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Driven: Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.

Driven: Vauxhall Astra VXR
Saying so long to a hot hatch that is often overlooked.

   



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Vauxhall Astra VXR

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: dynamically well-sorted, strong engine, performance.

Not so good: image, imminent demise, so-so interior, handling not as good as rivals'.

Key Facts

Model tested: Vauxhall Astra VXR
Price: new Astra range from £15,295; VXR from £28,070
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door hot hatch
CO2 emissions: 189g/km (Band J, £490 VED first year, £265 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34.9mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Power: 280hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 400Nm from 2,500- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

With the new Vauxhall Astra on the horizon, time is running out for the range-topping VXR hot hatch. And it's probably fair to say that not many will lament its passing. We happen to think that's a pity - sure, there have been some historic VXR hatchback products that have been defined by rampant torque steer and the sort of chassis that can't hold a candle to anything wearing a blue oval on the bonnet, but there have also been some gems.

The Astra VXR, with its HiPerStrut suspension and limited-slip differential designed to quell front-axle unruliness, has been around since 2012 with its 280hp engine. Some rivals, even now, don't match that - Renaultsport's Mégane Trophy kicks out 275hp and the Ford Focus ST still hovers at 250hp. Everyone lauded the SEAT Leon Cupra of 2014 when it hit 280hp, and even the Volkswagen Golf R, technically an über-hatch, is just 20hp ahead of the Vauxhall. So it still has the firepower to mix it with the class leaders, even now.

And the drive is actually pretty impressive. The VXR has excellent traction, allowing it to cleanly deploy its horsepower (and, perhaps more crucially, that enormous 400Nm of torque, a figure that's astoundingly 20Nm up on the Golf R) for the vast majority of the time. This makes the Astra feel genuinely rabid in terms of acceleration, be that from standstill or very low velocity, right up to trying to pile on speed when already travelling at 50mph plus. You never have to deal with unbridled wheel spin, or an over-intrusive traction control system, or the steering wheel violently bucking about in your hands. Granted, it doesn't sound exciting as it's all about a bass-rich exhaust note at the expense of any other aural attractions, but otherwise the performance of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder motor is beyond criticism.

It's also a pretty car, despite the fact it's about to bow out of the game. The three-door GTC Astra is one of the best-looking machines in the segment and with the muscular addenda of the VXR it has plenty of purpose. If you're going to toddle down to your local Vauxhall dealer and try and strike a deal with them, due to the car's imminent obsolescence, then go for a bright colour. Emerald Green, for example, is not as good as Arden Blue.

So you're probably waiting for the rather huge 'but' that's coming - and you're also probably thinking we're about to say the Vauxhall is awful in the handling stakes. It isn't. The steering is actually excellent, with plenty of feedback, nice weighting and a fine correlation between input and response. There's grip aplenty and a refreshing lack of understeer (save for when you start behaving like a moron with corner entry speeds), while the adaptive FlexRide damping on the VXR works well at keeping the body in check without the car being so firmly suspended that bumpy surfaces become terrifying. True, it still lacks the final few degrees of interactivity of the Ford, Volkswagen or Renault, and possibly even the Leon Cupra, but unless you're staunchly anti-Luton, you should find the Astra easy enough to admire in the dynamic stakes. Especially as the brakes and six-speed manual are both magnificent, although we continue to dislike the big, oblong gear knob Vauxhall persists with as it's ergonomically odd.

Perhaps the VXR's biggest failing is the interior, which has some wonderful bucket seats and plenty of VXR branding, yet is as unremittingly black as all of Vauxhall's cabins. And the centre console is button-busy, lacking the intuitive infotainment systems of key rivals. The flipside is it comes with a wealth of equipment and a supposed list price of £28,070, although we reckon you could push a dealer down a long way on that - simply point at the all-new Astra sitting next to the VXR in the showroom and say you're not paying top whack for old tech.

We'll be honest and say there are a few more niggles. The ride is firm on the motorway; not out-and-out uncomfortable but certainly not as pliant as the Focus ST's nor the excellent SEAT Leon Cupra's. Thank the VXR's stylish, optional 20-inch bi-colour alloys for that. And while Vauxhall can match rivals for power and torque, it still hasn't quite got the hang of emissions. Like many of the Griffin's cars, the Astra's CO2 emissions figure of 189g/km is a long way off the class average, leading to higher VED bills, and the quoted economy is meagre. We'll soften the blow here by saying the car easily returned around 40mpg while cruising at 70mph, which is not bad for something capable of 0-62mph in less than six seconds.

It still seems like some people think it's fashionable to slate Vauxhalls without ever giving them a chance. This generation of Astra VXR is about to depart without any sort of fanfare and we find that a shame. As we said at the outset, there have been some absolutely clunkers from Luton over the years when it comes to supposed drivers' cars, but this VXR is not one of them. And if you take the superb VXR8 GTS and current Corsa VXR as yardsticks, we think the next hot Astra - likely to have at least 300hp in order to mix it with Honda's Civic Type R - will certainly be able to withstand stringent comparison to the class leaders.

As it is, don't let badge snobbery get the better of you. If you want a great value, rapid and handsome hot hatch, then despite its limited shelf life the Astra VXR still makes a lot of sense. Just don't buy it in green.

Alternatives:

Ford Focus ST: always has the Vauxhall's dynamic measure and recent facelift improved the car. Not as characterful as its five-cylinder forebear, but still pretty special.

SEAT Leon Cupra 280: the biggest problem for the VXR. Matches the Astra for firepower and has a more involving chassis, a better cabin and sharp exterior looks. The one for the new VXR to beat.

Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack: more expensive, especially with a Performance Pack fitted, which still leaves it 50hp shy of the Vauxhall - but there are few classier hot hatches than this.


Matt Robinson - 6 Sep 2015



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2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.



2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2015 Vauxhall Astra VXR. Image by Vauxhall.
 






 

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