Road and track in a Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R

Genuine 'end of an era' cars like the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R don't come along all that often. See, even if many bemoaned the end of flat-sixes in small mid-engined Porsches, the cars did carry on with different powertrains. But this is it, for Vauxhall-badged, and Aussie-built, Holdens. The Elizabeth factory that has been producing Holdens since 1956 will close at the end of this year, with all future cars far more closely related to other GM products - see the new Supercar that looks like an Insignia. For UK fans of Antipodean V8 anarchy, it's a sad time; Australian enthusiasts must be devastated.

Not pretty, but gosh is it effective
Not pretty, but gosh is it effective
Over there the traditional Holdens are going out in truly spectacular style, with the 640hp, Pirelli Trofeo-shod W1. It's not often that a 595hp supercharged V8 is the diet option then, but that's what this big blue Vauxhall represents. It's also the kind of silliness we've come to associate with Holden Vauxhalls (Holdalls?) over the past decade or so, and an attitude that will be sorely missed.

Because whilst the mainstream manufactures say that 600hp needs four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox to be manageable, Holden doesn't. This car has six manual gears, two driven rear wheels and a limited-slip differential. The fact that it works so assuredly is not only indicative of how well engineered it is, but also feels like a defiant up yours to the world it will soon leave behind: "You need nine gears and 4WD for 600hp? Watch this."

Cast aside aspersions, as this isn't simply some jingoistic juggernaut, proving Australia is better than everyone else through tyre smoke, V8 bellow, furious speed and, er, more tyre smoke. It can do that, of course, but there's far more depth, talent and ability to the GTS-R than you might imagine.

See, look, no smoke
See, look, no smoke
It doesn't feel especially keen to do anything at five in the morning though. When cold, the manual gearbox is pretty recalcitrant (and that's being polite), the rear windscreen takes ages to clear (no, seriously) and it feels awkwardly massive, like a wrestler trying to play dominoes; that power and potential needs time, space, and a more suitable activity.

With fluids warmed through by the M25, the Holdall is much better company. In fact it cruises superlatively, with fantastic seats, a composed ride and so much torque for overtaking. In fact half its 546lb ft peak would be fine, and on par with a Hyundai i30 in fact. Unsurprisingly that supercharged Chevy LSA remains an absolute monster, hauling from idle in a way turbo'd installations cannot. Indeed it pulls so violently in an exploratory run through second that the rev limiter (at just after 6,000rpm) comes as something of a shock - it feels good for at least another 1,000rpm, even if you are already travelling indecently fast.

Spirits are high by the time Donington arrives, even if the fuel level isn't quite so. Damn supercharged V8s... Crucially though they remain elevated throughout the morning, even if its most ardent fan couldn't call the GTS-R a natural track weapon.

OK, this one got past. Eventually
OK, this one got past. Eventually
While it may look like a simple bruiser (or should that be Brucer?), there's a host of tech beneath the VXR8's vast exterior. There's torque vectoring (by braking), magnetorheological dampers and huge 410mm front brake discs for a start. And on a circuit, all that comes together to make for a superbly entertaining car. Well, at least until you get called into the pits for noise... This is almost unavoidable, because the four drive modes here, accessed through the Driver Preference Dial, include Sport, Performance, Track and Off, but no individual mode. So if you want the more focused settings for the traction control (desirable) and dampers (essential), then you must take the louder exhaust as well. Which gets you into trouble. Frustrating.

Alright, that's not strictly true, Performance lets you have the firmer dampers with a quiet (enough) exhaust but the stricter TC leash. So configured, this car is a hoot: rapid, balanced, accurate and exciting. The brakes in particular feel really strong, which is nice when you're slowing from nearly 130mph for the chicane after the Dunlop bridge. The earlier one...

410mm discs and six-piston calipers are needed!
410mm discs and six-piston calipers are needed!
In truth it's the tyre that lets the package down more than anything, the standard fit Continental SportContacts are more balanced in remit than some of the track-focused alternatives. And it's the fronts that begin to give up first, a bit of understeer soon setting in as they struggle to cope. You can work around the problem, and the car remains great in the quicker stuff, but a more aggressive tyre would surely transform it. A proper track mode for the dampers would help too, as some body movements take longer than you would want to settle. I've never giggled so much at a track day though, nor received so much positive attention - it's a likeable car because of its attitude, but substantiates it with aptitude as well. And it did a brilliant powerslide when nobody was looking.

On wide, fast A-roads is where the GTS-R feels most at home; it's more comfortable than an E63 (though quite a lot is), more involving than an RS6, and presumably faster than the Panamera 4 Executive that costs the same - because the Holdall has another 265hp. The engagement factor is key though; while the steering is merely average by EPAS standards, there's enough communication through the car on the road for it always to feel rear-driven and a bit naughty, though never scary, thanks to the safety net of driver aids. Remember that to make the new E63 and M5 rear-wheel drive means forgoing all of them...

Now this is how you do V8
Now this is how you do V8
The B-roads these pictures are from are not the car's natural home, though again it does an admirable job. It isn't the last word in finesse or poise, but it's far better than you're assuming. The collaborative effort of the limited-slip diff, torque vectoring and dampers means it gets into, through and out of corners precisely and efficiently. Being able to see out clearly and place the car accurately - older designs tend to be quite good for that - only adds to your confidence. Furthermore, if we reach a point when having a manual to control 600hp on the road isn't fun, then this website probably won't be running.

Pics snapped, lunch eaten and car fuelled (again; on track it averaged 5.3mpg) the time to give the VXR8 back has arrived too soon. No bother, because it means another imperious motorway journey, but a real shame because it's a car that I'm desperate to spend more time in. This is not a rational car by any stretch, so making a rational case for it against conventional rivals would be daft. If you want a German executive saloon, you will buy one because - let's face it - they are more rounded and more capable vehicles.

For fun, for sense of occasion and for a totally beguiling driving experience though, the GTS-R is in a class of its own. Its relative simplicity is part of its charm, backed up by dynamic dexterity that means it requires no excuses. The VXR8 is a classic thunder saloon brought just far enough up to date, which is pretty compelling if you ask us. 600hp manual V8s with room for the family won't happen again, but what a way to bid farewell - there are going to be 15 very lucky people rumbling around the UK very soon.

: 6,162cc, supercharged V8
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 595@6,150rpm
Torque (lb ft): 546@3,850rpm
0-60mph: 4.2sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,880kg
MPG: 18
CO2: 363g/km
Price: £74,500











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Comments (87) Join the discussion on the forum

  • cafehag2001 10 Oct 2017

    The Holden factory is in Elizabeth, South Australia, not Victoria.

  • Gareth9702 11 Oct 2017

    The facts need correcting. The Holden factory that will close on October 20th is in Elizabeth, South Australia. HSV, who modify Holdens produced in Elizabeth, are located in Clayton, Victoria. HSV is independent of Holden and their factory is not closing.

  • Gareth9702 11 Oct 2017

    And most future Holdens (including the new Insignia-based Commodore) will be Peugeot products not GM products given the PSA takeover of Opel.

    Edited by Gareth9702 on Tuesday 10th October 16:59

  • Shakermaker 11 Oct 2017

    If I had £74,000 this would definitiely be something for me to consider.

  • HedgeyGedgey 11 Oct 2017

    74k for a vauxhall is pretty extortionate. Dont get me wrong its cheaper than its rivals by some margin but it has a vauxhall badge. I'm a vauxhall guy through and through, they're in my blood but you'd have to be clinically insane to spend 74k on any vauxhall

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