Lu­ton’s burn­ing

One inal lour­ish of V8 fool­ish­ness be­fore Vaux­hall gets all sen­si­ble and busi­nesslike un­der new own­ers.

CAR (UK) - - First Drives - By Ben Barry @IamBenBarry

T

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

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