If any car has a claim to be the spiritual successor to the knockout Lotus Carlton, it’s the new Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S special edition. GM’s back might be firmly up against the wall as it struggles to reinvent itself in a global recession, but the Bathurst S shows its Australian and European divisions still know how to serve up a hot-rod performance saloon to scare a BMW M5 or Audi RS6.
It’s basically a special edition of the VXR8, designed to add a few more bells and whistles. Especially since it has the noisiest supercharger this side of an original Bentley Blower. You can actually order the VXR8 Bathurst edition in naturally aspirated or compressor form, but Vauxhall has just the supercharged model on its test fleet. And that’s the car we’ve been deafened by all week. I’ve never driven a Lotus Carlton, but on paper – and in the metal – the 2009 iteration stands worthy of comparison.
What’s so special about the new Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S?
The sillplate bearing the Walkinshaw logo tells you plenty about this car’s pedigree. Vauxhall’s big Aussie bruiser has been to tuning school, with a beefy supercharger huffing and puffing power from 431bhp on the regular VXR8 to a rather startling 564bhp. That’s the headline change, but there’s a series of other mechanical upgrades to keep the ponies in check and justify the price increase, says Vauxhall.
Spring and damper settings are fettled, 20in alloys fitted and beefy six-pot front, four-pot rear brakes added. Not to mention a bodykit and interior makeover. End result: half a second lopped off the 0-60mph time (now estimated at a nausea-inducing 4.2sec) while top whack would extend to nearer 190mph without the electronic limiter spoiling the fun at 155mph.
So the VXR Bathurst is quick then?
Errr, yes. That Bathurst badge betrays the car’s Aussie roots as a Holden and you feel that big-lung 6.2-litre V8 would be very at home pounding the famous racetrack Down Under.
Not that you’d know at start-up. Twist the key, and the V8 starts with a surprisingly muted warble. You’ve already clocked the big Howitzer exhausts at the back, and you worry the EU laws have strangled it. But then you hit the road and within the first mile, you realise things couldn’t be more different. You’ll in fact be reaching for your earplugs albeit with a large grin etched on your visage.
>> Click ‘Next’ to read about the Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S on the road driving impressions
So it’s noisy, the VXR8 supercharged?
Even not at full chat, the Bathurst reveals its naughty side. The compressor spools up with an incredible din at even partial throttle openings. It dominates proceedings, interrupts conversations and proves utterly addictive on first acquaintance. And the louder the drumroll, the more the bass is provided by the V8 as it hits its thunderous peak and you suddenly realise you’re going very fast indeed.
That V8 utterly dominates the driving experience. Overtaking is a doddle in the hot Vauxhall, but I wonder if you’d tire of the cacophony after a few months’ ownership.
So it’s a pain in the neck?
No, actually. For starters, our car was equipped with the optional ‘bimodal’ exhaust, which has valves letting you choose sports or touring exhaust soundtracks. It’s a pricey option (£1600! Although you also get those 2.5in diameter bazooka stainless steel pipes) but lets you turn the volume down from 11. To at least, oooh, eight.
But the VXR8’s bi-polar in other ways. Yes, it plays at being the hooligan when you’re alone on a twisting back road – and that rear end will arc out under duress from the best part of 600bhp – but away from weekend track day duties it’s a ruddy good four-door saloon car. It’s vast front and rear – way roomier in the back seats than any comparable German exec. And the boot’s a decent size too.
And the Bathurst positively excels at bumbling along in everyday mode. Step off the gas (you’ll want to, at an average thirst of 18.6mpg) and it wafts with the best of them. That big V8 lump is understandably high on torque, and you can surf its 547lb ft in any gear at any speed. Stick it in fourth and waft around country lanes and town roads alike. Drive like that and you notice the relaxed nature of the big Holden. The ride is surprisingly soft, the steering relaxed, the ergonomics not bad once you get used to that ugly rear wing blocking half your view while on copper watch out the back window.
>> Click ‘Next’ for our downsides of the VXR8 Bathurst S
Vauxhall VXR8 Bathurst S: the bad bits
Much as we like the Bathurst, there are some drawbacks to spending £45k on a big Vauxhall. This will remain a niche interest car perhaps best suited to the secondhand bargain brigade a few years hence. And the running costs will be eye-wateringly high in tax and fuel. Then again, it’s also something of a performance bargain compared with its Teutonic rivals.
What it lacks is polish. It’s a true Aussie brute, with rough edges and a few homemade corks bobbing from its hat: the pedals are annoyingly offset to the right, the stupid Saab-style split handbrake built into the central tunnel will surely snag your fingers and the gearchange/clutch will turn you into bodybuilder Geoff Capes after some months’ usage. Fit and finish is no better than average, but it’s by no means poor. You just get what you pay for at the end of the day.
We can forgive the big old VXR8 these foibles. Here’s a great performance bargain of our times – a car gloriously out of sync with our modern mores. It scratches an itch that all enthusiasts will have somewhere and it’s even something of a pussycat once you back off the throttle, let that all-encompassing supercharger whine recede and admire its surprising usefulness and long-legged refinement (you’ll pull just 2000rpm at an 80mph cruise).
For all these reasons, we reckon the VXR8 Bathurst S special edition merits its latter-day Lotus Carlton tag. It’s big, it’s brutally fast and is destined to remain a rare sight on our roads. But when you do see one, you’ll know it’s a brave soul who’s put his money into a dinosaur of a car that’ll chomp at M/AMG/RS cars for two-thirds of the price. And who am I to complain about that?
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