If the meek are to inherit the earth, the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS is the car from hell: a 577bhp supercharged V8, rear-wheel drive and five-metres of metal dipped in sunburn orange paint. That’s right: Vauxhall’s gob-smacking 6.2-litre monster has been given a kick up the derriere with even more power to play hard-ball as a cut-price alternative to the BMW M5 or Mercedes E63 AMG. It’s faster and more powerful than both of them for £19k less.
Where has the Vauxhall VXR8 GTS come from?
This beast is built upon the Australian-made and designed Holden Commodore, the top-selling car there for decades and still number two in the sales charts. Designed as a family car and for fleets, the regular model follows the classic (and now outdated) Aussie six-cylinder formula with loads and loads of space – the back seats will actually fit adults comfortably.
Of course, this is no regular Commodore: it’s the flagship version from HSV (Holden Special Vehicles), which is the VXR equivalent Down Under.
It looks a lot like the previous one?
It’s based upon the VF Commodore, an update of the VE that arrived way back in 2006. Both models are based on the GM Zeta platform that has received significant upgrades in and out. This is the saloon version, essentially, of the snarling Maloo ute that Vauxhall brought over in 2012, bringing with it new front and rear treatment, and that snarling nostril grille. The biggest news is the LSA supercharged 6.2-litre V8 under the bonnet.
What’s the V8 all about?
Scoff that it's pushrod, but this V8 is an all alloy, 32-valve monster. It’s the same engine used in the Camaro ZL1, complete with its four-vane Eaton supercharger that runs at a maximum of 0.62bar. It’s the most powerful engine offered both in a Vauxhall and the Camaro, with 577bhp and a torque figure almost as high: 546lb ft. There’s actually space left over in the GTS’s engine bay, and no bonnet bulge required either. Fuel economy? If you have to ask…
But the rest of the VXR8 GTS is pretty basic?
The concept may be, but this is not a dinosaur: third-gen Magnetic Ride Control, torque vectoring, Launch Control and a full colour touchscreen inside are hardly what you’d expect from a car so brash and with a pushrod V8, and the GTS serves up a full-colour touchscreen and driver interface that will have Renaultsport Clio owners envious.
The ‘EDI’ (Enhanced Driver Interface) has meters for the bimodal exhaust, lap timers, and even drift angles (but how do you look at the screen when you’re sideways!). You can even download your performance...
How does the Vauxhall VXR8 behave on the road?
Grab the orange door handle, and plant yourself in those brilliant, supportive sports seats and hit start – and the GTS is raring to go. It literally shakes at idle, as an old-school muscle car should, and it makes such a deep, bassy and ferocious roar on start-up that it’ll suck in the nearest cloud. The sound, the rumble and the provocative red gauges, performance meters and that manual gearlever make this machine seem eager to run even when it’s standing still.
The driving position isn’t as low as some performance cars, but it’s a good seating position and those metal pedals are spaced far apart, making you aware of the size. But despite the slightly heavy clutch – which makes the GTS a bit of work in traffic, despite the torque being able to push the 1881kg saloon forward on its own – this car doesn’t feel heavy.
The ferocity of that V8, which sounds more industrial and raw than the metallic richness of the old E92 BMW M3 V8, and less tuned than an AMG’s soundtrack, is put to good use through a brilliant suspension, steering and brake package.
There are four driving settings: Touring, Sport, Performance and Track, that adjust the steering, exhaust, torque vectoring, ESP threshold and throttle response. In any mode, the ride is impressive on the 20in alloys and helps deliver a supercar-like 4.2sec 0-62mph time.
Those big wheels also deliver sublime roadholding – you won’t believe how hard you can push this thing. In a straight line, it’s apocalyptic, twitching as you stomp on the pedal in any gear and it responds with fire and brimstone.
You can feel the push in your back and you find yourself going way beyond the speed limit, having to back off: this car just loves the pace, and gets into a high-speed groove that will land you in jail. It has to be one of the most entertaining saloons on the planet.
When you first approach a corner at speed, you can let the fact you’re in a car with its own postcode daunt you, but in Track mode – which sets the torque vectoring, launch and stability control systems, the steering and suspension into full attack psyche – you’ll have the rear putting the power down where you’d expected it to snap sideways.
In fact, with the direct, adjustable steering, you can drift this thing in a predictable, timely fashion as the rear comes around gradually as you modulate the throttle. Of course, be brutal, and the GTS will respond the same way: ESP off, rain, a heavy right foot, and the side window had better be clean so you can see where you’re going…
So why would you buy an M5 or E63 over this?
Its performance can match – and its fun factor easily exceed – its German rivals', but its low-rent cabin cannot. There are hard plastics, some dubious dash stitching on our test car and fit and finish that’s good, but easily outshone by the Germans.
The design, too, in and out, is far from sophisticated – take the bold, brash fonts on the instrument cluster, for instance compared to the crisp, clean versions of the Merc or BMW – but that doesn’t mean the GTS is an also-ran. It’s simply not as polished, both in presentation and as a point-to-point performance car.
In its home market of Australia, the GTS costs $92k against the E63 and M5’s $250k ask, making it a relative bargain. Bring it to Europe, and it’s not so compelling on paper: its £55k is much closer to the M5 and E63, which are both £74k. Behind the wheel is another matter. Even at this price, the power, agility and chassis balance shouldn’t be this good. The GTS is for the bungee-jumping, white water rafting, no-holds-barred wild child that couldn’t care less about political correctness.
It’s not a complete redneck, though, with a brilliantly engineered package that makes the most of the power station output under the bonnet. We love it.
>> This is the last generation of V8 saloons from GM's Australian arm, Holden. Will you miss the big Aussie brute, or is it an outdated fossil on wheels? Lets us know in the comments section below