The VXR has some serious anger issues and I can only put this down to an identity crisis. GM has it badged as a Vauxhall in its native UK, as an Opel in Europe and here in NZ we know it as a Holden Astra. I understand the VXR’s pain. As a young man I once had an identity crisis of my own, involving a fake I.D and a nightclub bouncer. That burly sentry destroyed my I.D along with my youthful dreams of underage drinking and loose older women, and I didn’t see the inside of a club until I returned at the rightful age. I failed in my attempt, but the VXR has an HSV badge, a mark of performance and exclusivity. Is it just a cocky kid who got lucky or does it really deserve its place in club HSV?
Hot hatchbacks can sometimes be too conservative in their styling and not differ enough from their base-model brothers. This is a non-issue for the VXR. Visually it leaves you in no doubt that it will go fast. The body styling kit gives it a low and mean-looking profile. There are elements of bling about the exterior of the car and a gleaming paint job means there is lots of show with the go. The optional 19-inch alloys are stunning and pack out the guards perfectly. With bright blue brake calipers, a honeycomb sports grill and silver rimmed fog lamps the VXR could never be accused of being too casually dressed for a night out.
Inside the cabin the VXR is well appointed with leather Recaro seats for driver and shotgun. These are very supportive during both acceleration and cornering. The seats look great with big side bolsters and thick stitching but they do sit a little high and could slide back one notch further. The backseat is more than a token gesture and can fit two adults reasonably well. The backseats have headrests that do affect rear visibility which is already minimal, but they can be removed. The steering wheel and gearstick are finished in leather and feel thick and solid in hand. The centre control console is difficult to learn, but has everything required, including a driver information computer and a front-loading 6-disc CD stacker. The VXR has air conditioning, electric windows and 6 airbags to keep you safe. Inside the hatch there is a good allocation of space considering the vehicle’s relatively small size. Overall the interior is functional and adequate but you wouldn’t buy a car like the VXR for its comfort level, you’d buy it for performance.
If an identity crisis is the source of the VXR’s anger then its engine is the means to show the world exactly how angry it really is. A 2.0 litre turbocharged powerplant producing 177kW sprints the VXR from a standstill to 100kph in 6.2 seconds and won’t stop till it reaches 244kph. The acceleration is raw and exciting, and there is some turbo-lag, but when the VXR starts pulling it’s worth the wait. The VXR has been gifted with true power and it does struggle to transfer it all to the road. Under hard acceleration torque-steer is evident even with traction control, but the steering wheel stays honest and a firm grip can easily keep control. The available torque means you don’t need to be heavy footed in first gear, just shift into second and prepare to feel the wrath.
The six-speed close-ratio manual gearbox is a real gem. Good gear ratios make the best of the power right through the range and it kicks out smooth gear changes. When pushed the VXR will drink heavily and will return consumption figures far worse than the quoted 9.29l/100km combined.
The grip, other than under heavy-handed straight-line acceleration, is very good. The car remains assertive during fast cornering and is clearly helped by the standard electronic stability programme, which at no point detracts from the fun of driving. The lowered and tuned suspension is compliant and absorbs most bumps well, but remains a very firm ride. Road noise generated by the wide low profile tyres can be a touch intrusive. The brakes provide strong stopping power but the brake pedal does feel light and can be caught lacking in response. The VXR was never going to be easy to stop.
The VXR earns its HSV badge and then some. It’s no purebred and lacks subtlety and refinement which may prove tiring on long journeys or stop-start commuting. However, Club HSV is more Aussie workmen’s pub than cocktail lounge and the VRX has enough mongrel to truly belong. It has been given a lot of juice so it slips and stumbles when pushed, but it is willing and has a tough confident charm that will work on most.
Click through to the next page for specs on the HSV VXR
Price: from $49,990
What we like
What we don’t like
Tricky control console
Poor rear visibility
ECOTEC Inline-4 position Turbocharged valvetrain 4 Valves per Cyl
Displacement: 1998 cc / 121.9 cu in bore 86 mm / 3.39 in stroke 86 mm / 3.39 in compression 8.8:1
Power: 170 kw / 237 bhp @ 5600 rpm
hp per litre: 120.12 bhp per litre
bhp/weight: 172.29 bhp per weight
torque: 320 nm / 236.0 ft lbs @ 2400 rpm
Front brake size 321 mm / 12.6 in
Rear brake size 278 mm / 10.9 in
Front wheels F 45.7 x 20.3 cm / 18 x 8 in
Rear wheels R 45.7 x 20.3 cm / 18 x 8 in
Front tire size 225/40 R 18
Rear tire size 225/40 R 18
Weight 1393 kg / 3071 lbs
Length 4290 mm / 168.9 in
Width 1092 mm / 43.0 in
Height 1420 mm / 55.9 in
Top speed 244.6 kph / 152 mph
0 – 60 mph 6.2 seconds
Words Adam Mamo, photos Darren Cottingham