So Vauxhall reckons the VXR8 isn't fast enough?
You got it in one. Vauxhall's UK performance arm VXR (sister division to the Continentals' OPC Opel brand) is becoming seemingly more power-crazed by the day. It's all very out of keeping with the caring, sharing zeitgeist - think tarmac-rubbing spoilers, lairy exhausts and horsepower adulation. VXR's staple diet is the hot hatchback, and it already produces warmed-over Corsa, Meriva, Astra, Vectra and Zafira models. Now they're being supplemented by a genuine cut-price alternative to super-saloons such as the BMW M5. Yes, they've gone and bolted a whopping great supercharger to the VXR8.
So talk me through what they've done to the VXR8
Vauxhall has gone to renowned tuning specialists Walkinshaw Performance of Oxfordshire for the heart surgery. And let's get one thing straight right away: only the very hard-core horsepower hero will find the basic model under-nourished. Read our VXR8 first drive here to find out why. But if you find that car wanting, you can splash out £6990 (including fitting) for the supercharger package. Walkinshaw fit the supercharger, new fuel injectors, spark plugs and a bigger intercooler to ram more chilled air to the hungry 6.0-litre V8. And then they reprogramme the ECU to stop it going into meltdown every time you prod the throttle.
So it's quite a pricey conversion then?
Depends which way you look at it. Our car came with a few more tasty options that nudged the price up to a pretty serious £48,190. As ever with modified cars, you could argue that you're removing the very magic of the basic, and remarkably affordable, standard VXR8 by nibbling away at its value. But on the other hand, the resultant figures are pretty impressive. The supercharged model pumps out a muscle-bound 533bhp and a whopping 568lb ft of torque. Consider that even with all the options you're saving £16,000 over the M5, and it starts to make more sense. No AMG or RS from Merc or Audi can live with its price, either. Just for the record, those extras fitted to our test car included a 'Supercar V8' exhaust system (£1114 all-in), lowered suspension (£543), 20-inch alloys (£2938... gulp) and integrated sat-nav (£1500).
The VXR8 isn't exactly slow. This thing must be brutally fast!
It's warp-speed fast when you're really going for it. Six fulsome litres of GM's GEN4 LS2 V8 provide instant acceleration irrespective of which gear the chunky six-speeder is in. And we're talking very long gearing here; top gear has you sitting at a very refined 1800rpm at the UK's 70mph motorway limit. This is a relaxing place to be on a long motorway cruise, when the engine is barely ticking over. But let the supercharger spin up to speed and from the mid-range on, the VXR8 Supercharged is, frankly, mental. This is the same engine as in the Corvette, remember. Peak torque of 568lb ft arrives at 4400rpm and we experienced wheelspin in third gear. In dryish conditions. This car isn't for the fainthearted. No official performance figures are available yet, but we'd estimate 0-60mph in around 4.0sec and top speed nudging 180mph. Those with coronary problems may prefer to avoid the optional exhaust system, too. It's loud enough to wake the neighbours at start-up and becomes a pain on longer journeys: full of admirably snarly bark when you're going for it, just plain annoying for 85 percent of the time.
How is the big Holden around the corners?
Don't forget the basic physics going on here: the blown VXR8 weighs in at 1831kg (suspiciously the same as the standard car, surely the extra kit on this sends that figure north, Vauxhall?) and is a good old-fashioned front-engined, long-wheelbase rear-driver. It delivers exactly what you expect - dollops of oversteer on tap for those inclined to steer through clouds of smoke licking the side windows. The limited slip diff helps, and although a big car it's easy to hold in slides for those who indulge in such things. For those who prefer to keep all four tyres gripping, we found the steering a little disappointing - strangely light on feel around the straight-ahead, only to weight up when you turn the wheel. This might be exacerbated by the 20in wheels, as we don't remember this problem when we drove the standard VXR8. But the VXR8 is great fun on a back-road blast. Despite the sports suspension, it can start to pogo over a series of bumpy corners and we'd prefer the brakes to have more stopping power; although fine on the road, they didn't inspire much confidence when we took it on a track outing. It's excess all areas; don't forget the supercharger adds an extra 120bhp and 160lb ft. Power-crazed petrolheads will love the power rush, if not the bills...
What's it like inside?
Ah yes, the inside. Prepare for a bit of a letdown here. If you love stroking your dashboard and raving about Germanic build quality, look elsewhere. The VXR8 is a more honest, straightforward bit of kit. No soft-touch mouldings. Little evidence of ergonomic excellence, either. The key, cruise controls and handbrake all feel cheap, and the indicators are on the right where the Euro convention is on the left. But it's very usable and does everything you need. This is a top-spec Vauxhall, so you get automatic climate control, ESP (pretty much a full-time job with all that grunt straining at the leash), very comfortable electric leather seats, and a suite of auxiliary gauges for checking the oil temperature and pressure, plus the battery voltage. Don't forget the VXR8's ace card. This car is seriously huge inside (and out). There are acres of space for four to lounge in comfort and those rear seats are massive, with plenty of room for two to sit astride the propshaft. The boot is vast, too. All wrapped up in a four-door saloon bodystyle, it makes a pretty compelling case for the motorist who wants a distinctive, unusual four-door with supercar slaying performance.
There's one other thing we should mention about the rare, blown VXR8. It threw a supercharger belt during its week with us, moments after we'd pulled away from cold. Anyone spending this much on a performance kit has every right to expect no such gremlins. Ours was the first car in the UK, though, and Vauxhall assure us it will investigate before sales begin. But what's not to like about the VXR8 Supercharged? It represents fantastic value for money if you want a cut-price answer to the serious-faced band of German uber-saloons. Somehow the Vauxhall has a cheekier character than these straight-laced Teutonic machines. It's a car bristling with character - not all of it good - but it really does continue where the magic of the old Lotus Carlton left off. It's a little rough around the edges, but you won't find better bangs for your buck elsewhere.