Max Astra

Road test: Vauxhall Astra VXR

The three-door version of Vauxhall’s Astra is called the GTC. I reviewed it earlier this year with the humble 1.4 petrol engine – an extremely comp- etent and attractive car. Now at the top of the Astra’s evolutionary tree, there’s a version carrying Vauxhall’s VXR sporty sub-branding, an exciting prospect indeed.

The Astra coupé shape is one of the more attractive variants of otherwise standard C-segment hatchbacks. It manages a clean, unfussy profile but still carries some distinctive styling lines, notably the hockey stick on the doors and the sculpted crease from the rear lights through to the door handles. The VXR looks a little more aggressive than the standard GTC with its twin tail pipes, larger apertures for air intakes and roof spoiler but none of these features is too overbearing so the car remains purposeful rather than vulgar. I don’t normally mention alloy wheel design but our press car is fitted with very attractive 20” drop-forged alloy wheels which show off the efficient Brembo brake callipers rather well.

My only real criticism of the basic GTC was the black-on-black interior which didn’t do the smart design justice. However, the elegant, VXR-embossed, white-stitched, leather bucket seats and subtle VXR logos around the cabin provide sufficient interest to lift the dark trim without being a distraction.

Of course, smart styling and trim is only half the Astra VXR’s reason d’être; what you’ll be interested in is what it’s like to drive. You’ll be delighted to know that the Astra VXR is a delight. For everyday use, it is calm and easy to pilot at low speeds. The exhaust has a pleasant burble and while the suspension is firm, it feels pliable enough for most road conditions. Stretch the VXR’s legs though and you’ll find it’s pulls smoothly all the way up the rev range. Not only does the VXR shift, it delivers a lovely throaty roar (in case passers-by didn’t spot the subtle badging or roof spoiler). Vauxhall has also chosen tall gearing which makes for a calm time at (almost legal) motorway speeds yet with 400Nm torque, the gearbox doesn’t have to be worked hard to tap in to the considerable performance.

Then there’s the VXR button…

So it is all good so-far. Then there’s the VXR button, sitting quietly by the air vents. This takes things to a higher level with a crisper throttle response, stiffer settings for the FlexRide adaptive dampers and extra noise. And just to ensure the driver is in the right mood to enjoy the beast within, the back-lighting changes from white to red.

With all the added performance, the Astra VXR’s handling has been upgraded considerably. The springs are 30% stiffer, the ride 10mm lower, the front anti-roll bar is 5mm thicker and tougher bushes have been used all round. The HiPerStruts, with their shorter and more compact rotational axis apparently reduce the camber change during cornering. What I can tell you is the grip is remarkable and although only tested on dry roads, torque-steer is minimal.

Sitting next to the VXR button is an almost redundant ‘sport’ button. This goes as far as stiffening the dampers but doesn’t quite offer the tyre-eating performance of the VXR setting.

Any criticisms? It actually feels rude to complain that there’s no climate control (a £305 option) because the overall package is otherwise extremely good value for money. It’s certainly not enough to prevent the Astra VXR receiving five of our coveted Motor Writer stars. The Astra VXR really does offer an exceptionally good day-to-day car with thoroughly enjoyable performance for an occasional track day or cheeky cross-country sprint.

Vauxhall Astra VXR, £26,995.   Car tested includes VXR Aero pack (bi-plane roof spoiler, sill kit, 20” wheels), £995; rear parking sensors, £195; Navi600 sat-nav/entertainment upgrade, £855; performance seat pack, £495; premium forward lighting pack, £790.  Total price: £30,325.

Power: 280 PS (5,5000 rpm), torque: 400Nm (2,500 – 4,500 rpm), emissions: 189 g/km CO2 (band J), 0-60 mph: 5.9 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●●

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