One inal lourish of V8 foolishness before Vauxhall gets all sensible and businesslike under new owners.
EN YEARS AGO, I attended the launch of the Vauxhall VXR8. The drive was based out of Melbourne because, as you’ll know, the big Vauxhall is actually an Aussie-built Holden Commodore, and the two companies were both GM subsidiaries.
Vauxhall has imported the VXR8 as a halo for its VXR high-performance range ever since, giving Luton a rear-wheel-drive monster that recalled the Lotus Carlton in an otherwise front- and four-wheel-drive line-up.
But now Vauxhall has slipped its GM moorings and Holden has stopped producing cars (while continuing to import and sell GMs); the Commodore name will be redeployed on to the Holden version of the Insignia. Vauxhall is determined for the VXR8 to go out in a burst of tyre smoke, hence the VXR8 GTS-R; the name recalls Australia’s 1996 Commodore GTS-R.
You’ll need £74,500 to secure a VXR8 GTS-R, and just 15 are coming to the UK. The limited edition has new front wings, splitter and grille plus 20-inch alloys and a new rear diffuser and spoiler. It also moves quite a lot faster than your regular VXR8.
Those 6.0-litre, naturally aspirated VXR8s were quick enough, but always took a while to get in their stride. The GTS-R sees to that by adopting the same 6.2-litre supercharged LSA V8 you’ll find in the Camaro ZL1. It produces 587bhp and 545lb ft, and transforms this VXR8 into a truly quick saloon, with instant response, far less throat-clearing at the bottom end and a noise like a V8 Supercars start grid – though the bi-modal exhaust can do manners, too.
Likewise the chassis, because there’s more finesse to the GTS-R than just a large power output. Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers do a fine job of balancing body control with comfort and the electrically assisted steering is light enough to shrug off 1880kg yet weighty enough to provide a sense of feedback.
On track, brake torque vectoring and huge six-piston calipers with 410mm discs give all
that mass a chance of making the apex; in fact, for a big car with a heavy lump of metal over the front wheels, this VXR8 turns in pretty smartly. Even in damp conditions, the new 20-inch Conti rubber soaks up the huge lowdown torque well enough to give the driver the confidence to get on the power early. And because this is such a long, well balanced car, it’s incredibly progressive and controllable even when the tyres can grip no more.
Besides, the Driver Preference Dial lets you tweak through Touring, Sport, Performance and Track modes, so you can build up to lighting the rear tyres up like an aerosol on a barbeque.
You can also reduce the workload with a six-speed automatic gearbox, but the six-speed manual we’re testing feels more fluid than the beefy early transmissions, and surely a send-off like this really should be specified with a manual.
The usual caveats apply, in that the Germans – your M5s and E63s – have a far more premium feel, especially inside, for not that much more cash. But there are the improvements you’d expect after a decade of development, such as a new instrument cluster and driver-assistance aids including blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert. Factor in eight-way adjustable seats that’d get you from Adelaide to Alice in one stint, so much rear legroom you can almost walk about and a huge boot, and you can almost convince yourself that a supercharged V8 Vauxhall is practical. But the reason we’ve always loved this car is because it’s just so unhinged. We’ll never see its like again.
GTS R is smarter and better equipped than basic VXR, but not a patch on comparable German saloons
Raging barbie levels of smoke still fundamental to VXR’s appeal
Blown V8 from Camaro ZL1. There’ll be no more of this from post-GM Vauxhall