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WHAT IS IT? It may say Vauxhall on the box, but the content is something else entirely. The Vauxhall VXR8 is a re-badged Holden Commodore "super-saloon" designed and built by GM's (Vauxhall's parent company) Australian division. In practical terms, the body configuration of the VXR8 is that of a conventional four door saloon - a large one at that; 4.94 metres long and 2 metres wide - mid way between the size of E-Class and S-Class Mercedes' then. For Vauxhall, rather than being a serious, volume, model, the VXR8 is very much a sporting flagship - a morale booster for the rest of their rather more mundane range of cars. As with so many manufacturers of late, Vauxhall have been promoting their more sporty models, all badged VXR. In marketing terms the idea is that they bask in the reflected glory of this particular model. WHICH SPECIFIC MODEL? There are now two versions of this car on the market, the very powerful 6.2 litre, 431bhp, V8 VXR8 reviewed here, and the new, absurdly powerful, V8 Supercharged model, yours for £42,095, offering a startling 532bhp. There are no trim or specification choices, the VXR8 is a stand alone model in its own right and arrives very fully equipped. IN WHAT CAPACITY AM I REVIEWING THIS CAR? I am reviewing this car with my fleet manager's hat on. Thanks to my invitation to the Millbrook Testing Ground from Fleet News Magazine to their Company Car In Action event, I have this year been able to compare many cars back to back, using two test tracks that simulate driving conditions that you would be hard pressed to encounter during many thousands of miles of ordinary motoring. Millbrook is a venue, that having attended for years, I am thoroughly familiar with. It allows direct comparison between various models. Being "closed circuits", the facilities there also allow you to drive at speeds which would, on public roads, be highly irresponsible. The importance of testing cars in this way is to find out just how a car behaves in extreme conditions i.e. on the limit, for instance in an emergency braking situation on the road, or perhaps a rapid and not anticipated lane changing manoeuvre. COSTS Either as a company purchase, or a private buy, the Vauxhall VXR8 is not the kind of car that you could expect, nor attempt, to run on a shoe-string budget. It is a specialised car, but, compared to others of a similar type and performance, running costs appear relatively modest. A little less than modest is that the VXR8 falls into both the highest category of insurance and, with a CO2 level of 365g/kg the maximum tax band for both company car tax and road tax purposes. PURCHASE COST 10 / 10 At an on the road price of £35,695 the Vauxhall VXR8 offers a huge amount of car for the money. Whichever way you approach this, at less than £36,000 this, extraordinarily spacious car is an absolute bargain. Unlike a BMW, Mercedes or any similar car, it comes fully equipped with every item of standard equipment that you could desire. At the price, in terms of performance it has no competitors. To find a car offering five seats, this level of equipment AND performance, you would have to look to the BMW M5. That car costs £64,600 i.e. 80% more than the VXR8. THE OPTIONS GAME: 10 / 10 or "How much do I need to spend to make it habitable?" Not a penny is the answer to that question. If you do not like the idea of changing gear yourself - and on this car it is a pleasure to use the 6-speed gearbox, then an automatic is yours for a further £1200. DEPRECIATION 8 / 10 - Always the biggest running cost. Due to the VXR8 wearing a Vauxhall badge, there would be better ways, automotively speaking, of investing £36K. The VXR8 is estimated at three years old, having covered 36,000 miles, to be worth 46%* of its new purchase price - £16,419 - an even sounder bargain then than a new one! Put that into perspective though, a BMW M5 at the same age and mileage is projected to be worth only 42%* of its purchase cost, the BMW driver will have lost £37,468 against the VXR8 owners £19,276...... ......who has the last laugh now then? * Depreciation figures quoted are from the authoritative "What Car" magazine (May 2008). FUEL ECONOMY 5 / 10 No car of this type is going to win any awards for fuel economy! In a day and age, with ever rising fuel prices, when we are all tightening our belts, the very concept of running a 6.2 litre V8 powered car is enough to make me loose sleep at nights. Personally, I can never see myself in the future running a car capable of averaging less than 40mpg. However, again, judgement of the VXR8 on this score must be a comparative one. More than with any other car that I have driven, the fuel consumption of this car will vary wildly according to the way that you drive it. Stop start city driving, or hard driving through the gears on country roads, is going to see you averaging about 17 miles per gallon *(i). Use it as a long distance cruiser on the motorway though and, with an extraordinarily high top (6th) gear mph / 1000rpm figure of 37.5, at 80mph, the engine is literally only ticking over at 2100rpm. This will produce a very acceptable motorway average of 31mpg *(i). The semi-automatic BMW M5 weighs in with city / hard driving figures of 7mpg *(i) and 22mpg *(i) at cruising speed. No, the Vauxhall VXR8 is no economy champ, but it could use a lot more fuel than it does. *(i) Petrol consumption figures courtesy of "Autocar" magazine who have road tested both cars. SERVICE & MAINTENANCE COSTS 7 / 10: are you going to make the dealer rich? Servicing is required once a year or every 10,000 miles, whichever arrives first. Being a large, American designed, V8, the power plant and indeed the transmission attached to it, should prove bombproof. Rare in this country, but extremely common in the US, the Corvette shares the same engine, mechanical reliability can be taken for granted. A figure of £1830 for servicing over three years and 36,000 miles is pretty good going for a car of this type. More concerning may be the fact that your local Vauxhall dealer may not be franchised to service the VXR8 which has an engine unique, in the UK, to this model. Spare parts, if required, may not be so readily available either, due to very limited numbers of these cars being shipped from Australia. Let the "fun" begin! You want to know what this car is like to live with and to drive and be driven in....... THE EXTERIOR: STYLING 8 /10: A very subjective category here. OK, let me start by saying that it is a lot less subtle than a BMW M5! To my eyes at least it looks a lot like a year 2000 model Vauxhall Omega on steroids. That is not a complete surprise, this car has been developed from the Australian version of the Omega - the Holden Monaro. Send your eyes a little way out of focus and the silhouette of the VXR8 is that of a large, but conservatively styled four door saloon. Pop them back into focus and it will be the oversize caricature like (but very handsomely styled) wheels, rear spoiler and cooling ducts adorning the front of the car that will dominate the styling. The car that we drove was a magnificent shade of intense bright red, it screamed "fast" standing still. Whilst it suits the character of this car ideally, if purchasing a VXR8 I think that I would be ordering a less attention grabbing colour - either black or gunmetal grey, there are only the three colours from which to choose incidentally. OVERALL BUILD QUALITY AND FINISH 8 / 10 Does it look as though it was slung together? Due to their home environment i.e. the fact that they are used to travelling huge distances across the Outback - partly on unmade roads, the Holden Commadore, before its badge transplant into a VXR8, has to be screwed together properly. Ultimately it may not have the final gloss and millimetric precision of a European built car, but the one that we drove and examined closely was a match for anything else driven on the day. Having said that, Audi were not present, their cars now providing an industry standard on this score. SAFETY 8 /10 If it comes to the worst, how well are you and your family going to come out of it. In the wrong, inexperienced, hands, this car is simply lethal! Indeed I would issue it with a health warning. More, I think, than any other of the hundreds of cars that I have driven over the last quarter of a century, this one deserves respect. In a sense, the civilised driving experience builds a false sense of security. The sheer accelerative capabilities would undoubtedly overwhelm the unwary, particularly on a wet or bumpy road. Countering that is the fact that this is a massively solid feeling car - likewise I have NEVER driven one that is so rock steady at 100mph, even in a strong side wind on this occasion. If the dynamic safety here is at the discretion of the driver, then active safety is well taken care of by the car itself, which as you would expect nowadays is equipped with a comprehensive range of airbags and safety features. Matching the colossal performance are massive brakes front and rear, which on the alpine test course proved more than capable of standing this heavy car on its nose, in practice the VXR8's stopping capabilities well match its performance. THE INTERIOR: ERGONOMICS 8 / 10 Before I can start the engine and drive away I need to feel at home in the "working environment". The relationship between the controls and how I, the driver, am able to instinctively operate those controls is, all important. This for me is make or break, before I drive a car, if it does not instinctively "feel" right in this department then I will never like it or ultimately buy it. Simple as this car is inside; it has one glaring ergonomic fault, a potentially dangerous one at that. The windscreen wiper and indicator stalks are the wrong way around! It is well over twenty years since I drove a car with the indicator stalk on the right hand side - Japanese cars used to be so configured, before conforming to the European norm. That fairly major, although you would get used to it, consideration apart, unbelievably, this was one of the easiest cars of the day to jump into and drive. All of the primary controls fall to hand, exactly where you expect them to. Partially to thank for this is the superb driving position. Powerful as it is, this is not an intimidating car in which to master the controls. VISIBILITY: 7 / 10 Here is the secret to driving fast, in safety. This is a car that you can see out of properly. You are not sitting two inches off of the ground looking up the exhaust pipe of a Transit van as you would be in a Lamborghini, that alone builds in a fantastic confidence factor. Exactly as with my previous car, the Omega, on which the VXR8 is based, this is an easy car in which to judge distances around the town and when parking, in these circumstances the Vauxhall feels nowhere near as large as you would imagine. If, like me, you are used to making maximum use of the door mirrors, the fact that the boot lid spoiler cuts the rear vision into two rather restricted slices will not concern you too much. SPACE: 10 / 10: My wife and I were both staggered at the amount of space on offer inside the VXR8. It is a comfortable five seater, with a boot large enough to carry luggage for five too. STYLE 8 / 10: I have to be honest here and say that if you are used to the modern, clean cut interior lines and style of an Audi or BMW, then you may well find the interior of the Vauxhall a little cluttered and homespun in appearance. Personally I like this interior very much, but I could understand others turning their noses up at it. However, if you are trading in a Vauxhall Monaro, the previous V8 Australian produced Coupe, then you will be familiar with the architecture and impressed with the progress made. MATERIALS, FIT & FINISH 8 / 10: Aspreys or Ratners? Again, the Monaro comparison is inevitable. The interior finish in that car was bordering on the rough. The VXR8 is a huge improvement, particularly with regard to the quality of the materials used. It does not compare to a BMW M5 in here, but then neither does it look or feel like an interior worth 80% less! Particularly impressive are the grippy mixture of suedes and leather materials used on the seats, which incidentally are the most comfortable in which either of us have ever sat! AUDIO & CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEMS 9 / 10: Strange grouping? Two things here to note I think: 1) These controls are very simply presented, intuitive to use and understand. 2) They perform faultlessly. This makes a refreshing change in a day and age when most manufacturers seem to be attempting to make these controls as impressive - and complicated - as possible. ON THE ROAD........ ......Time to start it up and to offer you a driving assessment. NOISE, VIBRATION & HARSHNESS 10 / 10 Silk purse or sow's ear? The previous VXR8 - the Monaro, was not known for its refinement, indeed, tested here on the same circuit I was hugely disappointed in it. The four door VXR8 saloon is an entirely different kettle of fish. Compared to much more expensive cars driven here on the same day, and during previous events, the VXR8 impresses greatly with its totally unexpected civility and refinement. The Monaro was a tiring car to drive, very rough around the edges, the VXR8 has a polish about it which completely took me by surprise. On starting the huge engine you can feel the torque gently rock the car, blip the accelerator and the big saloon twitches. However, on the move, the transmission is slick, the accelerator wonderfully progressive, whilst the gearchange - still not exactly light to the touch - is precise, satisfying to use and matched to a very comfortable clutch. There is nothing harsh here at all now; all aspects of its behaviour are entirely in line with much more expensive and sophisticated competitors. The sound that the V8 makes is not easy to describe here, but it is a pure quality sound, not particularly loud, but very distinctive. Other noise sources are particularly well suppressed, especially the wind noise. Bearing in mind the massive 19" wheels, probably most impressive of all is the fact that the VXR8 rides so quietly. All of these factors combined mean that this is a supremely able long distance cruiser, in sixth gear at 100mph it really is an extraordinarily relaxing car in which to travel. PERFORMANCE 10 / 10 Sh*t off a shovel or a constipated tortoise? Come on now; own up, who's been polishing my shovel? I have, in the past, driven some very fast cars, the 911 Porsche standing out, some amazingly swift ones, the 12 cylinder VW Pheaton for example and of course the VRX8's predecessor, the frankly frightening Monaro VXR, up until now the fastest car to have passed through my hands. None of them could prepare me for just HOW fast this latest V8 Vauxhall is though. Re-reading my Monaro review from two years ago, reminded me that the first time I accelerated away from rest, involuntarily, I uttered the profanity 's*it'. This time it was the same thing, but in fast forward mode; the word 'Jesus' passed my lips (on two occasions) - accelerating to 100mph the wheels spun as THIRD gear engaged smoothly but the rear tyres just could not cope with the huge torque. Compared to the old Monaro, which was less powerful, the VXR8 is noticeably faster, but also more progressive and refined with it, where the Monaro was a challenging brute to drive, the VXR8's performance is useable, relaxing even in a peculiar sense. It really is difficult to describe quite what it is like to drive a car that is THIS fast. Perversely on the other hand, it did feel entirely safe. Even when accelerating hard out of the very sharp bends at Millbrook, my wife said that she felt entirely at ease in the passenger seat. Unlike in any other car that I have driven at this venue, the VXR8 simply did not notice the steep hills, it handled over half of this very challenging course without changing out of fourth gear, most other cars were in second or third in some cases. Not only is it fast, but supremely flexible too which is what makes it is so relaxing to drive. Many may, even reading this, be frightened at the prospect of having such performance on tap under their right foot. Indeed I actually know people who would argue in favour of cars such as this being banned altogether. In the right, experienced, hands - and ONLY in the right hands, I could offer an argument that the incredible performance offers the driver a huge additional safety margin out on the road. The VXR8 is electronically limited to a maximum 155mph, Vauxhall claim a 0 to 60mph figure of 4.9 seconds, compared to just about any other car on the road that is fast. It certainly feels that fast too when you drive it - a small movement with the right foot on the accelerator finds any following traffic disappear to a distant dot in the rear view mirror. Such performance is addictive, no doubt about that, any ordinary car and some not so ordinary, feels positively pedestrian after spending any time at all behind the wheel of a Vauxhall VXR8. RIDE & HANDLING 9 / 10 Looking at the big wheels and low profile tyres, one almost automatically makes the assumption that this is going to be a hard riding car. Firm at low speeds yes, but overall it has a superb ride and handling balance which perfectly compliment the performance. Dynamically this car is everything that the earlier Monaro VXR8 was not. The steering is fluid, communicative and totally free from kickback, whilst you still get that almost unique feeling of travelling inside a building; so secure do you feel at speed inside the cabin. CONCLUSION - Would I buy one myself and would we want to drive it to Poland in a day? Yes and yes again! Did you REALLY need to ask at this stage? I can think of no other car that would offer anywhere near this level of satisfaction, or ability, for less than £40,000. This is a car that shrinks distances, that gives you a real buzz driving to the shops at perfectly legal speeds, yet in which you could sit at a cruise controlled 155mph on a German autobahn in staggering comfort. This extraordinary car moves very close to, probably in fact to, the top of my lottery win list. That it vies with a Porsche 911 for my garage space should tell you everything that you need to know about it. However, on a more down to earth note, tempering my enthusiasm for the VXR8 has to be the fact that we live in rapidly changing times. Times when, in the real world, I require a car to travel both on business or pleasure, covering at least 40 miles on each gallon of precious fuel. Sadly I cannot imagine a car with the VXR8's character and ability ever being that economical to run, therefore without the aid of a Lotto win - and a much more economical every day car to share the garage, I cannot foresee myself ever owning one...... ......which is a great pity indeed and there says Mrs R too! FINAL SCORE: 143 / 170 - 84.1% That the very specialised VXR8 can come so close to topping my diverse list of reviewed cars is a surprise. On the other hand, remembering its' predecessor, the Monaro, a car that I had long wanted to drive and found so terribly disappointing, maybe the VXR8's score here is not so surprising. The VRX8 is everything that Monaro was not - and all for the good. Very many thanks to Vauxhall Motors for allowing us the opportunity to drive this rare vehicle, it is one car that I will remember for many years - probably long after most of the others driven on the same day have been forgotten. Putting the VXR8's score into perspective are the following cars based on identical scoring criteria: ALFA ROMEO 147 1.9JTD Lusso (5 Dr) - 67.8% FIAT PUNTO GRANDE SPORTING 130 Mjet - 75.9% HONDA ACCORD i-CTDi Saloon - 80.0% HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC SE - 78.2% HONDA CIVIC 1.8i VTEC S i-SHIFT - 68.8% HONDA CIVIC IMA SE - 73.5% HONDA JAZZ 1.4 SE CVT-7 (Automatic) - 74.7% SUBARU OUTBACK 2.0D RE - 85.3% SAAB 9-3 TiD Vector - 68.2% SAAB 9-3 TiD Linear CONVERTIBLE (2007 Mondel) - 74.1% VAUXHALL ASTRA TWINTOP 1.9 CDTi DESIGN - 78.8% VAUXHALL VXR8 - 84.1 % VAUXHALL MONARO VXR - 71.1% VW PASSAT TDi 140 S ESTATE - 71.7% VOLVO S60 D5 SE - 70.6% RICHADA © June 2008.