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Retro Drive: Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Vauxhall.

Retro Drive: Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition
This has got to be torque-steer in white Astra form, right? Wrong.


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Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: decent steering, dependable front axle, naughty exhaust, searing pace, rarity value.

Not so good: farcically bad driving position, interior looks even more dated than it is, that exhaust.

Key Facts

Model tested: Vauxhall Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition
Price: when new in 2008, £21,295; value today c.£7,000 to £12,000
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: three-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 221g/km (VED Band K, £290 per annum)
Combined economy: 30.7mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 6.2 seconds
Power: 255hp at 5,600rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 2,400rpm

Our view:

VXR, as a performance brand, was just a year old when Vauxhall slapped its badge on the rump of an Astra. It was the fifth-generation car, or Astra H, as we believe they were called, which benefitted first. And it was that original Astra VXR that rather set the tone for the rest of the brand: it was very powerful, aggressively styled and great value, but in the handling stakes it was largely unrefined and dominated by torque-steer.

On that basis, then, making the suspension firmer and slathering it in white paint topped with indiscreet graphics might not seem like the sensible way to improve the brash formula. But the Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition, launched in 2008, did exactly that. It rode lower than the regular VXR and had revised damper settings. At each corner was an 18-inch alloy wheel that was 3kg lighter than the standard VXR rims; this is important because reducing unsprung weight to the degree of 12kg across a car usually equates to very good things. It received the decals outside and a numbered plaque inside - this example, Vauxhall's own heritage motor, is number 645 of 835 and that second figure is pertinent, because the Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition could lap the track after which it is so named in 8m 35s. Anyway, back on theme, the premium for all the extras was around £1,500 over a normal Astra VXR, at a cost of £21,295.

One of the main areas of appeal with the Nürburgring Edition is the UK-market specific Remus Sports exhaust. Now, in countries where this harder performance Astra was sold under the Opel OPC umbrella, the Nürburgring Edition didn't get this exhaust. It is both a blessing and a curse, hence why it's listed under the 'For' and 'Against' sections at the top of the review. Drive it, as we did, for a brief blast on a secluded, inviting back road and its sensationally loud pops, bangs and general parping prove to be a real highlight, aurally enhancing the Nürburgring Edition's incontrovertible pace. Drive it for 100 miles up a motorway and it would likely make you want to tear your own ears off in frustration, as - unlike 'noisy' exhausts in 2016 - it can never truly die away to become just background noise. It's always there, shouting about its presence.

What the Remus did for the UK cars, though, was lead to a claimed 15hp increase in peak power thanks to the breathing improvements. That was enough to increase the top speed from 152- to 155mph, while the quoted 0-60mph times stayed the same; however, we reckon the Nürburgring Edition might be able to do the more common 0-62mph benchmark in 6.2 seconds, so potent does it feel. The Astra is about as punchy as the most rapid of modern-day front-drive hot hatches, with only the top two of the SEAT Leon Cupra 290 and Honda Civic Type R likely to show it a clean pair of heels. Thank the Nürburgring Edition's kerb weight of 1,298kg for such fantastic rapidity.

The hottest VXR is pretty good in the corners, too. In actual fact, the Nürburgring Edition felt like one of the most well-sorted VXRs we've ever driven, with decent steering (it wasn't lauded as such eight years ago, but a hydraulic rack, in this EPAS day and age, always feels weightier and more informative in retrospect), excellent brakes and strong body control. It would be so much better if Vauxhall hadn't let some clown mount the driver's seat so high that it feels like you're sitting in an SUV, not a sports hatch. Whoever thought the best driving position was one where the head of the person behind the wheel should be folded into the roof of the car ought to be put up against a wall and shot.

Because, aside from a shockingly dated interior, it's only really the seating position that lets the Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition down. Talking of that cabin, it benefitted from carbon-fibre trim inserts to lift it, but the fifth-gen Astra's cockpit, when held up against the current model's, demonstrates precisely how far the company has come in eight years. OK, so infotainment graphics move on at such a pace that even 2014 systems are said to be old-hat, which means there's little point lamenting the laughable satnav screens in the dash of the Nürburgring Edition, but the general design of the centre console, the haptics and the ergonomics are a long way off what you'd find in, say, a contemporary Volkswagen. It's probably the main drawback of the Nürburgring Edition, with the car also saddled with a lumpen gear knob; it seems Vauxhall's predilection for daft-shaped shifters isn't just a 2010s thing, then.

And torque-steer? The lack of it is the most impressive thing of all about this Astra. A wider track, lighter wheels and firmer dampers seem to have all but cured the original VXR hot hatch of its tendency to go screwing off line with every rut and camber it finds. On a quiet, damp and reasonably smooth southern section of the Route Napoleon, we lit the Astra Nürburgring Edition up in second, third and fourth gears with our hands hovering just above the steering wheel (remember, kids, don't try this at home)... and it simply accelerated hard in a straight line. No histrionics. No terrifying lunges from side to side. It was a hugely composed demonstration of front-wheel-drive traction and something the 240hp, non-Nürburgring Edition VXR would be incapable of replicating.

So we like the Nürburgring Edition. A lot, if we're honest, as it turned a lot of our preconceptions (and recollections) of early VXR products on their head. As ever with these limited edition machines, finding one is going to be the trickiest job of all. You obviously now know for a fact that No.645 is sequestered away in Luton, but it's unlikely Vauxhall will let it go without a fight. So that means tracking one down is going to be the game. And then you'll have to put up with high road tax, as this is from just before the really heavy focus on CO2 came into being; £290 a year VED is not peanuts. Oh, and as good as the Astra VXR Nürburgring Edition is, don't bother if you're over 5ft 8in; otherwise, for all its dynamic prowess, all you'll remember it for is having a cricked neck. Stupid damned seats.

Matt Robinson - 25 Mar 2016    - Vauxhall road tests
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2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.

2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.2008 Vauxhall Astra VXR Nurburgring Edition. Image by Kyle Fortune.


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