There are some pretty serious operators in the hot-hatch business right now, and this is Vauxhall’s answer: the new 2012 Astra VXR. It’s based on the extremely good Astra GTC, but ups the ante considerably with 276bhp and 295lb ft torque.
More details of the 2012 Vauxhall Astra VXR, please…
The VXR uses an all-alloy – the outgoing car had an iron block – 2.0-litre turbo four, which shares its basics with the Insignia and has also seen service in the US, where it’s been reliably tweaked beyond 500bhp for motorsport applications. For the VXR there’s been particular attention paid to the induction and turbo tuning, in a bid to provide mid-range drivability.
Elsewhere there’s a proper motorsport-derived limited-slip differential from Drexler – it locks by a fairly aggressive 45% under acceleration, but is essentially open when you’re off the throttle, in a bid to minimise the steering corruption that diffs can cause.
The VXR also uses HiPerStrut front suspension, which, just like systems on the Focus and Megane RS, allows the front wheels to turn independently off the suspension strut, ensuring improved suspension geometry through corners.
Finally, there’s FlexRide three-way adaptive suspension, which offers three levels of firmness, but also proactively firms up through corners and under braking to avoid body roll.
First review impressions of the Vauxhall Astra VXR?
Given its predecessor’s generally rowdy disposition, it’s a surprise how easy it is to live with the new 2012-spec Astra VXR. The ride feels generally compliant, the seats are comfortable and positioned thankfully much lower than before, the engine pulls lustily even if you’re feeling too lazy to change gear and, despite a large 70mm pipe from the manifold back, the exhaust note never drones or sounds too loud.
If you need to do the 9-5 stuff as well as the fun stuff, there are no concerns here.
Okay, so it’s more rounded, but what’s the Astra VXR like to drive hard?
It’s very, very good. The steering – switched from pure electric assistance to electro-hydraulic especially for the VXR – has a nice meaty, reassuring heft, and that diff really points the VXR into corners and pulls you through them under acceleration.
The lack of body roll also means the VXR stays noticeably flat through fast transitions, allowing you to keep on the power for longer and get back on it sooner.
Any drawbacks to the Astra hot hatch?
Sadly, yes. That aggressive limited-slip diff causes an awful lot of torque steer, to the point where it inhibits confidence during overtakes on B-roads – you worry that you’ll be pulled towards either the car you’re overtaking or dragged into the scenery. Yes, it’s very effective at getting you through corners, but the Megane RS manages to do the same thing without the torque steer.
The extremely competent chassis also disguises the fact that the engine doesn’t feel hugely quick, and it doesn’t sound particularly good: a harsh, spitting turbo roar dominates when you’re driving fast.
The 2012 Vauxhall Astra VXR is a very, very good car. The problem is that its less powerful sibling, the Astra GTC, suggested the VXR could be epic. Generally it is, with an astonishingly competent chassis that indulges huge point-to-point speed.
But the slight feeling of lethargy from the engine disappoints, while the steering corruption from that LSD more seriously detracts from the enjoyment.
Great car, the VXR, but it’s not class-leading.