6 Aug 2013

Vauxhall Astra VXR - First impressions

This Vauxhall Astra VXR turned up on Monday.  I've got it for a week and will be putting as many miles on in it in as many different scenarios as I can to ensure when I write the full review its from an informed perspective.

But for now I've had the car for a day and driven it on some A and B-roads and some seriously twisty but poorly surfaced lanes around where I live.  These are my first impressions of the Astra VXR.

The VXR has some intense competition from the Megane 265 (driven), Ford Focus ST (not driven yet) and Volvo V40 T5 (driven).  They all cost upwards of £25k but the Megane is the cheapest of the bunch - it's also the most hardcore front wheel drive turbonutterbastard of any car I've driven.

And that includes the VXR which is more ninjafast than turbonutterbastard.

The Astra VXR comes in the Astra's GTC bodyshell which is a beauty, especially in the traditional Vauxhall red and with 20" wheels.  They'll be easy to trash against a kerb but keep them scuff free and they look good.

The car's interior is pretty classy with a nice layout and a good feel to the various knobs and buttons.  The screen atop the dash isn't a touchscreen and isn't initially intuitive but you get used to it pretty quickly.

The seats are pretty ace but have part manual and part electric controls which is confusing at first.

The VXR uses a normal key rather than a card and only starts with the clutch depressed.  Yes, a clutch.  It's a 6-speed manual.

On the road the Astra VXR is a refined, and very powerful motor.  The stereo is mega-loud and crisply clear - and has DAB.  The steering is precise.  Very precise.  A world away from the wobbly old Mk3 Astra and much improved and over the last Astra I drove - a Mk4 company car, many years ago.

It's damn fast too.  276bhp and 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds.  Yes there is some turbo lag in higher gears but this isn't noticeable in 1st or 2nd because it screams to the redline so fast.

It has the torque-steer of the Megane 265 in 1st and 2nd gear but thereafter settles down and plants itself to the road well.  In fact the torque-steer is so savage I wondered if a semi-auto gearbox with paddles might be a better bet for when you need to grip the wheel in lower gears.  It's easy to run out of revs in 1st gear whilst holding on to the steering wheel to prevent it turning left into a hedge.

Thereafter it is a hugely accomplished hot-hatch in all but one condition (I'll come to that in a moment). On fast A and B roads the Astra keeps a vice-like grip on the tarmac.  I drove round a large roundabout, twice, with the car at the edge of grip.  It didn't understeer or oversteer at all.  Not one bit.

In fact I think the inward rear tyre might have been slightly off the ground.

The chassis feels resolutely rigid but the suspension reasonably pliant.  It really is a very good set-up.  It only comes unstuck on fast rural roads with a washboard surface.  I've driven many cars down one particular road with varying results but the Astra was the first to actually bounce me around in the seat.  I had to grit my teeth to avoid biting my tongue.

The Astra VXR isn't a comfortable cruiser of a car.  It's deceptively fast in a resolutely front wheel drive manner.  It's easier to drive fast round corners than a powerful rear wheel drive car due to the grip  levels and predictable nature of the power delivery.  Traction control isn't needed outside of first gear at all.

But it does need more input to actually go round a corner than, say, a Jaguar XK.  In the Jag you blend the power coming out of the corner but in the Astra you can apply it earlier, then deal with the car as it transfers the grip to the road.

The brakes are pretty superb.  It has big discs and Brembo callipers which give humungous stopping power.

It's a more measured car than the Megane.  Not quite so hardcore but without losing any focus.  I like the VXR a lot.  It's ninjafast.

It does have a few touches that could only make it a Vauxhall.  The gearbox is OK - not good, not bad - but I would guess it is a Vauxhall unit if I was to do a blind test.  It has that Vauxhall feel.  Similarly the ride feels very Vauxhall, but without the brittleness of its earlier cars.  The interior is very Vauxhall too with some flashy touches, overly sporty seats and blanked off buttons.  I've played with the VXR button - all it seems to do is make the dials turn red.  I didn't notice much appreciable change in handling - note to self: take a look in the handbook to find out what it actually changes.

After one day with the Vauxhall Astra VXR I'm impressed. I'll report back from time to time and publish a full review in a couple of weeks.

2013 Astra VXR interior

2013 Astra VXR seats

2013 Astra VXR brakes