Recombu

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R review: The end of the road for V8 Griffins

The Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R is more than just a 600bhp V8 lunatic, it’s the last of a dying breed and rarer than a McLaren. Recombu Cars borrowed one to see whether it will be going out with a bang.

Nobody would ever get hot under the collar when talking about a Vauxhall, but their dependability and affordability has ensured the likes of the Astra and Corsa, complete with that instantly recognisable Griffin badge, are a regular fixture on British roads.

But some Vauxhalls have a severe dislike for convention, the most obvious being the Vauxhall Monaro, which was praised for being a powerful, sideways-happy V8 us Brits could actually buy with the steering wheel on the correct side.

It was, however, slightly unattractive ─ an issue partially rectified by the VXR8 that replaced it in 2007. The VXR8 was the cheapest way to have a car with more than 500bhp and, therefore, a viable alternative to the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG. Understandably, it went down a treat.

A subsequent GTS version added significantly more power and greater levels of luxury on top of the Australian Holden Commodore the VXR8 is based on – all for a mere £5,000 extra. At £54,509, it was a tempting proposition if you could maintain its fuelling habits.

Vauxhall then decided to have one last hurrah, a very loud and very fast farewell to what is the most powerful production Vauxhall ever – and will likely remain that way. The result is the VXR8 GTS-R, of which just 15 will be built and they are all exclusive to Britain.

“The VXR8 GTS-R is a large chunk of metal, which translates to ample space in the front and rear for heads, legs and hairdos.”Not only is the VXR8 GTS-R rarer than most supercars, it gets similarly large 410mm disc brakes up front with six-piston calipers as well as 20-inch forged alloy wheels, Continental tyres, quad exhaust outlets with diamond-shaped exhaust tips and a mixture of fancy Alcantara and leather inside.

Then there is the fact all power goes through a limited-slip differential on its journey to the rear wheels, with brake-based torque vectoring helping the VXR8 GTS-R resist the laws of physics. Sounds like the dream, but can it really justify its larger price tag?

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R: How potent are we talking?

Stick the same V8 engine you get in the Corvette ZR1 in a Vauxhall and the result is always going to be monstrously fast. 0-62mph takes 4.2 seconds and the pace the VXR8 GTS-R surges towards its 155mph top speed is as blunt and loud as its external appearance.

Unlike some V8s, the VXR8 GTS-R benefits from maximising each gear, as all horsepower kicks in at a rather late 6,150rpm, while all 553lb/ft of torque hits at 3,850rpm. Make no mistake though, those rear tyres will spin until you reach metal beneath if you want them to.

Having a V8 means enjoying one of the best-sounding engines money can buy. When paired up with the Eaton supercharger, you get this sublime mix of thunderous grumbles and higher-pitched whines. Only the most boring driver ever could resist full power in the VXR8 GTS-R.

We do, however, dislike the artificial hum that comes with switching to Performance and Track driving modes, but the low speed rumble is as satisfying as the howl of the exhaust at full revs. Find a tunnel and it is possible to deafen yourself.

The problem is that Vauxhall has made the VXR8 GTS-R a very livable car, with ample sound deadening, which denies a level of aural goodness making its way into the cabin without you winding down the windows.

For a car with huge amounts of combustion-based firepower, the limited-slip differential lets you use all of it successfully. First gear has a tendency to twitch quite strongly, even in the dry, but after that is an unexpected level of predictability and control ─ in part thanks to the long gearing.

The VXR8 GTS-R really can be as civilised as a rival BMW M5. The suspension is forgiving, even in Track mode, the throttle is easygoing enough for traffic jams and the brakes, though enormously powerful ─ thanks to 410mm discs and six-piston calipers at the front ─ are adequately squishy.

There is, in fact, absolutely nothing unruly about its road manners in the slightest. The engine on a motorway is idling at such low revs it’s almost asleep and its sound is outweighed by the only slightly louder noise of wind flying past metal.

Even with a kerb weight of 1,881kg, the VXR8 GTS-R is surprisingly manageable and hides its heft well. Keep your inputs smooth through the chunky steering wheel and it will go round corners very eagerly. Maybe not at M5 speeds, but near enough to keep you entertained.

In keeping with the fact this is a petrolhead’s motor, Vauxhall has fitted the VXR8 GTS-R with a six-speed manual that, like everything else, has an unexpected softness to it, but it also lets you blitz through the gears as aggressively as you want.

Because the VXR8 GTS-R’s equivalents use twin turbo technology and, in some cases, all-wheel drive (such as the forthcoming new M5), you get a very different character. There is an old-school immediacy to the VXR8 GTS-R that makes it so enthralling, but it never stops being practical either.

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R: What about luxury?

You probably want some luxury when you buy a fast saloon and the VRX8 GTS-R manages that, but there are a few caveats. For one thing, the interior looks dramatically less impressive than most cars at this price point.

You do get some Alcantara, leather and fake carbon fibre though, which provide very un-Vauxhall-esque levels of opulence. The quality of the switchgear, meanwhile, is solid and buttons sit mostly where you would you expect them to.

The infotainment system is less intuitive than BMW’s iDrive, while the display itself is less detailed and more garish, but a little effort rewards you with various useful functions. Not so useful (but rather neat) is the ability to record the level of oversteer up to a rather optimistic 100 degrees.

“When paired up with the Eaton supercharger, you get this sublime mix of thunderous grumbles and higher-pitched whines.”We also like that Vauxhall has included a head-up display, plush seats with eight-way electric adjustment and a potent nine-speaker Bose sound system that kicks out a very complete sound, all of which help the VXR8 GTS-R compete with the tech-savvy Germanic competition.

As for the safety stuff, Vauxhall has included automatic park assist, reverse traffic alert, front and rear park assist, forward collision alert (the first example in any Vauxhall) and lane departure warning.

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R: Practicality, UK price and running costs?

The Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R is a large chunk of metal, which translates to ample space in the front and rear for heads, legs and hairdos. The boot is 496 litres in size, which is plenty for a big shop but its rivals do a better job here.

The CO2 emission output of 373g/km is less than impressive, but hardly surprising given the displacement and output. In the first year, you can expect to pay £2,000 in car tax and then another £310 a year for five years because the VXR8 GTS-R costs more than £40,000 to buy.

Then there is the insurance group, which is 50U and therefore rather pricey, and fuel economy of 18mpg combined. On a motorway, you can see early twenties. Typically though, early teens is best and as little as 4mpg if you utilise all 588bhp – that 71-litre fuel tank really is easy to empty.

So we come to the price: £74,500. That is cheaper than the similarly powerful £93,710 Jaguar XJ575, the E 63 AMG and likely the forthcoming M5, but still a large amount of change for a Vauxhall.

The thing is, the VXR8 GTS costed £54,509 when it first arrived. That means buying the most potent and last ever British version of the Holden Commodore comes at a premium of £19,991. At least you get a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty, eh?

In fairness, nigh-on 600bhp makes the VXR8 GTS-R good value if you work out the pound to horsepower ratio. Plus there is the fact just 15 are being built, making it exceedingly rare ─ rarer than most supercars and some hypercars, let alone its mass-produced rivals.

Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R: Should I buy one, then?

The Vauxhall badge may lack street credit, but fellow petrolheads will only heap praise on anyone who has the balls to drop £74,500 on a car as ridiculous as the VXR8 GTS-R. It is, quite honestly, a performance saloon like no other.

Sure, it lacks the interior comfort of a souped-up E-Class and badge prestige of an M5, you pay a significant premium for the rarity and the fuel bills will bankrupt you, but you know what? When you unleash that supercharged V8 on a quiet country road you will struggle to feel any regret.

When the assured and impending bite of hybrid and electric cars takes hold, petrolheads will crave V8 motoring more than ever and the VXR8, as well as its Monaro predecessor, will be some of the cars we look back at most fondly.