The Vauxhall Astra VXR was the most powerful hot hatch you could drive out of a showroom in 2005. Today, 240hp seems perfectly normal for this class of car, but back then it was pretty daring and the VXR quickly divided opinion.
That ability to split views remains. For those that get it, though, the Astra VXR offers an entertainingly old school branch of hot hatch fun thanks to 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds, a 152mph top end, and torque steer aplenty when you put your toe down. So, it's still pretty quick and there's plenty of scope for tuning the turbocharged 2.0-litre motor to rival the best of the current hot hatch crop.
But don't expect the VXR to be as refined or broadly able as today's hot hatches. In 2008, this Astra hustled its way around the Nurburgring in 8 minutes 35 seconds in the hands of Manuel Reuter, which was a record for a hot hatch at the time. This stunt was inspired by the VXR Nurburgring Edition which had unique white paint and alloy wheels, exterior graphics and embossed seats. There were also carbon fibre-effect door mirrors and trim on the B pillars. More interesting with this model is the Remus exhaust that freed up an extra 15hp, and the wider track for improved handling.
Throughout its life, you could add Driving System Plus for £400 that came with Continuous Damping Control. It helped ease the VXR's firm ride, but it couldn't mask the torque steer that could make the Astra a handful on any road that wasn't perfectly dry and smooth. There's also less feel through the steering than in a Ford Focus ST, which added to the sense the Vauxhall required your full attention at all times. However, there's little lean in corners and the brakes are strong by the standards of the period.
Yet it's the engine that still dominates the Astra VXR's driving experience. It needs considered input to avoid butting up against the traction control from a standing start, but the broad spread of torque makes it flexible in-gear. There's a Sport button on the centre console that sharpens throttle response, but some find this makes the car too sensitive and jerky when coming on and off the accelerator pedal.
So the Astra VXR continues to polarise opinions. Yet, with prices for decent, clean examples starting at £3,000, it's one of the most affordable ways into a 150mph hot hatch.
Bodywork and interior
Rust can take hold around the rear arches.
The front bumper can come away where it joins the wings.
The steering wheel's leather wears more than many contemporary rivals'.
Recaro front seats are comfortable but the driver's bolster will look shabby in all but the most pampered Astra VXRs. The seats can squeak on their mounts - new brackets are needed to cure this.
Check for fault codes by pressing the throttle and brake pedals at the same time then turning the key till the dash lights illuminate. Any fault codes will then be displayed.
Engine and transmission
The Borg Warner K04 turbo's vacuum lines can detach and they perish with age. Listen for signs of this with a tell-tale warble when the engine is off boost.
Look for smoke and listen to the turbo for grumbling bearings. A new turbo is £750 fitted.
Turbo actuator arm can fail and costs £200 to replace.
Smoke when starting from cold points to worn valve stem seals.
Ticking hydraulic tappets are common.
Check the service record to see if the cambelt has been changed more regularly than the official 80,000-mile intervals - specialists reckon 45,000 is the safe distance before a new belt is needed.
Tuned engines can throw con rods, so be wary of anything with more 320hp without evidence of uprated engine internals.
Vauxhall replaced the turbo's oil return pipe gasket under warranty. Rocker cover gasket can also weep oil.
The Getrag six-speed manual gearbox is the VXR's weakest link. First and sixth gears are prone to failing, so make sure the lever doesn't jump out of these gears. A replacement 'box will be around £800. Changing the transmission fluid annually is a sensible precaution.
A remap and exhaust will improve the engine to 270hp and many owners report improved fuel economy and smoother throttle response with these mods.
An uprated intercooler should be the first step before any more serious tuning to deal with the VXR's high under-bonnet temperatures.
Suspension and steering
Standard droplink bushes will fail sooner rather than later, so budget to upgrade to polybush items.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
Check the inner edges of the rear tyres for wear caused by worn hub bearings.
SPECIFICATION: VAUXHALL ASTRA VXR
Engine: 1998cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed man
Power (hp): 240@/5,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@2,400-5,000rpm
Price new: £18,995
Price now: £3,000+
1 / 5