Vauxhall VXR8 GTS

WHEN I LOOK BACK ON MY time with the VXR8, it’s nearly always with a smile. Okay, so when an overdraft warning pinged through on my phone I might have rued the 15.161/100km, but even when the children were eating gruel and my wife was darning socks, I reckon it was probably worth it. The VXR8 GTS isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s unique, big-hearted and almost impossible not to love (unless you’re Dickie Meaden, who hates it). I wanted to run this huge Vauxhall because it represents the end of an era for the incredible line of V8-powered, rear-drive saloons built in Australia. Ford no longer builds the Falcon and now the Holden Commodore-on which this car is based – is dying, too. The whole Holden versus Ford rivalry is like a way of life for car enthusiasts in Australia, so it must feel especially painful for hardcore fans of the V8 Supercars race series, who’ve grown up as ‘Ford guys’ or ‘Holden guys’. I don’t have that history but even so it’s sad to see this loud, lairy breed disappear from the motoring landscape. Other reasons? The practicality, of course. And the 6.2-litre supercharged V8 with 584hp and 739Nm.

In fact, it’s unbelievably comfortable, riding on sophisticated magnetorheological dampers, and it features torque vectoring by braking, multiple driving modes for various situations and has all the toys you could imagine. It’ll even park itself. Fitted with the optional six-speed automatic gearbox it covers ground like nothing else, loping along at big speeds with the engine turning slowly and the soft but supportive seats vanishing away the miles. Three-up back from the Nurburgring with a boot full of cam era gear, it was almost serene.

‘At full tilt the sheer performance the VXR8 GTS deployed was actually pretty stunning’

Journeys like that were a pretty regular part of life for our GTS – back and forth to the Ring a couple of times, supporting shoots at Spa, trawling across to Wales seemingly every month – and it really did excel in those situations. More usually it was trips to the airport, the odd school run and blasts into the office, evo moved in the summer, and the new commute was fantastic from my place. About 25 minutes of deserted and wide country roads with some wicked cresting corners and even a banked, Karussell-style left through a tunnel of trees. At full tilt the sheer performance the VXR8 GTS deployed for this journey was actually pretty stunning.

It was easy to forget the V8’s extreme power output when driving even quite quickly, as the slightly monotone engine note could lead you to change up at little more than 4000rpm. But if you held out to the limiter you got a manic supercharger noise to enjoy and truly eye-popping acceleration. It was only when you tried to use that 584hp that you appreciated the full magic of the chassis, too. The car always felt surprisingly balanced and composed – although short, sharp bumps could get it fidgeting and feeling slightly out of phase with the surface – but it was with the stability control off that you could enjoy its full repertoire.

Alongside its many ancestors at Vauxhall’s Heritage Centre in Luton.

Despite expectations, it was not a monster drift machine. There was too much grip and traction to slide around at low speed. However, It always felt very rear-driven and when you committed early to the throttle you could feel the rear tyres take the strain, the balance just teetering on the edge of oversteer. In the dry it was a sensational feeling and the car never felt unruly. In the wet, It was better to leave the traction control very much on, though. After many thousands of miles I felt I was still learning the VXR8. I tended to skip Tour and Sport modes and head straight to Performance, enabling the torque vectoring.

On smoother roads you could even use Track mode pretty comfortably to really tie down any float over undulations. I always used the paddles: I just can’t cope with fully automatic driving unless I’m stuck in traffic, and the gearbox was pretty fast and rarely frustrated me by not actioning a downshift request. In fact, the whole car felt nicely intuitive and in tune with your inputs.

The big Vaux was a true delight on the limit, dancing on the line between grip and slip with the poise of a far lighter car

The VXR8 GTS was a great car for all occasions, then: vast and comfortable, wickedly fast and slightly irresponsible, and even surprisingly composed and enjoyable on track, with terrific brake and steering feel on the limit. The interior was relatively crummy, and some people couldn’t cope with the image, but I was sorry to see it go. Both from my driveway and the wider world. Life is all the brighter and more enjoyable with a VXRSGTS for company. This or a new M3? No contests.

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