now it's worth taking a quick look back at some of the new car's ancestors.

The Mk1 GTE certainly doesn't fit the mould of the uncouth fast Vauxhall. In fact it's a bit of a forgotten gem. When was the last time you saw one on the road, for example? Quite - and yet you'll see plenty of 205 GTIs and Golf GTIs on the road (though perhaps not so many Escort XR3is).

Second GTE was quick - joyriders loved it
Second GTE was quick - joyriders loved it
Despite the glitzy white wheels, it's a more sophisticated thing than you'd perhaps credit, handling with some aplomb and with a 1.8-litre fuel-injected engine good for 115hp. It was only on sale for around a year or two before the swoopy aerodynamic Mk2 arrived.

Of all the fast Astras, perhaps only the Mk2 GTE 16v, with its 150hp power output and consequent susceptibility to theft by the joyriding community, really got to sit with the rest of the gods on whatever the hot hatch version of Mount Olympus is. And even then its reputation was built more on slightly lairy power then anything in the way of finesse, though it more than deserves its place as a PH hero for that alone.

Mk3 GSi was, erm, not brilliantly received
Mk3 GSi was, erm, not brilliantly received
This is perhaps the car that got the Astra its rep. Blessed with a solid 150hp from its 2.0-litre motor, it was always quick, but despite the power from the 16-valve 'redtop', and the involvement of Lotus with the handling, the GSi (as it was now badged) was just too stodgy to be considered a hot hatch contender.

And the others...
Vauxhall did of course produce a 200hp turbocharged GSi version of the Mk4 but, umm, we didn't have any of those to photograph. Nor, curiously, did we have an Astra VXR, the new car's direct predecessor.

Vauxhall has high hopes for new VXR
Vauxhall has high hopes for new VXR
But that car's fast-but-unruly reputation is what brings us to the latest Astra VXR, a car that now carries a history of wild-but-fun hot hatches on its shoulders with a Drexler limited-slip diff, trick HiPer Strut suspension and a whopping 280hp. Has GM finally tamed its wild-child hot hatch? We'll find out soon...I for one just hope it hasn't gotten too sophisticated.








Author: Riggers
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