Driven: Vauxhall Astra VXR

Vauxhall’s VXR moniker has a relatively short history that began with the launch of the VXR220 Turbo in 2004. Since then, various models have been created, including the previous generation Astra VXR, which garnered the top spot on the power podium at the time and delivered its 238bhp through the front wheels with enough zest to tear the steering wheel from an unsuspecting pilot’s hands.

Now, with the launch of the new VXR, Vauxhall is upping the stakes yet again with even more power – 276bhp and 400Nm worth of torque to be precise. But it’s also more refined. This is what its predecessor lacked.

With the UK the biggest market for the Astra VXR, competition against serious contenders such as the Ford Focus ST, Volkswagen Golf R and Renaultsport Megane 265 is fierce. The VXR’s got its work cut out for it. So how does it fare?

While Vauxhall, Ford and VW are in perpetual battle for the C-segment title, the Astra VXR simply trumps the competition on the looks factor.

Low, wide and mean, the VXR has taken beautifully resolved Astra GTC design and added even more aggression. Riding 10mm lower than the GTC, the car looks menacing with revised bumpers, stock 19-inch wheels filling out its flared arches, side skirts, and an aerodynamic roof spoiler to add downforce. There are also LED rear lamps and dual exhaust outlets nestled on either side of the rear diffuser.

The VXR’s ground hugging stance can be further accentuated through an optional Aero Pack (£995), which was fitted to our test car. This adds a body-coloured grille insert; more pronounced side skirts; two-tier rear spoiler and 20-inch lightweight forged alloys.

For all of the power on tap the VXR remains as practical as its GTC sibling. The cabin is spacious and the boot can accommodate 380 liters of kit, growing to 765 liters with the rear seatbacks folded. And if you cram things up to the roof you’ll fit 1165 liters of stuff behind the front seats. Not bad at all.

The backseats are usable by normal people, not just children. Though I must profess to not being the largest person, my 5ft. 9-inch frame fit well in the backseat even with a 6’ 4” occupant in the front. Access to the backseat is also relatively simple, with a large handle nestled just beneath the openings in the front seatback.

Performance and Handling
The first generation Astra VXR was a proper hot hatch, but it was far less controlled than its rivals: with rampant torque steer, a turbo that was notable for throwing its occupants back into the seat when the boost kicked in, and a chassis that left much to be desired.

Vauxhall’s engineers have addressed all of these issues in the latest iteration. The HiPerStrut suspension – a revised offering from the brilliant UK-tuned setup in the lesser GTC – is perfectly up to the task of keeping the VXR on the road and on the right side of a hedge. Paired with a communicative chassis and Vauxhall’s motorsport-derived mechanical limited-slip differential, the system does well to keep the wheels in contact with the road, though it’s settings (30% stiffer than the GTC’s) proved unforgiving at times.

The mechanical differential is simply brilliant at alleviating torque steer, though we were thankfully still able to extract some. I say thankfully because it’s nice to feel 276bhp through your hands whilst gripping the steering wheel. It makes you feel alive. With the diff, the car actually follows the line through corners whilst you’re on the throttle rather than drifting off with understeer – a typical drawback with high-powered front drive cars.


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